Obviously Charlie Hebdo made good money by mocking just about everything. But do we need to mock anyone or anyone’s beliefs? I don’t think so. I understand the need to challenge people, not least militant Islam, but people can be challenged without resorting to insult and mockery. There are better ways – but they probably wouldn’t sell very many magazines! Don’t get me wrong, I believe in free speech but it belongs to us all, not just to members of the National Union of Journalists! As a recent blog post put it: Je suis Charlie, and I would like to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, marriage can only occur between one man and one woman, and that abortion is murder. Or am I allowed to say that?” (Faith in our Families blog http://faithinourfamilies.com/2015/01/08/charlie-hedbro-you-are-not-allowed-to-say-that/)
It strikes me that there’s a level of foolhardiness in the media’s response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. While we’re resolute in upholding the right to free speech its application is at times a little thoughtlessly bold.
It’s something I learned while working in the prison system. Prison officers don’t insult prisoners, or at least some prisoners. They’re careful how they speak to some prisoners. But they should really claim their right to free speech, shouldn’t they? I mean they should be entitled to strut through the prison saying what they like when they like, shouldn’t they? But they don’t. Nothing would strike the average prison officer as more stupid! Prison officers appreciate that some of the prisoners are very dangerous so they don’t put their personal safety at risk by strutting about saying what they like when they like. More importantly, it’s not just about an individual officers safety, it’s about the safety of others. They refuse to put the safety of their colleagues at risk. It’s common sense, we’d call it simple cop-on!
Similarly, I’ve heard members of An Garda Siochana (Ireland’s Police Service) say that they’d prefer not to work with a particular garda because he or she would get you in trouble. The scene goes something like this: gardai arrive at an incident that’s under control. The situation is calm, but suddenly our garda friend opens his mouth, he’s got a right to free speech, right? He says all the ‘wrong’ things according to prudence, and suddenly a calm situation is turned into a flash-point. Our garda friend has managed to put his own safety at risk and that of his colleagues and possibly members of the public too.
Free speech might get you far but common sense – in this case a prudent evaluation of your opponent – will get you much further, not to mention saving innocent lives too!