Does the Freedom of Speech Empower us to be Needlessly Disrespectful?

je-ne-suis-pas-charlie

We were barely able to see in the new year before its first major event revealed itself, a little like dung negotiating its way out the anus of an elephant. I intentionally use a vile simile because let’s make one thing clear from the outset, the violence that we witnessed in Paris was barbaric and vile. There is, and never will be a way of justifying those actions

In the 10 days since the attacks I have been left feeling a little perplexed by the spin the media and government put on it. We were told incessantly that this was an attack on our freedom of expression. Unlike 9-11 which attacked buildings, the Paris attack was more symbolic, it was an attack on a fundamental ideology held by the countries of Europe and North America. For the past 10 days I have been left to wonder what the freedom of expression is, do we have it, do we use it as it is meant to be used, and what’s next?

The Role and Agenda of the Media

Please don’t get me wrong, masked gunmen firing Kalashnikov rifles in the middle of one of the worlds major capital cities should capture the interest of the major news networks, but what concerned me was the rhetoric they were quick to use.

The smoke was still drifting out the barrels of the terrorists rifles and the smell of cordite still hung heavily in the Paris air that morning, when the media declared that this was an attack against our inalienable  right to the freedom of expression. I was surprised with the celerity that the news networks were able to be so certain, to draw such a definitive conclusion. Now I confess that I am inclined to look at things a little differently, and whilst not condoning the actions of the gunmen, it was possible for me to see a causal relationship as to how and why this occurred. To say that Charlie Hebdo is a good advocate for the right to the freedom of expression is no different from saying the Kouchai brothers were good Muslims.

Lest we forget the circumstances upon which the Republic of France was founded. After succesfully storming the Bastille, the people went on to execute any aristocrat or reactionary they could place their hands on. Ironically this period is known as The Terror. A period from 1793-1794 when over 16,000 people were guilotined alone. One of the most iconic actions that set the United States on their way to becoming a republic was the Boston Tea Party, an event that if it were to happen today would be defined under American law as an act of terrorism. Both of these events are held up with a near sacred reverence, symbolic of their nations struggle for freedom. What today is seen as an act of violence, might be viewed diffrently by some people in 100 years time. Again this in no way placates the events in Paris, it is just interesting to acknowledge the violence from out of which both these republics arose. I could go onto mention scores of acts of violence and torture the republics have been involved with in more recent times, but that only opens a whole new can of works.

This attack struck at an ideology that we in the west unquestioningly consider to be an inalienable right that we all have. But do we?

Do we Have the Freedom of Expression?

Many of us in Europe particularly following the Charle Hebdo attacks assume that we have the freedom to say, print, or draw anything we please. There are certainly libel, and slander laws that prevent us from circulating information that is false and malicious, there is also the following legislation that the EU passed in 2007:

European Union Framework Decision for Combating Racism and Xenophobia (2007)

The text establishes that the following intentional conduct will be punishable in all EU Member States:

– Publicly inciting to violence or hatred , even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising

crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, and
crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nuremberg (Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, London Agreement of 1945) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

The reference to religion is intended to cover, at least, conduct which is a pretext for directing acts against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

Member States will ensure that these conducts are punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment.[

Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

This act gains its notoriety as being the one that prevents anyone from denying or trivializing the holocaust. In all honesty it would appear to me as being a pretty difficult subject to trivialize, but none the less our freedom of speech ends here. Interestingly one would think that those at Charlie Hebdo should have been held responsible under the passage:

Publicly inciting to violence or hatred , even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

It is at this juncture that my anti-social level of cynicism comes into play. The staff at Charlie Hebdo were clearly acting in defiance of this act. As it turned out their actions not only got 8 of their employees killed but 12 others who had nothing to do with the magazine. Why wasn’t this law enforced. Had this law had been enforced would, the very reason for the law itself to prevent stirring racial hatred, then there is a good chance this event would never have happened. Since this law was passed the following people have been found guilty of holocaust denial, one of which received a 6 year jail sentence.

Feb. 15, 2007 Ernst Zündel Germany 5 years’ imprisonment
Nov. 8, 2007 Vincent Reynouard France 1 year imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 euros
Jan. 14, 2008 Wolfgang Fröhlich Austria 6 years’ imprisonment (third offence)
Jan. 15, 2008 Sylvia Stolz Germany 3½ years’ imprisonment
Mar. 11, 2009 Horst Mahler Germany 5 years’ imprisonment
Oct. 23, 2009 Dirk Zimmerman Germany 9 months’ imprisonment
Oct. 27, 2009 Richard Williamson Germany €12,000 fine [later overturned]
Jan. 31, 2013 Gyorgy Nagy Hungary 18-month suspended jail sentence 

Now these people are most likely extreme right-wing neo nazi morons, and west-double-standard-on-mocking-jews-muslimsprobably not someone you would ask to baby sit for you. None the less they demonstrate that this law is really only meant to protect a certain group within society. In Europe to date, nobody has been incarcerated or fined for inciting the hatred of Muslims.

 

The events in Paris were one great tragedy, but there is one case that should make people realise this was an attack by terrorists who happened to be Muslims. Members of the Ku Klux Klan were Christians but they did not behave in ways the christian doctrine endorses. je-ne-suis-pas-charlie-copy Ahmed was the Muslim policeman who was executed as he lay wounded on the pavement. Ahmed was a Muslim who chose a career that would help protect the people of Paris.

Wherever it is that we go from here I only hope there are enough of us with the courage to discuss and bring to light the agenda that is fanning the flames of this fire.

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