This was to be a piece on the freedom of speech.
It was really intended to be an homage to that one inalienable right we possess that makes me want to shout from the mountaintops and proclaim my love for this great nation.
Beyond every other freedom we enjoy, that inherent right to speak, express ourselves and practice our religious beliefs without the threat of governmental prosecution should cause all of us to wave an American flag and wear T-shirts emblazoned with the words of the First Amendment while we sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” devour pounds of fast food and spend our leisure time reading about how celebrities fold their napkins at hip restaurants while...
But I digress.
The First Amendment is a beautiful and awe-inspiring piece of law and literature that encapsulates everything we are expected to be in this country by those who framed our original business plan, so to speak. We can speak out against our elected officials through parody, satire or simple words of hatred without fear of being locked up for our thoughts. We can practice our religious beliefs without fear of being executed by government hit squads. And we can peacefully assemble to triumph our beliefs in ending a war, shrinking government, espousing the glory of Wonder Bread or any other thing we feel a need to vent on in a public forum.
You don’t have to like what someone else is saying. But they get to say it without fear of the authorities sending them off to a Siberian prison for eternity.
(Editor’s Note: Freedom of speech is absolute as far as we are out of the reach of government reprisal. It does not mean you can call your boss a fat, bald oaf — Laura Walter, I’m looking at you — without facing repercussions. Nor does it allow you, gentleman, to comment on a good-looking woman while walking with your girlfriend. That can still net you a blackened eye. This public service announcement was brought to you by the fine people at the Coastal Point. When you want to avoid a blackened eye, think “Coastal Point.”)
You see, I had every intention of writing this column on how other nations around the world also dearly protect their individual liberties in terms of free speech. Canada has free speech, for example, as does the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and France, amongst others.
That’s where the promising column in my head began to separate into a million tiny pieces. My initial reaction to reading about the terrors that went on in France last week was the same as many of yours, I imagine. I was furious. Maybe a bit scared. Definitely defiant.
I had been aware of Charlie Hebdo for years — and, while I appreciated their desire to push the envelope in regards to freedom of expression, I often found their work to be somewhat immature and overly-provocative. It was much the same way I’ve always felt about Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine who liked to tweak celebrities with satirical cartoons and columns that came off as silly and amateurish to me.
But that’s the precise point of freedom of speech. I don’t have to particularly like the speech, and neither do you. Those platforms always pushed the freedom to the limit, and it was always nice to see boundaries get pushed.
I was going to write about how this terroristic attack on Charlie Hebdo was really an attack on free-thinking people everywhere. This was not a religious condemnation by the attackers, as much as it was an assault on everything we hold dear. We, as human beings, have the right to be ourselves, and these terrorists were trying to quash that.
That’s where my mind was at first.
I started reading opinion pieces by Muslim writers and bloggers around the world who decried the attacks. Each of the authors I found thought the terrorists were savages who were either misinterpreting Islam, or were simply justifying their murderous instincts by using their faith as a shield. But they all also mentioned how offended they were by Charlie Hebdo’s attack on their religion over the years, and felt the publication was blasphemous by design to boost their circulation and garner attention.
On that point, I agreed.
However, I also note that none of these writers or bloggers went into the Charlie Hebdo offices with automatic weapons and began murdering people. Yes, they were offended — some downright hurt — by Charlie Hebdo’s work. But they chose to be offended, and not turn into cowardly thugs who kill unarmed people while they sit in their office.
So, yeah, I found myself full-circle, back to the assumption I originally held, that speech doesn’t have to be particularly agreeable to be protected and even treasured. It simply has to be free, and anyone who tries to take that away is making a statement that he or she is a murderer, not an activist.
Activists use their freedom of speech.