Tuesday 13 January 2015

Qui suis-je?

Had I been in Paris yesterday, I would have marched. More accurately, I would have made a stand: literally, since with so many people crammed into the Place de la Republique there wasn't much marching possible; and figuratively - though against quite what is not so clear. Obviously I deplore the violence, the brutality, the sheer unfairness of bursting in upon unarmed people going about their business, and shooting them with machine guns. The men with the guns were thugs, idiots with one half-formed idea in their thick heads, and we're well rid of them. I'm just sorry it's not possible for them, dead, to realise how wrong they were about the rewards of martyrdom and that all they earned was decay and oblivion.

But the whole free speech thing is not so black and white. Should everyone be free to say whatever they like? There are limits everywhere to what's acceptable. Last year in the UK, the US, Australia, here and no doubt many other countries, high profile people who offended various members of society by speaking their minds found themselves having to make public apologies and even resigning. The hip hop group Odd Future wasn't allowed into NZ because some of their lyrics were considered incitements to rape and violence. Personally, I'm happy that they were kept out - but how does that fit with free speech and artistic licence? It simply doesn't exist in the pure form that everybody, even the sainted George Clooney, has been claiming as an inviolable right.

If I had been in Paris, I would have carried a 'Je suis Charlie' poster, but not because I endorse the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which from what I've seen are pretty crude, unfunny and deliberately provocative; or The Interview, which looks like a double-B and would never have got studio backing if it had been about a Western leader being assassinated. For me the poster would have been shorthand for something much more complicated and fuzzy and even contradictory, about free speech and prudence, about tolerance of beliefs and the stupidity of religion, about understanding and despising radicalisation, about condemning both hypocritical provocation and its violent reaction. Maybe my poster should have read 'Oui. Mais...'

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