The murder of journalists and cartoonists of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, has rightfully received worldwide condemnation and anger.

Although the term ‘terrorism’ has been overused and perhaps misunderstood across the world’s media, this attack is the very definition.

It is the violent and frightening attempt to coerce a community into a set of ideas or values, in this case a deliberate attempt to use fear as a prevention of free speech and the right to offend.

For those of you, like me, who have searched for the front covers of the weekly newspaper, one can see the designs that were intended to shock, offend and grab attention.

Incidentally it might be worth asking UK readers, if the pornographic portrayal of the prophet Mohammed would constitute a hate crime in Britain? And thus be banned or censored.

France’s Fourth Republic allows the citizens liberty to offend; this is the right to free speech.

The victims have answered the question that has often been asked: Is there a cause worth dying for? Their answer was ‘yes’.

Freedom of speech, to offend, to satirise, has proved today that there are causes on which death can become the weapon against oppression. Perhaps not since the fight against fascism in the 1930s, has there been this case.

To me, it is not a crime to think and it is not a crime to put those thoughts onto paper, no matter how offensive those thoughts might be assumed by the reader.

These murders send the message, that I have the right to kill you if I am offended by what you say, think and write. In law we say you do not have the right to kill, that such an act is deplorable.

How many times has the progress of mankind hinged on subversive material? The politics of ancient Greece, the science of Galileo and Darwin, the Chartist and later Union movements that were all considered to be untruths by the centres of state and religious power.

Or more frightening, how many times has progress been halted? Tongues long silenced before their words could be heard, and now long lost in time.

To those who think this is an exaggeration, it is not ancient history to see such attempts close to home.

In nineteenth century Britain, the very act of speaking against or publishing material that questioned the establishment was met with imprisonment and deportation.

During industrial unrest in south Wales in the years 1910/11, greatest Briton, Winston Churchill ordered troops to the area to help the police effort to control strikers.

In very historically contentious and debated circumstances as to why and how events transpired, the fact remains that several men were killed when troops opened fire.

Three years later, it is probable that the very same troops would have been sent to the front to die, in supposed defence of Western democracy and civilisation.

This is before we consider the repression of freedom movements and writings of colonies of the Empire.

To remember both the American and French revolutions, consider the writings of Thomas Paine, that no man has the right to rule by birth and certainly there is no divine right to be that ruler.

In more appropriate manner, the British establishments feared the spread of French revolutionary ideas of, ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’, these were seen as a direct threat to Monarchy, Loyalty and the Divine right to rule; Dieu et mon droit.

Although these examples may not seem to be linked to the murders in Paris, the point is this, that there may always be an instance where whatever you say or think or write, may be interpreted as a direct insult to what someone believes, whether that be state orthodoxy or religious piety.

Personal insult to literature will never justify the taking of another’s life

Society should and to an extent does, allow groups and individuals the freedom to publish and broadcast material, even if the views are objectionable.

It is only by allowing public debate and ridicule that democracies and societies prevail.

To persecute and prevent this liberty to offend will do nothing to halt the horrors of oppression and in this case murder. Charlie Hebdo is and should remain free to print satire regardless of whether it receives condemnation or praise.

In the words of Bertrand Russell;

‘To tolerate what you like is easy. It is toleration of what you dislike that characterizes the liberal attitude’.

I do not like pornographic depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. But it is the toleration of opinions and ideas that offend personal taste which was attacked in Paris.

Those who object to liberty monopolise wisdom and insight, dismissing and oppressing those people who question as fools and/or subversives to order.

The journey towards full totalitarianism is not far from this.

Remembering the words of the German poet, Martin Niemöller;

‘First they came for the… and I did not speak out,

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me’.

The dark beauty of that poem means we can all fill in the blanks I left with our own society’s fears and prejudices. Without freedom to speak and defend those who do, one day you might find yourself a subversive.

Prevention of liberty will lead to the hardening of society into a damaging conformity which describes new ideas, questions and satire, as activities which are socially subversive and unacceptable.

Liberty means the distribution of ideas and that all ideas must be heard.

Intellectual freedom brings out the best in society. Great things can happen when one is allowed to criticise or even describe the social and political or religious conditions of the day, look no further than Tolstoy or Dickens. Or those that wrote against religious orthodoxy after the Middle Ages.

You may be offended by what you hear or offend by what you say. But discussion, debate and a willingness to be mistaken or questioned by another viewpoint is vital.

At no point does this mean a response is justified by a bullet.

Censorship, whether it is the publication of material or indeed the prevention of someone’s right to read or hear that material, will always undermine democracy.

As vigils are being held for these victims of free speech, we must remember that any attack such as this is an attack upon every single one of us.

The most adequate response is to keep on doing what journalists and satirists do; to report, question and voice the opinions of communities.

The French Republic should and will not allow itself to hide behind the veil of nationalism, to close ranks and project the actions of individuals as that of an entire community.

There will probably be backlash against the Muslim community.

But this too must be allowed a voice in a non-violent manner, so it can be condemned through the voice of reason and tolerance.

For society and democracy to survive, the indoctrination of hatred must be stopped. Murder or any other violence will never avenge the acts of free-thinking and writing.

Pour Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

For peace and socialism.

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