Is All Speech Free?

Let me be clear about what this post is not; this post is not a post in support of those that perpetrate violence. Violence, in all forms, is deplorable. All life is sacred, and in my mind, there is absolutely no justification whatsoever for any kind of violence, and certainly not for the taking of another life.

I denounce the actions of the shooters in Paris at Charlie Hebdo and I mourn over the immense loss of life.

All of that said…can we look deeper at and question the supposed motivations of the shooters? Or at least speculate on what might have led them to such extremes?

In my social media feeds, I’ve read an immense outpouring of support for the cartoonists and editors, and rightly so. But I also wonder if they put themselves at unnecessary risk due to the content of their sketches.

This post by Jacob Canfield says it well, in my estimation.

[T]he editorial staff of Hebdo consistently aimed to provoke Muslims. They ascribe to the same edgy-white-guy mentality that many American cartoonists do: nothing is sacred, sacred targets are funnier, lighten up, criticism is censorship…Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist, and remains racist.

I am in no way suggesting that these cartoonists “had it coming.” That’s an obtuse and wrong assertion, and is a perversion of what I’m trying to say.

In Islam, depictions of sentient living beings is prohibited. This proscription is called aniconism. The most absolute proscription is of images of God in Islam, followed by depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, then Islamic prophets and the relatives of Muhammad. However, the depiction of all humans and animals is discouraged in the hadith and by the long tradition of Islamic authorities.

To say that pictorial representations of The Prophet are “condemned” in Islam might be too forceful, but it absolutely not a stretch, nor do I think I’m incorrect to assert that the cartoons drawn in Charlie Hebdo and the scathing satire with which they were presented is incredibly and shamefully offensive. To anyone. Not just to adherents of Islam.

And for what? What is the point of such pointed and purposeful satire? Why do we think that things must be to the point of offensive or must have a certain level of shock value in order to get a rise out of people? It just seems unnecessary and frankly, childish, to me.

Couldn’t we all endeavor to be more respectful to each other? Couldn’t we be willing to respect that some people hold some things as sacred, and as such, not aim to offend them with such sharp provocations? Certainly the ideal of free speech means that you can say whatever you want. The United States Supreme Court has even ruled that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

But in my opinion, just because speech is lawful, doesn’t mean that it should be said.

I mourn the tragic loss of life in Paris and across the world where violence is perpetrated against anyone. And I hope for a day when we can view each other as sacred beings, worthy of each other’s dignity, respect, and love.

One thought on “Is All Speech Free?

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