The Paris attacks had two objectives – to punish the mocking of religion with people of faith and also to destroy “freedom of speech”. While the attacks were, like Nazism, barbaric and evil, when will a secularised West realise that freedom of speech can’t exist without restraint.
The attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo prompted worldwide solidarity for the “right” to publish what we like. A BBC Channel 4 interview with a cartoonist who depicted Muhammad as a dog, described the Muslim backlash – including multiple deaths in riots; 40+ personal death-threats and a mini-riot during his public lecture. He now lives with permanent police-protection.
So which is wrong – inappropriate use of ‘free-speech’ or irresponsible Muslim reaction?
The answer is both. People of (any) faith are wrong to react violently to ridicule or scrutiny – whether or not their holy text can be used to validate it (as in Islam’s case); but equally liberal secularists are wrong to intentionally insult religion and/or its adherents. A British Muslim interviewed for Radio 4 said: ‘They [the gunmen] were wrong, but they [i.e. the magazine] have no right to print what they do’.
At least the magazine Charlie Hebdo is even-handed in its insults and mocking of all religions – the problem is it assumes the moral “right” to do so.
‘Freedom of Speech’ is where the assumptions of two world views clash.
Liberal democracies promote ‘free speech’ to the status of a human right. But this is a distortion of the meaning of “freedom” according to the Judeo-Christian heritage – the foundation of western culture. The biblical Law of Moses is clear that all “rights” come with balancing “responsibilities”. It is aggressive secularism which denies that this is the case.
Jesus draws the line between the “right” to mock & the “responsibility” to others?
Jesus – not the tabloid press – was first to say: ‘the truth will set you free’ (Jn.8:32). But as the truth incarnate, he went on to say: ‘if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed’ (see Jn.8:31-41). He is talking about “functional freedom” where (by grace) the individual is given an ability to make right choices about how to think and act. As a missionary to Algeria said on the eve of his martyrdom – ‘I’m not afraid to die. I’m a free man.’
The current insistence on “total freedom” is a recipe for anarchy.
Murder by the gun or assassination by the pen – which is furthest away from Judeo-Christian values? – you decide.