A few thoughts on the events that took place in Paris last week.
As a lawyer whose favorite Constitutional law topic is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I take a very strong position in favor of freedom of expression. Though each day brings news of more violence and more murder, most of which we do not hear about, the heinous events at the Kosher grocery store and particularly at satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week are especially egregious because they were an attempt to silence discussion in a free society.
Free speech is not absolute, respect for the beliefs of others has its place, but that respect should be rooted in unwavering support for each person to be able believe according to the dictates of his own conscience, or not believe at all. Ideas should never be censored, though they can (and often should) be loudly condemned. Belief and practice of religious ceremony must not extend to impinging upon the rights of others to do the same in a society in which each person is guaranteed fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – an aspiration that is certainly not constrained to America alone.
I note the dismaying irony that some topics pertaining to WWII are off-limits in French public discourse, yet that does not justify vigilante censorship of other topics. Even obscene satire that pokes fun at the three Abrahamic faiths should have a voice in the public square – if only because it prods us to be more perspicacious in our worldview. The answer to speech is more speech; the answer to inflammatory speech may be ignoring it (silence can be speech too) or perhaps engaging it so that others are not confused. In any case, the answer is never violence…as if it is man’s job to be judge, jury, and executioner of those with a different point of view.
The terrorist attacks in Paris were not just about avenging the insult of a prophet but about instilling fear in the hearts of others so as to silence speech deemed unacceptably inflammatory by a fringe sect. I have said it before and I will say it again – the goal of terrorism is to disrupt our way of life, prompting a change in behavior or practice.
I had three Award Expert clients contact me over the weekend to cancel trips to France this week. Three!
The rationale is understandable – we need not question the motives or lodge accusations of cowardice because these decisions to cancel were not made without rationality and careful deliberation. But they are also tragic, in that the consequences of terrorism become magnified from the epicenter of last week’s tragedy.
I will be traveling this week, but not in Paris – I wish I could make a stop there, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that I will not be intimidated by those who wish to silence speech they disagree with.