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Charlie Hebdo, Freedom of Speech: Point Counterpoint

Lalit Shastri

Senior Supreme Court advocate Ejaz Maqbool participating in the Arnab Goswami show on prime time TV the other day condemned the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in unequivocal terms but at the same time, keeping a tight upper lip, he also issued a caveat and criticized those who hurt the religious beliefs and faith of people under the garb of freedom of expression.

Op-ed columnist David Brooks in his piece published in New York Times under the heading “I am not Charlie Hebdo” says: “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.”

David goes on to observe that healthy societies don’t suppress speech, but grant different standing to different sorts of people. in his words: “Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.” He concludes the piece with the sermon; “The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes. And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.”

Paris based banker Jamshed Rizwani has an entirely different take. He states: “Charlie Hebdo is a journal with an immoderate taste for irreverence and this had got it into a lot of problems with all sorts of organizations,- religious, feminists, hunters, ecologists etc etc the established order was always in its line of attack generally in good humour…. though probably not always in good taste or politically correct. Defending the immigrant, the homeless, the invisible minorities, defending those neglected by the state, or those victims of the state, it made its presence felt on the left side of the political spectrum.. As a student in the Latin Quarter,in the late seventies I was a regular reader and even today I take pleasure in reading it. I even have had the privilege of having met two of the greatest cartoonists France has ever produced CABU and WOLINKSI who were assassinated by the terrorists on Wednesday. It had immense appeal for generations of high school and college students and still does.Things which are taboo in other media are humourously dissected in this journal …… CHARLIE often ran foul of the government……. It is this irreverence to all what others hold in reverence or in awe which made many like me an unconditional supporter of CHARLIE HEBDO….Anglo-saxons cannot understand CHARLIE…… From the eighties things have changed considerably….. French journalism which was more or less obsequious, submissive and respectful of the auhority has evolved thanks to journals like CHARLIE….the independent press not under the control of the big groups compromised with one or other political organizations owes a lot to journals like CHARLIE HEBDO, HARA KIRI. Loosing the CHARLIE team is a personal loss for many in France. It most certainly is one for me….”

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