A Religious Attempt to Curb Free Speech

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While reading of the terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, I was reminded of a controversy back in 2005 surrounding the publication of a series of cartoons in a small Danish newspaper that depicted the prophet Mohamed.

In response to these cartoons, many people began hurling themselves around in a hysterical manner, and in a campaign of murder and sabotage, Danish embassies were attacked and their diplomats assassinated. But instead of condemning the terrorists for their actions, the world instead chose to roundly condemn the newspaper that published the ‘blasphemous’ cartoons.

It should now be admitted with some shame I think that almost every news outlet in the Western press refused to show the slightest bit of solidarity with Denmark by publishing the cartoons. Charlie Hebdo was one of the few that did have the courage to show the cartoons, and in doing so refused to be threatened by extremist blackmail and intimidation.

Now nearly ten years on from that controversy it is encouraging to see signs of the argument moving in the right direction. We recognise when our freedoms are threatened. And are willing to defend them against violence and stupidity.

It should also be recognised that all of these unpardonable infringements on free society are carried out by a fundamentalist religion that claims immunity from any form of criticism. I am speaking of radical Islam. And when it does come under parody in the form of a few cartoons, for the absurdities inherent within the doctrines it preaches, it responds automatically with violence. Apologists when faced with this dilemma will often be heard to spout the same response, along the lines of: “the extremists who carry out these crimes do not reflect the true Islam.” This could not be further from the truth, it is precisely because of religion and doctrine that people can find justification for these appalling actions. Making excuses for this kind of behaviour is to insult those who have died for nothing more than their right to express their opinions.

Charlie Hebdo has shown, through all adversity, the great importance of an ability to mock religion, because after all, authority can only be undermined when we’ve learnt how to poke fun at it.

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