Charlie Hebdo attack must not be reduced to free speech grandstanding – Offstumped Report

French President Francois Hollande (2nd R) is surrounded by heads of state including Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L), Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (4thR) Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (3rdR) and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris January 11, 2015. French citizens will be joined by dozens of foreign leaders, among them Arab and Muslim representatives, in a march on Sunday in an unprecedented tribute to this week's victims following the shootings by gunmen at the offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the killing of a police woman in Montrouge, and the hostage taking at a kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes.     AFP PHOTO POOL PHILIPPE WOJAZER        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)

OffstumpCharlie Hebdo attack is neither the product of too much “free speech” nor of too little speech. It is the product of an ideology that is antithetical to the very idea of how the rest of the Civilized World can conduct itself inspite of the many mutual contradictions and differences. – Offstumped

Picture this scenario.

Two armed men enter a building.

They single out individuals in the building and shoot them point-blank.

The armed are overheard raising religious slogans.

The armed men then walk out of the building barely challenged.

Now do a simple Thought Experiment on how this incident would be reported. Perhaps in 9 out of 10 cases the primary narrative to emerge out of an incident of this kind would be the horror of Terror and the ideology that inspires it, rationalizes it, legitimizes it and shelters it.

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo, French Satirical Weekly Magazine in Paris, saw a different narrative dominate.

Even as the first news updates trickled into Twitter you had a narrative of “Free Speech” emerge with British Prime Minister David Cameron one of the first to make the Paris Terror Attack about “free speech”. As further details emerged about Charlie Hebdo’s legacy of provocative caricature and past attacks on it the “free speech” narrative on yesterday’s terror incident solidified. By the time the full details emerged on the victims and the fact that they were singled out by name by the attackers, the overwhelming narrative across both Social Media and Mainstream Media was one of “Free Speech” with a curious spectrum of reactions. At one extreme were those who were sharing and circulating Charlie Hebdo’s most offensive cartoons and at the other extreme were those pixelating images and cautioning against hurting sentiments with some even wishing “Rest in Hell” for the dead cartoonists.

Somewhere in the middle was a silent majority trying to sort for itself what exactly went down in Paris.

Free SpeechIt was interesting though how conventional stereotypes and labels crumbled yesterday over the question of “Free Speech”. In a bizarre role reversal and convergence you had some to the “Right” keeping company with Left-Libs counseling caution on publishing the “offensive cartoons”. On the other hand you had many cutting across ideological moorings taking an absolutist stance on “free speech”. Then of course you had the opportunists who ensured they scored brownie points with either camp by publicizing some mildly offensive cartoons while staying clear of the most offensive ones.

In all this heated “free speech” debate for and against publicizing the cartoons it was perhaps lost on everyone on how the Islamists had managed to induce an element of Self-Doubt into the rest of Civilized World  –

Were we somehow at fault?

Were we to blame?

Did we bring this upon ourselves? 

Did we provoke this?

This is a good reason why the dominant narrative to emerge from yesterday’s incident should not have been about “Free Speech” but about the fundamental nature of Islamist Terror.

Making the entire debate about “free speech” is self-defeating for the rest of the Civilized World for there is no universally accepted standard on what exactly is “free speech”. We can have perfectly democratic, rule of law based societies from India to the United States each with its own notion of what constitutes “free speech” and to what degree it is Constitutionally Protected in each society.

Flag of JihadBy making this a “Free Speech” issue we have allowed the Islamists to exploit a fault line in an otherwise united stance against their brand of terror and their world view that remains antithetical to the rest of the Civilized World. The choice of Target in Paris of the Jihadists was thus a clever tactic with the intention of exploiting the inherent contradictions on the question of “Free Speech”.

The War on Islamist Terror cannot be won from the pulpit of “Free Speech”. It cannot be won by indulging in “navel gazing” on where each of us “Rule of Law” based Societies stand with reference to an absolutist notion of  “Free Speech”.

We, the “Rule of Law” based Societies,  are not the Problem.

They, the Islamists, are the problem.

It is perfectly possible for a Rule of Law based Democratic Republic to both exist and endure without having to subscribe to someone else’s notion of “Freedom of Speech” – absolutist or restricted. The defining characteristic of all Civilizations is the social contract that preserves the fabric of  all civilized life – Trust. Invariably every one of these social contracts entails some trade-offs and compromises on some Freedoms. We gave up some Freedoms so we could Trust each other enough to mutually co-exist and to Trust the State enough to protect and guarantee that co-existence.

The defining fault line in this War on Terror thus is not about Freedoms but about what makes the Civilized World possible.

Islamist Terror of our times is neither the product of too much “free speech” nor of too little speech. It is the product of an ideology that is antithetical to the very idea of how the rest of the Civilized World can conduct itself inspite of the many mutual contradictions and differences.

Unless we conduct the War on Islamist Terror with this clarity, there is little hope of winning. – Niticentral, 8 January 2015

» Offstumped Report is a Digital Persona for aggregating commentary by Niti Central Staff. Information, facts or opinions expressed through the Offstumped Report may have been authored by one or more staff members of Niti Central.