Produced and published by Global Gold.
On the 7th of January two gunmen attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly magazine. The shooters were two brothers who belonged to the Yemeni branch of the Islamist terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. The attack resulted in 11 casualties and many injured, while the shooters were shot a few days later in an exchange of fire with the police. Charlie Hebdo is a satire magazine, and its jokes and cartoons and its secular approach are widely considered anti-religious. Social media went into a frenzy with the hashtag “Je suis Charlie”. Four days later two million people including tens of world leaders participated in a rally for national unity in Paris, and over three million participated across France. A lot of questions were raised by this tragic event and its aftermath that we will look at in this article.
The gunmen who attacked Charlie Hebdo and their get-away car
Photo via Reuters TV
How Free Should Free Speech be When it Comes to Religion?
Let’s start with the obvious: What was the motive of the shooters? According to witness reports of the attack, one of the shooters said “You are going to pay for insulting the Prophet”. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and jokes are regarded as quite controversial, as they mock all religions, whether Islam, Christianity or Judaism. When respect to Islam, they repeatedly published cartoons of Mohammed, which infuriated Muslim communities worldwide as images of the Prophet are not allowed to be depicted according to Islamic teachings. Not only was the magazine sued for this, its editor-in-chief, who was killed in the attack, had been on the hit list of the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen for some time.
Certainly these attacks have added to a climate of tension and fear, and many would classify Charlie Hebdo’s satire as hate speech or a discriminatory form of expression. But the bottom line is that it is an opinion, which you can choose to agree or disagree with. To redress an opinion with a barrel of a gun is never the right answer. Freedom of speech has been widely established, but is constantly under attack. Even after having codified freedom of speech and expression into their constitutions, many Western countries have introduced contradictory defamation laws. The line has clearly not been drawn. However, why should there be a line in the first place?
In my view, the right to speak freely should be absolute, and shouldn’t be restricted in any way. The essence of liberty lies in freedom from restrictions and control by an external entity. Ideas and thoughts are entitled to be expressed and circulated freely to whoever wishes to listen to them. This is what distinguishes democracies from authoritarian regimes. But what should govern controversial ideas, particularly when it comes to “sensitive” subjects like religion? Like the free market, free speech will govern itself and find its own equilibrium. In a society that upholds the right to free speech, there will be disagreements and these disagreements will lead to debate between the conflicting parties. The significance however lies in that these parties agree to disagree, and are willing to defend the right to free speech and expression at all costs.
Renowned economist and strong advocate for libertarianism, Murray N. Rothbard, offers an interesting perspective, as he argues that free speech is connnected with where we can exercise this right. In other words, the right to speak is connected with the right to property. A man can exercise his right of free speech within the parameters of his own property, or within the property of someone who has willingly agreed to allow him to exercise this right on his premises. According to Rothbard:
“A person does not have a “right to freedom of speech”; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a “right to freedom of the press”; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it).”
Because it is a matter of property rights, you can exercise your right within your own property, but others can restrict you from exercising it on their property. At the end of the day, if you watch a show on TV that you disagree with, you can simply turn it off, and should you find an interesting article you can choose to read it or not. It is this freedom that should be and deserves to be defended!
I recently read an interesting article by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, which contained the following paragraph:
“The State in its long history has made some people richer and others poorer than they would have been otherwise. It killed some people and let others survive. It moved people around from one place to another. It promoted some professions, industries or regions and prevented or delayed and changed the development of others. It awarded some people with privileges and monopolies and legally discriminated against and disadvantaged others, and on and on. The list of past injustices, of winners and losers, perpetrators and victims, is endless.”
Although he wasn’t discussing freedom of speech in his article, I think the above is applicable to our discussion here. Even if a case could be made for limiting freedom of speech in certain cases such as discrimination or inciting violence, do we really want to entrust the government, historically the biggest killer and discriminator, with the task of defining where these limitations should lie?
Research into democide by R.J. Rummel suggests that governments killed altogether 262 million people in the last century.
Is Charlie Hebdo a “Convenient” Incident for Policymakers?
Since 9/11 the global war on terror was used to “justify” excessive legislation that restricted many basic and fundamental civil liberties and legitimized violation of privacy by the State. States have and will continue to misuse such incidents to further violate the civil liberties of citizens. By fueling hatred and anger against different religions and ethnic groups, states are very much applying the old political strategy of divide and conquer. The war on terror wouldn’t have gained this much support if it weren’t for fueling anger against Islam worldwide (let’s not forget that the US conveniently allied with Osama Bin Laden and his followers against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s).
It is astonishing how states get their way when tying their policies to emotionally-driven topics linked to identity and human life. The American public suddenly gave away its right to privacy through the Patriot Act, which was introduced under the pretext of deterring terrorism and to better support the authorities in finding and hunting down criminals that are targeting the American public. This leads us to recall our recent interview with former Czech President Mr. Václav Klaus, who made a rather honest and realistic statement:
“We experienced it in 2001 in America and it had very negative repercussions for us in Europe. I am afraid there will be a new wave of attempts to limit our personal freedom due to the so-called war against terrorism.”
Looking back on the interview his fears were more than justified, as we are now seeing similar developments such as in the US after 9/11! The lower house of parliament in France just passed a bill that has already been dubbed the “French Patriot Act”. Due to the huge majority in the lower house we expect it to pass the upper house as well. This bill lays down the rules regarding surveillance of all forms of communication without prior approval by a judge.
Furthermore, starting in September of this year, there will be massive new restrictions on the use of cash in France. Cash transactions over 1,000 Euro will no longer be allowed (down from 3,000 Euro). Foreign exchange transactions over 1,000 Euro will have to be recorded with an ID or passport of the person in question (down from 8,000 Euro). All cash deposits or withdrawals higher than 10,000 EUR per month will have to be reported to the anti fraud and money laundering agency. I think these developments only a few months after the Hebdo attack show clearly how this event is being misused to implement further restrictions on the civil liberties of the French population.
How Selective is Media Coverage in Connection with Acts of Terrorism and Violence?
Charlie Hebdo remained a focal topic in the media, the march in Paris was widely celebrated, and “Je suis Charlie” was everywhere on Facebook and Twitter. Other attacks did not receive this much attention, although they were equally gruesome and violent. Between the 3rd and 7th of January (the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack) there were mass killings by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram is a violent militia group that operates in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. In these four days it burned down 16 towns and villages, and overran the headquarters of the joint task force. The estimated number of casualties was ranging between hundreds and thousands.
How can such a mass killing be ignored? Isn’t terrorism a violation of human rights everywhere? On February 11tha gunman shot three citizens, a young Muslim couple and the woman’s sister, in the US town of Chapel Hill. The motive? Apparently it was a dispute over a parking issue. Meanwhile the families of the victims labeled it a hate crime. However, an article published in the British Independent newspaper put the real issue at the forefront:
“Would the media have covered the tragedy if Twitter didn’t exist, and what would have happened if the murderer was Muslim?”
What about hate crimes after Charlie Hebdo? France saw more attacks following the incident, which were not widely covered in the media, and certainly the list goes on around the world. An article in the UK’s Telegraph was entitled “’We’re leaving Britain – Jews aren’t safe here anymore’”. Yes, we knew racial and religious profiling was a problem, but how many of us knew that it has become so bad that people felt threatened and at constant risk? The article cited figures from the Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, which revealed a record 1168 incidents of anti‑Semitism in 2014, which more than doubled from just a year earlier.
Where are the media reports on all this? What is at issue here is the selectivity of media coverage. Why do some stories deserve more coverage than others? We’ve established our case that free speech should be free from restrictions, but we also argue that media outlets should not be exploited for pushing certain political agendas.
Where Would we be if it Weren’t for Social Media and the Internet?
It takes revolutionary means to promote revolutionary ideas. The invention of the first European movable printing type with the Gutenberg Press was a revolutionary discovery which played a significant role during the time of reformation, as it enabled the mass-exposure of the ideas and concepts of the protestant faith, and the case for religious decentralization and secularism that threatened the power of political and religious authorities.
Then why shouldn’t we be able to make the best out of today’s mass media and social networks – to exercise our right to post our opinions online with no Big Brother watching over our shoulders controlling what or what we cannot say on the worldwide web? Whether Charlie Hebdo, or other cases of religious violence, all have certainly put media coverage in the spotlight. If it weren’t for social media, we may not have noticed the biased mainstream coverage or how states are manipulating racial profiling to satisfy their agendas. The media and the State are under great scrutiny nowadays. Ever since Western countries have signed up for the global war on terror, they have willingly and knowingly aggravated and encouraged more and more discrimination, while further infringing on the very civil liberties they claim to be protecting.
For me, the most important takeaway from the tragic events in France is that we need to stay as vigilant as ever in defending our freedoms. As the aftermath of the Hebdo attack has shown, governments will misuse any opportunity they see to further restrict our freedom and arrogate more power to themselves. This is especially easy when people are faced with an understandably emotionally tense situation like 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. However, thanks to the Internet we are less prone to accept State propaganda and are able to get a more objective view of what is really happening in the world around us.