By: Raphi Singer  | 

Free Speech: Not so Free

A few short weeks ago, terror struck, yet again, in the heart of France. A school teacher was beheaded in Paris, two people were injured in a stabbing outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, and three churchgoers were killed in the city of Nice. All these attacks follow a rough eight years in France where scores of people have been killed in Islamist terror attacks. While the French have become accustomed to these attacks, the brutal murder of Samuel Paty, the school teacher who was beheaded after showing cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in class, struck a cord with ordinary people in France and around the world. By showing his class these images, Paty had committed a grave sin in Islam, where visual depictions of Mohammed is generally frowned upon. 

After Paty’s killing, thousands rallied all over France in support of free speech, thought and expression, and most leaders across the Western world spoke out in support of these ideals. French President Emannuel Macron issued a statement, saying that “France will not give in to terrorism,” and President Trump tweeted, “These radical Islamic terrorist attacks must stop immideately, no country, France or otherwise can put up with it!”

But there was also a different kind of outcry. Presidents of both of the Islamic countries of Turkey and Pakistan publicly protestested remarks made by Macron, when he said that “Islam was a religion in crisis all over the world today,” and when he offered to sign and pass a bill that strengthened France’s securalism laws. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims across the world demonstrated against Macron and France by burning French flags, chanting anti-democratic slogans and calling for a boycott of French products.

However, something even more troubling occurred. Leaders, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made some startling statements. In a press conference, Trudeau spoke about how, “In a respectful society such as ours, everyone must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others.” Comments like these completely disregard the importance of free speech in Western society, which is held in belief by a substantial number of people. 

When the first Charlie Hebdo attack occurred in 2015, where 12 of the newspapers staff were killed in a terrorist attack by Islamist radicals who were angry about the decision to publish cartoons of Mohammed, some proponents of limiting freedom of speech seemed to side with the radicals who killed them. Of course no one actually praised the killers, but there was a subtleness to their criticism of the cartoonists. When the pictures were reprinted in September, one writer from Al-Jazeera called the decision, “Derogatory, and a form of domination.” Democratic rights such as free speech are a given when living in a democracy, but criticism of the cartoonists is misplaced and wrong. Every member of society should have the right to criticize whoever they wish. They should be allowed to criticize the government, religion and any and all other matters that come up.

Samuel Paty did not die from the actions of one radicalized man. He died because the idea of free speech has slowly vanished from Europe, and more importantly France, where people are becoming further hesitant to speak out or criticize different ideas for fear of being killed. In a country where a revolution took place over two hundred years ago for the specific purpose of democratic ideals which include freedom of speech, there is now a chance that a deranged Islamic radical can kill you for speaking, writing or showing pictures of Mohammed. 
Western democracies like France now have a painstaking choice to make. Do they cower to the loud and oftentimes violent voices who use fear and hatred to subdue any and all criticism of Islam, or do they uphold the freedoms that their constitutions promise, guaranteeing free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press? French President Macron took a stand and was called a “The world's biggest terrorist” by thousands in countries halfway across the globe from France. It now remains to be seen whether he and secularist France will continue to stand up in the fight for their democratic values, or cave in to the anti democratic mob.

Photo Caption: French flag flown from Great Palace in Paris
Photo Credit: Pixabay