Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Maybe "Free" Speech Isn't "Free?"

I have always been taught that freedom of any kind also brings with it responsibility. The old adage that free speech does not cover yelling fire in a crowded theater. That has naturally come to mind a number of times in the past few weeks with the terrorist attack in Paris and all that occurred after it.

The question really arose most clearly when the first edition of Charlie Hebdo after the attack published another cartoon of Mohammed. I gather there were all kinds of rationalizations and justifications for the publication. Many of those were highly philosophical discussions that make sense in some western thinking process. There is also the very basic of freedom of speech. But the magazine knew that the publication of another cartoon would raise the possibility (and high probability) of problems. They published it anyway.

Is this the same as yelling fire? Were the editors being irresponsible and putting innocent lives in jeopardy? Sure it is part of our western ethos (though not always practiced) that freedom of speech is important, but at what cost?

When we are dealing with a different cultural understanding in a time and place of war and danger is it a good idea to inflame the situation putting our values on a people who don't share those values?

They are not easily answered questions, I know, but as our world gets smaller and the great diversity more easily accessed, we need to be looking at them as important questions. We Westerners have often been guilty of cultural imperialism, ignoring and even denigrating other cultures. A certain humility needs to be at work here.

Yes, I know this can feel like censorship. Is it censorship, though, when I decide that I don't need to be as inflammatory as I can because I can care about others? Is it censorship when I find better and less inflammatory ways to say what I want to say?

Those, too, are important questions that can make the difference between life and death for innocent people.

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