Recently, I decided to address the issue of freedom of speech in regards to whether it is ever okay to limit it if it is too protect the common good. The example I used was on Google and YouTube’s decision to ban people from viewing an anti-Islam film in certain countries. This action was also done by certain governments as to not promote violent protests as the world has seen happen since the release of the film “Innocence of Muslims.” With the protests occurring more and violence escalating, a French magazine has decided to enter the arena in regards to whether freedom of speech should be censored if it is to protect the common good.
If a person comes across a fire, one would hope that individual would try to put it out instead of adding something to it that would cause it to burn more severely. Many are now saying that is what Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, is doing by publishing cartoons that features a figure that strongly resembles the Prophet Mohammed on Wednesday.
Though the magazine is known for its’ outrageous humor, the decision to run the cartoons has many feeling that Charlie Hebdo is pouring oil on what has become a fiery debate between the freedom of expression and offensive provocation. The timing of the issue also adds to the “fire” since it hit stands only eight days after the anti-Islam video ignited violent protests to occur that has resulted in many deaths, including one protest that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
As a precaution, security at some of France’s embassies has been increased after the issue was released Wednesday. The debate on whether the magazine should have printed the cartoons also adds to the discussion on if freedom of speech/expression should have its’ limits.
Laurent Leger, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke out in defending the magazine’s decision to print the cartoons and that the intention is not to provoke violence or anger.
He said, “The aim is to laugh. We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.” Leger also said that the magazine was within their rights and is not responsible for the reactions of others. “In France, we always have the right to write and draw. And if some people are not happy with this, they can sue us and we can defend ourselves. That’s democracy. You don’t throw bombs; you discuss, you debate. But you don’t act violently. We have to stand and resist pressure from extremism.”
Sylvain Marseguerra, a 21-year-old student in Sorbonne, agreed with Leger and that the magazine has the right to do what they did. “I’m not shocked at all. If this shocks people, well too bad for them. We are free to say what we want. We are a country in which freedom prevails and … if this doesn’t enchant some people, well too bad for them.”
While there is support for the magazine and their philosophy, others in the public feel differently and that freedom of speech should have its’ limits. One such individual, Khairreddene Chabbara, said, “We are for freedom of expression, but when it comes to religion it shouldn’t hurt the feelings of believers.”
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault supports freedom of the press but should be limited. Ayrault said Tuesday that “We have a free press that can express itself right up to the point of caricature. But there is also a question of responsibility.”
Though the government has not done anything at the present to stop sales of the magazine, France is already dealing with rising tensions that has rapidly been growing in the Muslim minority. Just last year the country decided to put a ban on the wearing of Islamic veils and other face coverings, claiming they were both a security risk and degrading. Belgium made the decision to pass similar legislation while Switzerland decided to ban the building of minarets, the tall spires that usually stand next to mosques.
In looking back, one might think Charlie Hebdo likes to play with fire as the magazine has been involved in dangerous controversy before. Back in 2006, the magazine printed reprints of caricatures from a Danish newspaper in 2005 that invoked anger across the Islamic world. Many European papers decided to reprint the drawings in the name of media freedom.
In 2008, Charlie Hebdo was taken to court and eventually acquitted by a Paris appeals court of supposedly “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion” following a complaint made by Muslim associations.
Last November, the magazines front-page had the subtitle “Sharia Hebdo,” a reference to Islamic law, and also showed caricatures depicting radical Muslims. The result was hours before the edition were to hit newsstands; the newspaper’s offices were destroyed in a firebomb attack.
The debate over if freedom of speech should have its’ limits will go on for who knows how long. It is a debate that will have repercussions and is not localized to just France.
The debate has spread to neighboring Germany, where Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle shared his thoughts Wednesday on the issue. “I call on all those, especially those who rightly invoke the right of freedom of speech, to also act responsibly. The one who now puts more oil on the fire on purpose, with obvious effect, is not the greatest thinker.”
Westerwelle spoke in Berlin and said the German Embassy in Sudan, which ended up being attacked last week, remains closed. He also indicated that security at the country’s embassies in other countries has been increased.
French magazine publishes crude images of Prophet Muhammad
Anger in the Muslim world shifts to France after a magazine – Charlie Hebdo – publishes naked images of the Prophet Muhammad.
France Closes 20 Embassies Amid Threats After Magazine Publishes Mohammad Cartoons
A French magazine’s decision to publish cartoons depicting a naked Prophet Mohammad triggered a new wave of fears at embassies in Europe, even as anger at the west continued to sweep through the Muslim world.
France announced Wednesday it will close 20 embassies in Arab and Muslim nations after the weekly Charlie Hebdo published the controversial cartoons. The images threaten to further inflame Muslim protesters and terror groups, who have demonstrated against the U.S. at embassies around the world since an anti-Islam film went viral last week.