I am [not] Charlie

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I believe in freedom of speech.  Truth can offend and for a right cause we should be bold in speech regardless of consequences. But I do not believe that deliberately causing offense is anything great or special. Insulting another man’s mother is legal and perhaps even a brave thing to do.  However, legal and brave doesn’t make something righteous, honorable, peaceable, justified or moral.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:17-18)

Our society may celebrate the insults of cartoonists or comedians and our freedom of speech. Yet our respective cultures shelter many popular ideas from critical thought.  Sure, one can poke fun at religion in the west and be quite popular, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own untouchables.

The biggest threat to freedom of speech is likely not radical religious men with Kalashnikov rifles. What happened in Paris does not frighten me personally and doesn’t negatively influence what I say or do. I don’t fear being literally murdered for what I say here.  Still, there are many truthful things I hesitate to say for fear of risking my popularity or public standing. Unchallenged popular opinion is probably more dangerous to intellectual discourse than anything else.

Free expression of thought is challenged in many ways besides threats of physical violence. There are far subtler ways to kill dissent like popular taboos. Then there are those who effectively bully others into silence with their loud protests and demands for political correctness. Killing the messenger can be accomplished without guns and bullets. Ridicule can be used very effectively to bully those with unpopular opinions into silence.

People collectively wield far more power to enforce intolerance and ignorance by shaming divergent thinking than a small number of radicals. Threats of character assassination and popular criticism or public ridicule are just as effective a means for curtailing free speech as death threats. The pen and protest can be used to suppress ideas just like a terrorist’s gun.

“The pen is mightier than the sword”

What we create with our pen does give us power and it is a power for both good and evil. Speech is a weapon. Speech can be used aggressively and destructively to hurt people. We can use our communication as a tool to build bridges between people and to defend the weak or we can use it to carelessly destroy the things other people care about.  Our freedoms should be used responsibly.

I write to provoke thought, but not to be a provocateur.  I question if the staff of Charlie Hebdo should be treated as martyrs for free speech for their intentionally offending and disrespectful artwork. The true protectors of freedom were two men who died outside defending the right of the cartoonists. I would rather say “je suis Ahmed” or “je suis Franck” rather than honor insult artists.

There are many hypersensitivity and unreasonable people around the world and I know I cannot please them all. My goal is to not unnecessarily offend, to leave vengeance for insults to God and be Jesus. Je suis Jésus.

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