Why we cherish and defend freedom of expression #JeSuisCharlie

Posted: January 8, 2015 by tallbloke in People power, Philosophy
Tags: ,

Yesterday in Paris, religious extremists murdered twelve people and critically wounded several others at the offices of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, including the editor, cartoonists and writers, and police personnel. This morning a policewoman has died and a council road sweeper is wounded following another murderous attack in south Paris. The kalashnikov toting murderers in the first massacre shouted as they left that their god had been avenged.

The magazine has courted controversy over the years, with its deliberately provocative cartoons satirising and criticising politicians, nationalities, various religious faiths and boorish Frenchmen among others. Last night, many thousands including members of all faiths gathered in the Place de la Republique in a demonstration of solidarity and defence of free speech.


Credit – Associated Press

So why are we in the west so obstinate and determined to maintain our right to freedom of expression, and why do we hold those who use it provocatively but intelligently in such high regard?


But who wants the English in Europe? Credit – Charlie Hebdo

The cartoonists who were killed yesterday—Wolinski, Cabu, Tignous, Charb—were some of the most beloved figures in modern French life. Contra some of the nonsense being spouted by fools on Twitter, these weren’t bigots looking for ever-more vulnerable minorities to kick; Cabu, for instance, is most famous for creating the provincial, typical-French character Mon Boeuf, who he mocks for being crude and bigoted toward minorities. It is this irreverance and self mocking that we appreciate the most. The Charlie Hebdo cover cartoon that made me laugh out loud when I saw it on twitter was this one, of an English couple, with the caption ‘But who wants the English in Europe?’.

The reason we defend satire and brutal mocking is it keeps us from submitting to tyranny. Who’s going to submit to a laughing stock? Whether it is a would be dictator, a religion with a totalitarian ideology, or a proto world-government trying to impose a carbon-standard tax arrangement backed by scientific dogma, we use humour and satire to puncture their pomposity, gravitas, and murderous threats.

Steve Bell drew a great cartoon yesterday that says it all:


The next edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine will be published on schedule next Wednesday, with contributions from cartoonists from around the world. As soon as I find out how I can order a copy, I’ll update this post with details.


For Stateside readers who’d like to support Charlie Hebdo with an annual subscription.

Or order from FNAC, select country and length of subscription.

A late bonus, since this post made reference to the imposition of a carbon tax:

Visit cartoonsbyjosh.com and buy something!

Visit cartoonsbyjosh.com and buy something!

  1. colliemum says:

    Thanks, Rog – my sentiments entirely, and I look forward to your posting next week’s CharlieHebdo!
    One comment I came across in a German online paper made this excellent point to all the assorted journos who still pixilate cartoons from CharlieHebdo, said roughly:
    “It can’t simply be “Je suis Charlie” – it must be “Je fais Charlie” – do as the murdered cartoonists did, and publish!

  2. Reblogged this on Big Red Carpet Nursing and commented:

  3. richardlwiseman says:

    Well said and yeah the Steve Bell cartoon says it all really. There are more of us than there are of them and Europe has seen off at least two lots of ‘home grown’ murdering fascists, with the help of many other countries, so what makes these guys think they can win? I like Colliemum’s comment, above, too “Je Fais Charlie”; very true, we must act, not just talk..

  4. colliemum says:

    @ oldbrew:
    Thanks for that DT link.

    All I will say about that unspeakable piece of writing is that this is exactly what TPTB want us to think: ‘mustn’t hate muslims, must be nice to muslims, mustn’t create more terrorists’ – so just behave and shut up.
    It makes me incandescent with anger.
    Nobody in this country has attacked any muslim, no mosques have burned, no mob is rampaging down the streets, waving pitchforks.
    We are meant to appease and appease until it’s too late. More Rotherhams, more Trojan Horses, more Tower Hamlets.
    We didn’t win WWII by saying – let’s not fight, let’s be peaceful, let’s let Germany have all they want, they’ll become even more rabid if we stand up to them, did we!

    Disclaimer: this is not addressed at you personally, oldbrew – it should’ve been a comment on that disgusting piece of writing int he Dt – but as usual, there are no comments allowed, his ‘opinion’ is allowed to stand without any critique.

  5. tallbloke says:

    Richard: Welcome, and thanks for your thoughts. Both Alebalajo and the Kouachi’s are long known to the authorities. If things escalate, I expect policy on known and released extremists will have to change.

  6. Brian H says:

    Obama will get them all on the streets before ‘policy’ can change.

  7. John de Melle says:

    I notice that the Telegraph article did not allow comments. If it had, I think that it would have received several thousand negative ones in a very short space of time.

  8. oldbrew says:

    @ colliemum

    I’ve had work colleagues who were Muslims and they were just normal workers to me.

    But in any society there are always a few characters who feel alienated or resentful for whatever reason, and that’s where the trouble is likely to come from. There are people ‘out there’ e.g. on the internet who prey on that type and incite them to do things they shouldn’t even be thinking about.

    Unfortunately the cartoonists have been targeted as a result.

  9. Tim Hammond says:

    Well i would love to know how many of those now showing support for the cartoonists have also called for the silencing of Deniers, both Climate and Holocaust, and the “No Platform” that some universities are trying to impose on political groups they don’t like.

  10. michael hart says:

    Yes, nice one Steve Bell.
    And even as one of les putain Anglais, or worse, I couldn’t prevent a chuckle at that cover reproduction.

  11. tallbloke says:

    OB: The cartoonists ‘put themselves out on the internet’ too, and knew the risks they were running.

    We have to be very careful not to mix up grievances here. The DT article doesn’t deal with any except the violent extremism. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that most muslims are decent ordinary folk who don’t have any wish to be living under IS style sharia law.

  12. colliemum says:

    @ oldbrew –
    I abhor generalisations and do not see a terrorist in any and every muslim I meet.
    Also, I don’t give a toss as to what they get up to in their own homes, nor does it interest me even faintly how Hindus or Sikhs conduct their lives.
    it is however now indisputable that the religion of Islam is hugely different from the accretions, the state ideology which has made this into the ‘success’ it is today.
    There’s this very interesting speech the Egyptian President Al Sisi gave at the end of December 2014 to imams at the Cairo University. he makes this distinction clearly, and asks for change. here’s the link to the video:
    I really recommend watching this, to the end.

  13. tallbloke says:

    Tim H: Yes. That’s a whole other conversation yet to be had. Note that the BBC itself hasn’t been doing a whole lot of calling for free speech.

  14. oldbrew says:

    The TV news report tonight was predictable, for me at least. The two brothers who are the leading suspects were brought up in an orphanage and later lived in a run-down part of Paris, where they fell in with a church group led by a ‘radical imam’.

    It would have been easy to write most of that script without even seeing the news, in fact I already did (apologies for quoting my own comment written before seeing the news report):

    But in any society there are always a few characters who feel alienated or resentful for whatever reason, and that’s where the trouble is likely to come from. There are people ‘out there’ e.g. on the internet who prey on that type and incite them to do things they shouldn’t even be thinking about.’

    Just add ‘and radical imams’ after ‘on the internet’.

  15. dp says:

    It can never end well when a faction of society raises the bar of acceptable behavior to “Kill or be killed”.

  16. ivan says:

    Living in rural France my village has an hunter assosiation that meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays and generally have a good time keeping the local wild pigs in check.

    Today they all met and had target practice, something they have never done in the 20 odd yoars I have been living here.

    I get the impression that the majority of the locals are not very happy and things could get very nasty very quickly if the government doesn’t do something to restore confidence. I can also see the British people getting rather more than upset if something like that were to happen in the UK.

  17. tallbloke says:

    Ivan: Something like that already happened in the UK (the murder of Lee Rigby) and we’re not happy about our government’s apparent lack of resolve in dealing with those extremist elements who may perpetrate further atrocities. None of the mainstream papers in the UK showed solidarity by publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons today.

  18. Berényi Péter says:

    In the days of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy I used to hang around english speaking islamic web fora, just to better understand their point.

    What I found out was a shocking revelation. They have absolutely no idea what free speech (or freedom of expression) is supposed to mean.

    That is, those folks are not against free speech, they are simply unable to grasp the concept itself.

    Turned out it is a genuinely European concept, with deep roots in European culture &. history. But it is not a universal concept.

    It is not that free speech was always endorsed in Europe, far from it. But each time it was restricted, it was well understood by both the powers against it and the general public suffering from this restriction what the controversy was about.

    However, it is not the case with muslims. Neither it is with any culture around the world actively (and somewhat successfully) resisting European influence.

    For free speech is a mind bogglingly complicated concept, not something simple &. primary, as we prefer to surmise.

    It is a completely ritualized type of behavior, with lots of hidden rules &. preconditions around it, the foremost of which is a sharp distinction between private and public. There is absolutely no free speech in the private sphere, not even in Europe, the Americas or Australia. It is simply ridiculous to claim the right of free speech in this context. Verbal insults, for example, in a marriage quarrel are certainly not protected by it.

    Free speech belongs to the public sphere, and only public speech can be free. It is performed in front of an audience. This audience is the ultimate judge in a public debate, and the first rule is that the party forced to resort to violence, automatically lost the debate.

    Therefore what we perceive is that those guys with kalashnikovs are genuine losers.

    On the other hand, being unable to comprehend the intricate game they have got involved in, they fancy themselves to be heroes.

    There is no possible reconciliation between these viewpoints, only unrelenting cultural imperialism, devoid of any traces of political correctness. Time and again throughout our history free speech turned out to be the cornerstone, in many cases more valuable than life itself. Therefore we shall overcome. Some day.

  19. tallbloke says:

    BP: Great comment, but I wonder if it isn’t the case that things have become more nuanced as 2nd and 3rd generation muslim immigrants grow up in amongst our western culture. Perhaps our ‘home grown jihadis’ feel overwhelmed by the complexity you refer to, and grope in an atavistic way towards a simpler fatalistic path, facilitated by recruiters who offer them simple certainties. Some of the indigenous population go the same way after all.

    Being free isn’t always easy.

  20. hunter says:

    The Islamists are merely carrying out the logical extension of political correctness. Media has suppressed and censored and deceived over climate for over a decade with no compunction at all. In the US, pc media has been the happy puppet on the progressive/enviro string for decades.
    The illusion of a free robust media is a borderline delusion. If we are fortunate a vigorous free press will emerge. But I doubt it.

  21. Paul Vaughan says:

    Let there be light.

  22. Larry Ledwick says:

    I think one of the problems we have in addition to the cultural divide between groups which have no concept of free speech as we know it, and those who have lived in a free speech environment all their lives, is that we are still groping for proper terminology for discussion and debate.

    It would be better if we were more precise in our choice of terms to avoid walking into a buzz saw of PC gibberish regarding hate speech and bigotry. Using the common terms such as Islamic Terrorists leaves you wide open for an unfounded charge that you are against all believers of Islam when you are in fact referring to a specific sub group of that religion/philosophy.

    I do think it is more than a religion, it also historically was a philosophy of military conquest and one should not be confused with the other.

    With all the discussion about islamophobia and what term you should use to refer to the most violent / militant believers in Islam I submit the proper term that both carries the proper connotation and is not open to broad slurs of islamophobia is :

    Salafi jihadist or similar verisions such as Salafic-Jihadist as you might prefer.


  23. tallbloke says:

    Poignant cartoon in today’s issue of Charlie Hebdo

    Plus a bittersweet article from the daily beast