Charlie Hebdo. I am offended.

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International condemnation over the murders in Paris are flooding in.
International condemnation over the murders in Paris are flooding in.

International condemnation over the murders in Paris are flooding in.
International condemnation over the murders in Paris are flooding in.

THUNDER BAY – LETTERS – Charlie Hebdo, you until your best cartoonists were killed offended the Muslim faith, the Christian faith and people in power on a regular basis. You, Charlie Hebdo, offended.

This drove fanatics to oil up and load their military issue weapons, place the individual 7.62mm bullets in the clips and to drive in a stolen car, in probably a cold silence, to go kill cartoonists. Cartoonists who had offended them.

David Studer of the CBC has defended the CBC in not running the cartoons thus not providing proper context, “. . . arguing that to show those depictions of Muhummad would needlessly offend Muslims . . .” They were and are offended. CBC did not state Charlie Hebdo also drew cartoons of the Pope and people in power just as regularly, this distinction is very important. Charlie Hebdo was defending the right to offend anyone on a regular basis. Let’s move on.

The New York times editor Dean Baquet stated upon not reprinting the cartoons, ” . . . we have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire . . .” Charlie Hebdo had crossed the line between gratuitous insult and satire. Is it not obvious from what he is saying here? They brought it on themselves.

Where does this desire to offend people come from? Voltaire started it. He started France’s famous tradition of offensive satire and he was a brilliant philosopher, his real name Francois-Marie Arouet. He was threatened with death regularly for saying there should be a separation of church and state. He witnessed the powers that came with defending the idea that the act of being offended should be protected. Death and murder was regular, ordinary and usual during his time. Duels were regular where a man needed to die for offending another. The church when offended would regularly throw someone in the Bastille to be tortured. The King when offended would regularly seek the death penalty.

During the times of history he lived in, it was easy for people to be condemned to death for their speech. The US colonies were killing those who believed differently and spoke differently in the form of the aboriginal peoples. Only a couple of hundred years later six million Jewish people were condemned to death because their speech offended others. Let’s be very clear here.

A Jewish person is first and foremost a person of letters. They are known by their Jewish speech and Jewish faith, if the Jewish faith never existed well they would have spoken the German tongue and believed in the German values. They defended their rights to exist, their rights to be a person of Jewish thought and speech and they were murdered for it. Voltaire was prescient, a man who saw into the future.

Voltaire in his lifetime however saw the consequences of only defending the offended and spent his life creating the atmosphere and conditions where once those in power were forced out by the power of the people, (a new idea,) that they should protect satire and freedom of thought and that protection of speech should be carried out to the extreme.

He was witnessing people being brutally murdered for simply sharing a differing opinion. You had no right to be offensive and those who were offended had all the rights. That was enough for him.

The right to offend is the most important function of any civil society because it shows that someone can offend without consequence and the masses can show their power by ignoring that individual yet protect his right to say it.

I am offended is not something that should ever give anyone any rights to take away another’s right to say it. Offend back, defend with your words, your beliefs and powers of reason. Ignore them, turn off the television, rip the magazine to shreds and burn the book publicly. These are your rights. Your rights however should never be because, “I am offended,” that you can take away someone’s ability to hear words themselves, watch the television and/or read the book or magazine that you disagree with.

Trust me, this belief system is horrible for me as an Aboriginal person because I witness the stereotypes of Aboriginals publicly on a daily basis and fight them using my rights of speech.

The extreme position that someone who calls for another’s death is the consequence of too free a freedom of speech does not take into account that the masses can through their freedom of speech as well, create laws that we all have to abide by. If your words physically lead to harm for someone you are punished. This is not a limit to free speech, you are still free to call for the death of someone but you will be punished for it. That was my point about the Jewish people earlier, the Nazis were offended and held all the rights for themselves about the consequences of being offended. Jewish people could have said they weren’t Jewish and avoided the tattoos and stars they were forced to wear by expressing their allegiance to Germany. (At least in the beginning.) That is the power of defending the offended taken to the extreme.

Therefore to limit speech and protect the rights of those who may be offended before, during and after that speech has been spoken has consequences, in fact freedom of speech’s creation historically is due to this danger. As free a freedom of speech as possible must be the guiding principle for all of us. The belief that all beliefs no matter how offensive have a right to be heard should and must be the law of the land.

I am offended deserves no protection because the law already places limits on speech that is dangerous and so in theory you can say your dangerous words as well. I also am a firm believer that words that lead to physical harm need their limits but this is balanced by the idea that you have no right to ever harm physically over words. I also believe in the idea that you have no right to ever harm someone physically over words by themselves unless you are about to be physically harmed.

Is there physical harm in a cartoon depicting Muhummad nude on a couch? Someone Muslim even reading the term, “Muhummad nude on a couch,” is now offended. Does this deserve the protection that the person who is offended is now allowed to limit the viewing of the cartoon and the written words I just spoke as a right? Should we cower away because they are offended?

No. Voltaire was right, “I do not agree with what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it,” a quote usually attributed to the USA simply means you have the right to talk back, offend back and defend back on an equal basis with what offends you as long as there is no physical harm to you or others. “I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” simply means that the basis for any democratic culture has to be that it is in fact the right of the individual to speak, write and/or draw silly cartoons that is important.

Anything less? That is offensive. Another famous quote by Voltaire that we would all do well to remember as we contemplate people being offended.

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” – Voltaire.

Tony McGuire

They Media