Have We Carefully Thought of the Consequences of Absolute Free Speech?

One “thought experiment” in the recent — but not yet concluded — debate on freedom of speech surrounding the Charlie Hebdo massacre particularly impressed me:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, …  a man stepped out in front …  carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? …  He would have been lucky to get away with his life.

Masses of people have turned the victims of a horrific assassination … into heroes of France and free speech. The point of the thought experiment is not to show that such people are hypocrites. Rather, it is to suggest that they don’t know their own minds. They see themselves as committed to the proposition that there are no limits to freedom of expression… But they too have their limits. They just don’t know it.

Perhaps because he’s a philosopher and by profession he’s obliged to analyse the logical consistency and theoretical validity of statements, Brian Klug here encapsulates the problem with the default mainstream “Je Suis Charlie” position.

There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech.

Even those who sincerely believe that they uphold this principle often don’t realise they wouldn’t be prepared to accept any word expressed in any circumstance.

Similarly, philosophers like Karl Popper maintain that in any debate you cannot question everything. The debaters must share some common assumptions, including the use of the same language and basic definitions of at least some of the main concepts relevant to the discussion.

This corresponds to relativity in the physical world. To establish if and at what speed a train is moving, you need something still to compare it with.

Questioning everything results in chaos, which ultimately means questioning nothing.

This is one of the fallacies often propounded by the so-called “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins: question everything — but at the end of the day, get in line with establishment views on race and immigration.

The prevailing ideology of relativism, wedded to the policy of multiculturalism, does something similar to questioning everything, by denying the idea that some doctrines are better than others and rejecting a shared set of beliefs as a sine qua non for a society.

The belief that everything can be publicly stated implies a belief in nothing.  Hence the current confusion about freedom of speech and in particular the failure to recognise exactly when this good is paid for too dearly at the expense of society.

Therefore the discussion shouldn’t be around ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to free speech but about what should limit free speech and why.

The best way to do that is to establish the principles and goals to guide our decision about what expressions shouldn’t be permitted by law as their effects are so deleterious that they outweigh the benefits of free speech.

The most cited examples of such expressions are falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded place and incitements to commit crime.

But, beyond obvious cases like these, we can immediately see that we cannot reach a consensus, since people in our fractured society have widely-different goals and principles.

Much of this diversity in the West is produced by the influx of large masses of people from countries with worldviews, religious doctrines, and ways of life profoundly diverging from ours.

The Hebdo attack tragically revealed one such irreducible conflict of ideas that makes it impossible for Westerners and devout Muslims to agree on when free expression should be limited.

Not even Charlie Hebdo (henceforth CH), the much-trumpeted supreme paragon and defender to the death of free speech, believed in absolute freedom of speech, as demonstrated by its sacking of the cartoonist Siné for a column considered anti-Jewish but, compared to the rag’s ordinary fare, too mild for words. Later Siné won a 40,000-euro court judgment against CH for wrongful termination.

CH wasn’t the paper of free speech, but of double standards.

Recently the rag’s long-standing lawyer Richard Malka made evident his opinion that people can be too free in their speech when he chastised Nouvel Obs magazine for publishing a criticism of CH’s slain editor “Charb” by its co-founder Henri Roussel.

I don’t consider Charb et al martyrs. You can be a martyr to a cause, but when your cause is nothing (that’s what nihilism, in the end, is) or evil (CH’s campaign against the National Front), you can’t be one.

Neither is their paper “satirical”: satire must express something more than the mere immature desire to attack and destroy.

According to encyclopaedias and dictionaries, satire has the intention to shame into improvement; its purpose is constructive social criticism, ridiculing stupidity or vices, showing the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

There is no attempt at improving anything in CH’s crude depiction of sodomy among the three Persons of the Christian Holy Trinity, no constructive social criticism in its celebration of Christmas with a cartoon of Baby Jesus thrown in a public squat toilet between a loo-paper roll (Mary) and a toilet brush (Joseph) (see here for a collection of CH’s anti-Christian cartoons). No stupidity or vices are exposed — as opposed to demonstrated — by the drawing of the Virgin Mary making the vulgar “umbrella gesture” to fleeing Iraqi Christians while shouting the same words uttered during the massacre in which its drawer, Riss, was wounded, in an eerie coincidence: “Allahu Akbar”. No weaknesses or bad qualities are shown by the sketch of a dishevelled, desperate Madonna who, dripping liquid, says she was raped by the three Wise Men.

“Are we all supposed to march in solidarity with that?” asks Patrick Buchanan.

CH’s crass, adolescent humour revolving around sex (preferably of the homosexual variety) and excrements is unfunny and sad. It reminds me of a song by 1960s–70s Italian singer-songwriter Fabrizio De Andre’, about Charles Martel returning from the Battle of Poitiers after having defeated the Moors. The supposed humour concerns his long abstinence from sex imposed by the war, ending in his encounter with a prostitute.

De Andre’, like CH, was a product of the ’68 culture with its visceral hatred for anything Christian. Neither is satire: no intelligent message is put across, it is nothing more than turpitude and vile defamation just for the sake of it. In a word: destructive. Which is what the counterculture is all about.

Here we get to answer the question regarding the core principles and goals that must be protected from attacks, the line that freedom of speech must not cross. Charles Martel is a symbol of a Europe united by the same belief in Christianity and prepared to defend that belief on which its civilisation was founded and without which, as it is under everyone’s eyes now, is sinking.

Christianity must be protected from its enemies, then as now. Critically, given the decline of Christianity as a unifying force among Europeans, statements about the legitimacy of the interests of White Europeans in retaining their territories and their culture must be protected rather than marginalized or made illegal as “hate speech.” It’s not a question of preferential taste or personal desire: it’s the collective cohesion that is at stake, without which there is no Western society.

At this point, it’s a question of survival. Freedom of speech is not a suicide pact, as Alexander Boot put it.

That our heroes and the symbol of our fight for freedom must be the demented pornographers of CH shows what sorry state our civilisation has reached.

That revolting excuse of a rag has had a procession of covers offending Christianity, at a moment when like never before we need something to believe in and to rally around.

It’s because of publications like CH and media figures like De Andre’ and their successful propagation of desecrations of what had kept us together and strong for centuries, that we have been left with absolutely nothing to fight Islam with.

By disarming us, the CH journalists who were victims of the recent attacks have indeed invited their own death — in a deeper sense than is commonly thought.

Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, writer and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica.
She blogs at www.enzaferreri.blogspot.co.uk.

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