On Freedom of Speech

Yesterday, 12 people were killed for drawing pictures.Gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of French Satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. This is tragedy for the victims and for the people who knew them and the chilling effect of freedom of speech.

One of the victims – Charlie Hebdo editor, Stephane Charbonnier – once said “I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.”

Because freedom of speech matters.

And a lot of people disagree on what the right to freedom of speech is and why it matters.

Randall Munroe’s XKCD comic has commented on this in the past. This is a view I see frequently. It is wrong! Others have said that freedom of speech comes with responsibilities. This is also wrong. Freedom of speech is a right.

It is not about providing a platform. The speaker needs to find their own platform. If you provide a platform, your provision may be influenced by the principle of freedom of speech. The same principle that guides the right to freedom of speech.

It’s not about the First Amendment. This is informed by freedom of speech. But it only applies in the US and is only a protection of the right. Not a grant.

The right to Freedom of speech is about being free to speak. If anyone manages to intimidate me from speaking they are violating my right. It doesn’t matter if that is by law, by threats of or actual violence or by physical restriction. Laws against speech infringe our rights. Shooting cartoonists infringes this right. Destroying magazine offices infringes this right.

On the responsibilities that comes with freedom of speech – there are none. We are in no way obliged not to offend. My right to say what I think I greater than your right not to be offended. You have no such right. We arenot obliged to be silent in fear of retaliation.

This freedom is something that can take down kings and presidents. Even destroy empires. We need to defend this power we have. This is the ultimate protection of the weak over the powerful. If we accept that we must restrain ourselves in the face of threats, we lose that power.

We lose our freedom.


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