The attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo reveals the range of different views held in the West and within the Islamic world about the right to free expression.
Freedom of expression is a right embedded in our western culture; a right that we have fought for over many years; in wars, in political movements and in campaigns. The foundation of our democracy is that we are deeply committed to defending the right to free speech. Free speech has allowed the press to watch over government and challenge corruption and many politicians have been forced to resign in the wake of extensive media reporting about various wrong doings. The right to free speech is also enshrined in the European Court of Human Rights ruling, 1976.
As a member of Toastmasters International I value my right to free speech and twice a month it is with passion that I stand and voice my opinions in the room in a Lewes pub where the great defender of free speech, Thomas Paine spoke.
However… there is a proviso to all this. A note of caution. It’s great to exercise our right to free speech but to do so we must firstly consider who we might be offending by exercising this right. We have a responsibility as members of a wider society not to upset, provoke and inflame the feelings of others. Humour is one thing but humour is no longer humour if it upsets or offends. I don’t agree with Charlie Hebdo’s further provocation of extreme Muslim groups by publishing a picture of Mohammed (peace be upon him) knowing that it is fundamental to Muslim belief not to show his image and not to show any idols. Go into any mosque in the world and you will not see the image of Muhammed (peace be upon him.)
We may live in a secular world but we must respect the beliefs of different religious communities and consider who we might be upsetting before we publish our thoughts. In the west we have free speech…but only up to a point.
Disclaimer: the above article is based on my personal opinions.
Link to Toastmasters International and to find a local group: http://www.toastmasters.org