Sunday, January 10, 2016

Voltaire and Charlie Hebdo.

With the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, France has been remembering the sad events of 7th to 9th January 2015.

At the time the words which people used to indicate their revulsion at the outrageous murders which took place at the offices of the satirical magazine were "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie.)

But thinking about it, perhaps a more appropriate phrase to describe my attitude to the attack on that magazine is the words which are usually associated with Voltaire:

"I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

It should not be difficult - though not everyone has the courage to do it - to defend the right to free speech for people you agree with.

The real acid test of your commitment to free speech is whether you will defend it for things you disapprove of.

So when you are defending the right of an individual or group to publish something, there is no need to use a language which could be taken as implying that you agree with them.

It is actually more important that I condemn the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and defend the right to publish "The Satanic Versus" because I hated the book and thought it was turgid rubbish than it would have been if I had liked and approved of it.

And I would say to the shade of the late and unlamented Ayatollah Khomeini: "If you had expressed your disapproval of that book in a civilised manner, I would have agreed with you, but your contemptible barbarism forced me to defend it."

In the same way, the fact that I do not like, agree with or approve of Charlie Hebdo makes it more, not less, important that I defend their right to publish what they did without fear of violent reprisals.

And I say to the shades of the blood-soaked savages responsible for the murders in France on 7th January 2015, including the Charlie Hebdo staff, the murdered hostages at a Jewish supermarket, and three police officers, one of them a Muslim:

"If you had expressed your opposition to what Charlie Hebdo had published in a way that a civilised human being could possibly support, I would have agreed with you. But your murderous savagery forces me to defend them too.

The Muslim policeman who you gunned down in cold blood, and the Muslim shop assistant who risked his life helping people hide from you, had more compassion and decency in their little fingers than you had in your entire bodies. They were a credit to Islam: you were a disgrace to it."

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