Thursday 15 January 2015

Freedom of expression — who's responsible?

I consider freedom of expression to be a right, but I also acknowledge that I must take responsibility for my actions. If my actions include writing or saying offensive words, or drawing offensive pictures, I must take some responsibility for the offence. But I'm not responsible for unreasonable definitions of "offence", neither am I responsible for the actions of others when they react unreasonably to my actions.

To explain what I mean by "unreasonable" I will invoke Newton's Third Law of Motion: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Would that this were a legal as well as a physical law. Being unexpectedly gunned down is not an equal and opposite reaction to publishing cartoons in a magazine. The proportionate response to offensive cartoons is criticism, not bullets.

John Scalzi, at his blog Whatever, gives what he calls "Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death". It's a meandering examination of the issues and how he feels about them, and worth reading.

at the HuffPo, on the other hand, seems to have missed the point of why free speech needs defending.
Lampooning racism by reproducing brazenly racist imagery is a pretty dubious satirical tactic. Also, as the former Charlie Hebdo journalist Olivier Cyran argued in 2013, an "Islamophobic neurosis gradually took over" the magazine after 9/11, which then effectively endorsed attacks on "members of a minority religion with no influence in the corridors of power".
Dubious? Possibly. Deserving death? I think not. This article misses the mark. Sacking, censure, criticism, or other forms of disapproval are in no way equivalent to what happened to the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Summary execution is not equivalent to a strongly worded letter to the Times. This is not about political correctness.

And just today we have the Pope weighing in on the issue, but with a degree of equivocation that is really no help at all:

It's a bit worrying that the Pope is advocating violence in retaliation for perceived insult, but he's a religionist with a lot at stake, so the fact that he's taking the same line as Muslim extremists shouldn't be that surprising.