On January 7, 2015 France fell victim to a vicious terrorist attack. Two self proclaimed Islamist gunmen broke into the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The attack was a response to an article published by the newspaper which published a controversial depiction of Muhammad. Michael Morell, former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the motive of the attack was “absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organization that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad.” The New York Times. 7 January 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
The assault on Charlie Hebdo raises the issue of freedom of speech in light of religious sensitivity. This attack, like all other terrorist attacks, forces us to consider the social consequences of our actions. Before I address this, let me be clear: there is no justification to open fire in an office building in order to make a religious/political statement, ever. Still, there may be something we can learn.
Freedom of speech in the United States is sacred and, despite certain constitutional exceptions, Americans enjoy great freedom in this area. However, European nations do not have such clear standards as we have here. The French Constitution has no equivalent Bill of Rights explicitly protecting the freedom of speech. Does this mean that French journalists should be silenced if their publications are used as a justification for terrorist attacks? Certainly the answer must be no.
The right to freedom of speech goes beyond what a government allows. Humankind does not receive their human rights from a government document; they come from simply being a human being. However, governments, rulers, and tyrants all make justifications to limit speech. In the United States, Congress has limited speech that is found to have little political or societal benefit, such as “fighting words” and “true threats.” Islam uses a different standard. Islam holds that no person, Muslim or not, may portray a visual depiction of the Prophet Muhammed. This is not a fringe world view. Many agree that we must respect certain religious tenants even though we are not of that religion. A portrayal of the Prophet Muhammed may strike the same cord in a Muslim as the burning of a Bible to a Christian. Even many non-Christians would still feel a tinge upon seeing a Bible aflame. Interesting that this same feeling extends to desecrating other religions. Perhaps we should have the same conviction, if any, for the satyr of all religions.
Regardless of your philosophy, violence does not solve the purported problem of unbridled free speech. It certainly did not with Charlie Hebdo Surely the assault was intended to prevent Charlie Hebdo from continuing to create satyrical work invovling the Prophet Muhammed. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Charlie Hebdo is now a publication known round the world. Charlie Hebdo is expected to print one million copies of its next issue. Prior to the attack, sixty thousand copies were sufficient for each publication in order to meet consumer demand. Using violence has only created an outstanding support for the victim.
Freedom of speech is a universal right that applies to all humanity. Problems arise when that speech conflicts with what other people consider holy. Perhaps Charlie Hebdo was reckless with their article. It was certainly insensitive to the principals of others. But at the end of the day, we cannot expect people to know or care about every religious tenant of every religion. Al-Qaeda successfully destroyed any chance of a possible debate that may have resulted in France opposing the actions of Charlie Hebdo in a civil forum. At the end of the day, violence has not solved anything.
Clint Eastwood’s movie, American Sniper, has conjured up many feelings of pride and shame among the American people. The movie itself was intended to criticize war by showing how it effects soldiers personally and their families. http://huff.to/1C98Xfr. That aspect of the movie was done very well. Chris’s life story is one of constant struggle between duty and family, a struggle that tears the man apart to the point of almost losing everything. Somehow he was able to get himself together and return to a normal happy life with his family. For that, I applaud the movie and recommend others to watch it who can sympathize with that type of journey. Unfortunately the movie is much more than a simple tale of mans struggle with his higher purpose.
One of the earliest scenes of the movie shows Chris Kyle with a woman and child in his sights. The child begins to run at a battalion of American troops. Chris, knowing that he must choose between the child’s life and the life of his fellow marines, decides to shoot the child. At that moment, in the mind of the viewer, we feel that the killing was justified. But before we cement that into our minds, let me pose a similar situation.
Example: Germany is invading Poland. German planes had just leveled dozens of buildings in the city Danzig. Families in the area are confused and distraught by how insanely their lives have changed. Family members are lost, careers are destroyed, and futures are turned to dust. When all the dust is clear a brigade of Nazi soldiers are seen marching through the city. Filled with rage and utter loss, a Polish family grabs a nearby grenade in the hopes of finding some semblance of vengeance. Their lives have already been taken from then, their future no longer matters. The only thing they care about now is killing one of those damn Nazis. As one of the remaining Polish citizens rises up pitifully against the entire German fleet, he is shot down by a sniper from a distance. Should the world recognize the sniper as a hero? Should Germany recognize the sniper as a hero?
American soldiers are nowhere near the level of evil that existed in Nazi Germany, but from the perspective of an Iraqi citizen the difference may be hard to distinguish. To answer the question posed in the example above, Germans would likely hold their sniper to be a hero, but the rest of the world would not. Why? Why would the rest of the world not regard the German sniper as a hero? Because ultimately the war Germany waged on Poland was unjust. They were fighting a war that had nothing to do with self-defense or justice. Instead it was about power and a dehumanization of the Jewish people.
Now let us consider Chris Kyle again. Of course, those marines he saved would call him a hero for saving their lives, but does that mean Chris deserve the title of hero in an objective sense? In other words would the rest of the world consider Chris Kyle a hero for killing that child and many others? Unfortunately the world would not, why? Because the American invasion of Iraq is an unjustified war that was based on lies.
I understand how emotional this topic is, I understand many Americans have mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, who sacrificed their lives for their country. After 9/11 people were angry, upset, and most importantly confused. The United States Government used this time when Americans were vulnerable to wage a war based on lies against Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and no connections with Osama Bin Laden. http://bit.ly/1A0jitl. The entirety of the research within the link posted is summed up by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet who said “We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period.”
Never can we blame the actions of our brothers and sisters who gave their lives for our country. Never can we take away the pride that comes with such a tremendous sacrifice that we see everyday from our warriors. However, our government can take away that pride, our government can strip our heroes of their titles. By blindly sending human beings to kill others for the sake of an ambiguous mission statement is horrendous and downright demonic. It is not the people who criticize the movie that are disrespecting the troops, it is the politicians who send our bravest away to war by convincing all of us that it is for the greater good.
This is the cost of unjust wars, this is the cost of an unchecked government. Men of valor are striped of their titles because of the greed and egoism of those with power. Shame on Bush and all of the war hacks of that time. Shame on those who still support this meaningless expensive war. Shame on them for putting blood on the hands of our most courageous men and women by engaging us in a war without justice. Let us criticize our leaders and not criticize our troops.