At the close of the film 300 an entirely inaccurate depiction of the historical battle of Thermopylae which pitted the hordes of the Persian Empire against a tiny band of Spartan comrades blocking their route into Greece, the King of the Spartans (Leonidas, sporting an inexplicable Scottish accent) realizes the death and defeat of his men is imminent. His final act is a desperate javelin throw towards the Persian leader which appears to barely miss it’s target, only piercing the god-king’s cheek. This is not a failure in aim, however. Leonidas didn’t have to kill Xerxes, he only had to make him bleed, and everyone had to see it.
The past two months, one preceding the new year, the other following, have been host to Geo-political crises that occupy the airwaves and keep our obnoxious 24-hour news networks in the black. First came the Sony scandal, where The People Democratic Republic of North Korea took deep offense to the planned release of a Seth Rogen comedy called The Interview in which the tiny communist country’s Dear Leader (Kim-Jong Un) is assassinated by Rogen and his long-time movie-buddy James Franco. Sony showed the resolve of a paranoid squirrel by canceling the film’s release due to an unverified online threat. Thankfully the mostly inoffensive yet mildly funny flick was subsequently released on the internet, a compromise Sony hoped (unsuccessfully) would spare them further troubles.
Cowardice is at the very least understandable. Not every person has the bravado of Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force. What was truly disconcerting were various mouthpieces for papers and television networks decrying the existence of the film at all. How dare we offend the North Koreans! Doesn’t Kim Jong-Un have enough problems running a third-world concentration camp where his own people have to resort to cannibalism for survival? Do we really want to rock the boat and risk bringing down the wrath of this pathetic excuse for a functioning society?
Then came the events in Paris, where 12 members of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo were brutally murdered at the hands of savage monsters in the name of avenging their “holy prophet.” At least these gentlemen (and gentleladies) had the courage of their convictions. Despite threats, despite a bombing some years before, they kept on printing their offensive and hilarious cartoons. In the aftermath of this massacre Charlie Hebdo has increased its publication to 1,000,000 copies. That, my dear friends, is bravery at it’s finest. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
Yet, while the light of free expression glowed brightly against the backdrop of the killing’s darkness, there stands a contingent of cowards and fools who wish to capitulate to bullies and maniacs. We can’t inflame the Islamic world by insulting their Prophet! What do we expect to happen? It’s offensive, it’s insulting, it’s harmful to their beliefs!
You are right it’s harmful to their beliefs. You bet your overprivileged, supplicating butts it is offensive and insulting. That is the point. We don’t have freedom of speech to have a chat about the weather. As if that sort of speech needed protecting in the first place.
It is a shameful faction of liberals, in this country and others, who rather than stand on principle would rather protect the feelings of insecure fanatics. This new concept, that people have a right not to be offended, flies in the face of the First Amendment and every act of true martyrdom in the name of advancing free expression. It is an insult to the memories of men and women who sacrificed everything to ensure you had a voice, the right to stand up and say controversial, offensive things without fear of reprisal or punishment.
That mocking ideals could be seen as a violation of rights rather than affirmation of them is a dangerous notion. That offending the sensitivities of the faithful could be compared to brutal and inhuman slaughter of innocents is nothing short of vile and despicable. But it is not just the lack of respect for freedom of speech that bothers me, and should bother every freedom loving individual, it is the idea that we should refrain from offending beliefs even when allowed to that gets under my skin, precisely because the rationale appears reasonable on the surface.
People and ideals don’t automatically deserve respect, they have to earn it. Harassment of an individual or group is clearly the exception, but criticism and mockery of ideas is not just a right, it is a moral duty. It is the core function of free speech to weed out the bad ideas and support the good. How can we do that without constant and vigilant deliberation, debate, argumentation, criticism, and mockery? These are the tools at our disposal, and we must use them.
When an ideal is so bad, so repulsive to the principles which underly western civilization, including free expression, it is our obligation to challenge it. To poke holes in it. To mock it relentlessly, regardless of the consequences or the fragile sensibilities of the unthinking and frightened masses who cling to it. It is not disrespect of Muslims or North Koreans that compel us to mock their sacred cows, it is the respect of their dignity that drive us to do so. To show them that their supposed deities are not mortal. To show them that their gods can bleed.
So long as there is a law that states the “Dear Leader” must always be respected and never made fun of, and so long as the Quran states it is a sin to depict Muhammad in any way, we must live up to the phrase “Je Suis Charlie.” Make fun of that fat little guy who holds an entire country hostage to fear and repression. Draw that contentious religious figure to your heart’s content. Will North Koreans and Muslims be offended?
Yes. And that’s precisely why it has to be done.
So long as men think ideals and beliefs to be untouchable, it is the duty of all men and women to climb up those imaginary pedestals, show that they can in fact be touched, knock them off their lofty perch (if they stay in place, then they should be lauded), and make sure the whole world is watching… especially those who built that pedestal in the first place.
Editorial By Justin Buell