Compromising on Free Expression would be ‘Unbearable’ (Le Soir, Belgium)
With the publication in France of cartoons perceived as insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, the battle over freedom of speech continues. So is there a happy medium between unlimited free expression and religion-motivated censorship? For Belgium’s Le Soir, columnist Didier Mamann writes that there is not – and if extremists ‘on both sides’ weren’t seeking to take advantage of this well-known cultural tension, there would be no violence over the Western tradition of free speech.
For Le Soir, Didier Mamann starts out this way:
Should we compromise on a fundamental element of our democracy, free expression? This is the question raised by the publication of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo [French satirical newspaper].
The idea is unbearable. So we would rather side with the white knights who have the courage to brave dangerous extremists capable of setting their editorial offices ablaze. We would like to loudly proclaim the inviolable right of newspapers to publish opinions and illustrations in keeping with both their roles and whimsies. For that matter, we would rather join with those who assert “this is our country, and here, we write what we want to write about Islam, because our secular traditions prevail. We will not lie down in cowardice before religious zealots.”
But isn’t this a bit overly-simplistic? Let’s be clear. The publication of these cartoons wasn’t meant to serve any noble intention. It wasn’t about delivering analysis or opinion on Islam to be accompanied by humorous illustrations. Neither was it to thumb our nose at religious fundamentalists who question the foundation of our secular democracies. The decision to publish these cartoons was driven by all accounts to provoke a violent reaction. (Let’s hope it wasn’t driven by the profit motive!)
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