Sunday, January 11, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and responsible speech

Personal responsibility is important; that goes almost without saying, as it is really a truism of the finest sort. But does personal responsibility mean more than responsibility for one's self? Perhaps the Charlie Hebdo incident can offer us enlightenment on the question.

Ahmed Merabet, A French Muslim police officer, was killed as a result of the attack on that satirical publication's offices. He was by all accounts simply doing his job, and was viciously murdered as he lay wounded on the ground. This part of the attack plays firmly into the matter, as we will see in a moment.

What is the principle right spoken of with regard to our friends at Charlie Hebdo? The right to freedom of speech and expression. This right is praised by the left and the libertarians, and even some conservatives we fear, seemingly without regard to whom and by how it may affect people. Basically, they are defendind free speech without regard for what responsible speech may mean.

Charlie Hebdo routinely attacked not just Islam, but religion in general, with cartoons and remarks which can only be viewed by any civil society as rude if not downright vulgar. Indeed, by what any rational standard of decency would label repulsive. The publication can only be seen as acting, or, perhaps better, wallowing, in its own brand of self righteous tyranny. As such, the question as we see it becomes, was Charlie Hebdo acting personally responsible for those around them? Did it ever consider how its actions might affect others? Did it ever ask whether the staffers had obligations towards others, either out of charity or respect?

This brings us back to Officer Merabet, one of the real true heroes of the attack. We are going to ask two questions about him. Did Charlie Hebdo have any responsibility towards him as a person? And, would he be alive today if the magazine had acted with the proper restraint we should expect of anyone seriously concerned with the betterment of society?

Please do not misinterpret this: Charlie Hebdo is not directly responsible for his murder nor the murders of anyone else, even of their own. We cannot stress that enough, although we guarantee that we will be accused of it and worse. Yet there are also other things which we cannot stress enough. One, there is a huge and significant difference between attacking Islam, the Jews, Christianity and what not, and merely criticizing or chiding those or any given creed. Two, our rights to speech and expression do not mean that we are not responsible for where our actions may even unintentionally lead. If we do not judge what our actions might mean towards others, then we use our rights poorly indeed.

We will go on record for not the first time that it is senseless to speak of rights without speaking of responsibilities. Charlie Hebdo and its supporters seem only to recognize the first part of that statement as legitimate. It would do us well to remember that more than a dozen people are dead, at least indirectly, due to that attitude.

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