In the bloody aftermath of Paris; amidst all the rallies, marching, eloquent speeches, and fervent declarations of ‘Je Suis Charlie’; you would be forgiven for getting the impression that free speech was a sacred principle. The coming-together of people from all walks of life against barbarism last week was a powerful and emotional display.
Yet before the bodies on the streets of Paris have even turned cold, those in Britain who ought to be on the front lines of the battle for free speech have begun to backtrack and disseminate.
Charlie Hebdo published it’s first edition since the massacre this week; defiantly drawing Muhammad with tears in his eyes, carrying a sign that reads “Tout Est Pardonne” (All Is Forgiven). But a vast majority of British newspapers declined to print the cartoon.
And then there’s the muttering. Qualifications, equivocations, false comparisons, ‘ifs’ & ‘buts’, are flying off the printing presses and through the airwaves like shrapnel on the Western front in 1916.
Maybe we in the West are in danger of making a “fetish” out of free speech1, suggests Will Self in a recent Vice article. Maybe “racist cartoons” are not an appropriate beacon of free speech2, asks a Guardian cartoon character. The unpleasant implication is unspoken: perhaps the cartoonists got what was coming to them. After all, you can’t shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre.
Perhaps, some have suggested, we in the West are to blame? Maybe it’s our intolerance towards mass-murdering, child-raping, slave-trading, gay-hanging terror states3. Or maybe, some feminists argue (despite one of the kosher shop hostage takers being a woman), it’s a violent culture of masculinity4.
What about “Islamophobia”, Owen Jones and others asked5. Shouldn’t we be worried about a ‘right wing’ racist backlash? In the last week there has been almost as much criticism of the Front National as of radical Islam. The name of Anders Breivik is invoked as proof that the ‘far right’, not Islam, is the real problem. The anti-Islamisation PEGIDA6 movement in Germany is treated as the rebirth of the Third Reich.
As for the attack on the kosher supermarket, the killing of Jews was certainly wrong, but what about Palestine? Surely the dead children (many of whom subsequently turned out to be gun-toting terrorists) of Gaza deserve our sympathy just as much? Maybe Jews should condemn Israel if they don’t want to be slaughtered7?
The multiculturalist left apologises again and again for Islamic extremism when it lashes out at everything we hold dear. Absolutely nothing excuses cold blooded murder. Not foreign policy. Not bleating about racism. And certainly not the left’s Palestine fixation. Seventeen people are dead. Get a grip.
We must not stand for this kind of quisling excuse-making. Free speech and free expression are too important for that.
Free speech must include the right to say and print things others find offensive, or else it is not free. If you don’t like what someone else says, don’t listen. If you don’t like what they write, don’t read it. Or engage them in debate. You have that right precisely because our culture has made a fetish of free speech.