How does free speech die? It’s a pertinent question given the events which have occurred in Paris recently. Can violence and murder and hate prevail against the human right of freedom of expression? Can death and slaughter win out over the right to insult, mock and deride any and everyone?
Judging by the reaction to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo the answer is a clear no. The magazine’s print run, usually 64,000 is now expected to be 5 million. The very insults and satire which provoked, if such a word can be used, the attack is now being seen by millions across the world who ordinarily would not see it. It’s a common enough occurrence – martyrs and tragedy invoke a fascination within us. For what reason did these good people die? What cause was so dear that the survivors would continue despite the loss?
As such, I would submit that the current bother about free speech is largely unnecessary. The death knell of free speech will not be sounded by the rattle of guns and the explosion of bombs.
Of much greater concern is passive resistance to free speech. The great “tut” of society which silences those who break with the Perceived View. The quiet suppression of debate through non-engagement, the voices of public life which are pushed to the edges for departing from what is considered to be proper, the slow but relentless march of “progress”, the tides of thought before which no one can stand.
Free speech is no easy right to maintain. For many are the fools in the world and their words are a babble and nuisance. Insult, criticism, dissension, hatred, all encouraged and inflamed by committing to a robust policy of free speech. The price of being free to voice one’s opinions is hearing back the diverse and collective opinions of mankind in all their glorious stupidity. Given this hardship, given this battle, it is important to have figureheads, examples to follow and praise.