Freedom of Speech Altered After Charlie Hebdo?

Freedom of Speech Altered After Charlie Hebdo?


With the recent events in Paris still fresh in the whole world’s memory, many debates have arisen, the most notorious being the attack on Freedom of Speech. But is there real freedom of speech of are most of us defending something that we have never really known?

We have seen for the past couple of weeks thousands of people holding banners reading “Je suis Charlie” and “Je ne suis pas Charlie” to the point that both have become synonyms of being pro free speech or against it, respectively.

Every human being that has been able to learn what happened in France has also been able to form an idea about what the horrendous crimes mean and about what the immediate consequences are. One can perceive what happened as a terrible attack on innocent human lives as well as on freedom of speech. However, the possibility of perceiving it as a terrible attack on innocent human lives but not on free speech also exists because, for many people, the concept of freedom of speech does not exist altogether. How vital is it to consider oneself Charlie Hebdo or not? Linking the magazine with an attack on free speech is up to people’s perceptions of and opinions on the events. Condemning the atrocious attack on human lives is common sense. Most people populating the planet at this very moment are only peaceful beings who would never in their right mind dare to hurt another living creature, and so hold the shared knowledge to not kill or harm.

If we scratch the surface of such an antithesis as being or not being Charlie Hebdo, being or not being pro free speech, we may start questioning if such right really exists. A few days after the terrorist attacks, a teenager was arrested for modifying an old Charlie Hebdo cover (from July 2013), depicting an Arabic man covering himself with his holy book and complaining that such book was not good to protect him against bullets. This cover was released during the turbulent times around the June 30 Revolution in Egypt. This young man, who has recently been arrested in Paris, modified the original picture in such a way that it now depicted a white man (maybe a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist?) holding a copy of the magazine and complaining about it not stopping the bullets. It is very unfortunate to make a comment like this, the same way it was nearly two years ago. Should we call it freedom of speech when the same type of dark joke was used but the reactions were different?

Complete free speech may not exist. In fact, it can be subject to the laws of different countries, so when we defend our freedom of speech, what are we really defending? Most of us just know what is right to say and what is not, and we act and speak according to our social non-written codes in a way that allows us to live in peace and without fear of one another. Perhaps we are defending our right to be protected from people who do not want to be part of the greater concept of being peaceful, of the shared knowledge that hurting others does not make sense in our societies, that we do not want to live in fear of attacks on people under any circumstance.

By Mimi Pouso


Image courtesy of Trey RatcliffFlickr License