Je Suis Charlie? Not really

This past week the world witnessed a massacre at the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Islamic terrorists slaughtered 12 people, claiming to avenge the Prophet Mohamed. The terrorists, based on their understanding of the Qur’an, believed the numerous sardonic cartoons that Charlie Hebdo published were in fact blasphemy against the prophet. The terrorists’ course of action was to slaughter those with whom they disagreed.

The key for terrorism to win is to tear down the pillars of a free society, with free speech seen as one of those pillars. The terrorists’ message was clear: say something we do not like and you will die. What they were in fact saying was that their right to expression was more valuable than another person’s right to free speech, even to the point of justifying murder over civility.

This was not the first time that Charlie Hebdo had been attacked, having been fired bombed several years ago. Nor has Charlie Hebdo reserved its mocking just to the Islamic faith. Charlie Hebdo has been critical of what it sees as extremes in all faiths, particularly Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Members of each of these faiths have criticized Charlie Hebdo, however it has only been those who profess adherence to Islam that have violently attacked Charlie Hebdo. The attacks on free speech, though not as harsh as what we witnessed with Charlie Hebdo, occur constantly. Censorship has many soldiers, and even more weapons with which to silence opposing voices.

The media is hailing those killed in the Charlie Hebdo massacre as heroes, but many in the media had been critical of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial style, at times calling it racist (even after the massacre). Is it possible to both praise and defend the likes of Charlie Hebdo, while condemning their message? If by defending Charlie Hebdo, does that mean we necessarily agree with their opinion? The matter of free speech does not stop at the original statement, but extends to the rebuke that follows. However, are not both worthy of the expression, so long as it is done in an open and accessible fashion, and welcoming disapproval?

When tragedies such as what happened at Charlie Hebdo occur, many stand up in solidarity with the concept of free speech and the people who perished exercising that freedom. We applaud the bravery of the staff, and vow to honor their sacrifice. The reality is every day we do just the opposite. Valid opinions that we may disagree with appear before us all the time. Some choose to address these opinions by presenting a countering argument and letting others judge for themselves whether either or both opinions have merit. Many of us have noticed an increased call for censorship, an attempt to silence opposing views. As a radio host and commentator, I am appalled by the ever increasing attempts to force censorship on valid opinions.

Robert Azzi and I are both columnists, with differing points of view, whose opinions appear in this publication. Robert and I disagree on various topics, to which we are often criticized by readers. Most of the criticism we receive is to the point and respectful. Some of the criticism is less helpful, but still deserves to be heard. Occasionally, Robert and I, as have others, receive e-mails and comments calling for the silencing of our articles. I am in no way comparing what happened at Charlie Hebdo with the calls by some that read this publication requesting that Robert and I ceased to be published. Nevertheless, censorship, as with all attacks on liberty, often starts with one voice that builds in strength. We praise those who perished exercising their right to free speech, but stand by in this politically correct, overly sensitive world, and watch as honest free speech is attacked every day.

On the very same day as the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the Santa Barbara News-Press was vandalized. The paper’s crime? It publishes articles, like thousands of other publications across the country, using the term “illegal immigrants.” I know most would prefer the spraying of paint instead of the spraying of bullets, but it would take very little effort for anyone of us to find example after example of “soft” censorship. Regardless of the method, the calls to oppress free speech are the product of ignorance, and the pathway to tyranny. Without free and open dissent, preferably crafted in a civil and intelligent manner, then despite all of our best efforts, the terrorists win. The question is will you be a willing ally in their efforts?

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