Solidarity for Free Expression
Bill Vallicella raises a few crucial questions about identifying oneself with "Charlie Hebdo":
In reaction to the murderous attack by Muslim terrorists on Charbonnier and Co. at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, many have jumped on the "I am Charlie" bandwagon. It is quite understandable. But perhaps a little thought should be given to the question whether one ought to endorse a political pornographer . . . . Might there be something called toleration extremism? Might it be that while one has a legal right to publish almost anything, one has a moral obligation to exercise restraint? Why do we value freedom of speech? Is it valuable as an end in itself or only as a means to valuable ends? Is it reasonable to maintain that any and all public self-expression is a good just in virtue of its being self-expression? I hope to say something about these questions in the next few days. Meanwhile, please think a bit before trumpeting your identity or rather solidarity with 'Charlie.'I think these are important points. I personally dislike the pornographic satire sketched by Charlie Hebdo. I don't even think it's funny. Moreover, this blog of mine being a family-safe website, I won't be posting any images from Charlie Hebdo here. I like Bill's distinction, namely, "that while one has a legal right to publish almost anything, one has a moral obligation to exercise restraint." My solidarity with Charlie Hebdo therefore lies in my support for free expression even when that expression is insulting. I have previously - in a different context - given some thought to the freedom to insult, as can be read here:
One significant issue that arises is the status of insults. Should they be accepted speech? . . . . [Yes,] insults should in fact be protected speech in a culture of discourse because feeling "insulted" is a purely subjective reaction. Some might feel insulted by the application of critical principles to the study of religion, but that cannot justify any right to physically attack the one applying such principles. Moreover, even calculated insults play a role in literature and the arts and ought to be protected speech. What about ad hominem attacks? Should they be permitted? Yes. Strictly speaking, personal attacks stand mostly outside a culture of discussion, for they are usually poor arguments for or against a substantive position. But they should be protected speech. Absent that protection, even a substantive statement could be taken as an insult, so if insults are not protected speech, substantive arguments could be forbidden. In a hierarchical society, for example, the substantive words of an individual lower in the hierarchy could be taken as insulting if such words merely question the views of someone higher. (Horace Jeffery Hodges, "Points Toward a Culture of Discussion," Resolution of Conflict in Korea, East Asia and Beyond: Humanistic Approach, The Academy of Korean Studies, 2012)Again, personally, I prefer not to insult people - and I definitely dislike being insulted - but I think that insults should be free, legally protected speech. And in the present circumstances, though I don't like Charlie Hebdo's crude and insulting pornographic satire, and though I understand why some would rather not express solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, as far as the Islamists are concerned, we 'infidels' are already 'Charlie,' so I set aside my reservations in light of this horrific terrorist attack and declare - as I did before - "Je suis Charlie."