Are we “sufficiently Charlie”?

In one of the free papers being distributed around Vienna every month I found an editorial today which was entitled “Are we sufficiently ‘Charlie’?”. It praised the worldwide movement of solidarity with the magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and then suggested,

“Still, each and everyone of us, and especially the media here in Austria, should answer this question: Are we really sufficiently “Charlie”? Is our reporting objective, integrative, and free of fear?”

A little later the writer concludes,

“In order to be “like Charlie” we probably need more independent, more nuanced, and more courageous journalism.”

When I was through reading, I thought back to my school days when an essay in German or English would sometimes receive the verdict, “Completely off-topic!”

After all, we are talking about “Charlie Hebdo” here — a satire paper which can be accused of all sorts of things, but certainly not of objective, integrative, nuanced journalism that doesn’t cater to people’s fears. Indeed, “Charlie Hebdo” has made satire expressed through extremely offensive and insulting caricatures of the people and groups it targets, its signature brand; and because France has lots of problems with its large proportion of Muslim citizens they are disproportionally targeted by the magazine. But Christians, especially the Roman Catholic Church, and Jews, and many other groups are also frequently targeted by “Charlie”.

So, when we are talking about “We are Charlie”, the question is not whether our reporting is objective, but whether extreme, offensive, insulting public speech without any artistic merit or other redeeming features should fall under our constitutions’ protections of freedom of speech and expression.

And in consideration of this question neither we here in Austria, nor the French, nor any other Europeans or the North Americans, are “sufficiently Charlie” — because in all of these countries, and increasingly so in recent years, the expression of opinions which some group or other finds objectionable is being outlawed and threatened with legal punishment. Whether it is opinions about homosexuality and same-sex “marriage”, or holocaust denial, or opposition to abortion that labels abortionists murderers, or any number of expressions regarded as blasphemous by one or the other religious community, all of these are increasingly labelled “hate speech” and will get you in trouble with the law in one or more western country.

As a Christian I believe that God has revealed himself through the Bible, and that this revelation is true; this implies by necessity that I consider all other religions and teachings false, and that I consider slanderous depictions of Jesus and other biblical figures to be blasphemy. Nevertheless I am strictly opposed to any form of blasphemy legislation; my God does not need the world’s legal systems to defend himself against blasphemy and insult.

As an Austrian and a member of the German cultural region I am deeply ashamed of what our countrymen did in the Thirties and Forties of the last century, and I consider the denial and belittling of the criminal atrocities committed against Jews and other people groups and entire nations during this time to be a moral evil; nevertheless I am opposed to legal prohibitions of such denials because I consider them counterproductive. People who are jailed for holocaust denial become instant martyrs, with drastically increased “street cred” among their sympathisers on the extreme right.

And just as I would grant others the right to express opinions which I consider abominable and insulting, I claim the right for myself to express opinions which others consider abominable, insulting, or simply wrong: whether this is my conviction that living out one’s homosexual desires is contrary to the plan of God, or that the term “marriage” should be limited to permanent unions of a man and a woman, or my conviction that abortion is homicide, and that it is accurate to call those who profit from the abortion industry “murderers” (although I would be very reluctant to so label women who find themselves in a situation where abortion seems the only way out): all of these are opions which I ought to be allowed to voice without sanction just as “Charlie Hebdo” are allowed to express their disdain for Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc.

Currently, in all too many western countries I am not allowed to voice one or more of these opinions, and as long as that is the case we are not “sufficiently Charlie.”

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