I’ve been over the latest news stories about the events in France. I’ve said a little about the need to defend freedom of speech here, but I would like to say a little more here.
First, a disturbing observation: the world now knows the names of all three of the butchers that entered Charlie Hebdo. The world knows the names of the two murderers involved in taking hostages in a supermarket. And it’s very important that we know the name and face of the one still on the run. We know the names of some of the magazine victims.
Quick, though, name some of the ordinary folks killed in supermarket.
Oh, and let’s be clear: “kosher supermarket”? Clarify that: Supermarket primarily handling a Jewish customer base. There was a deliberate targeting of two groups here: Western free speakers and Jews. Yet we don’t know much about the supermarket targets. Most likely, they were not people who ever thought “I’ll print this cartoon, write this blog post, and if they kill me, SO BE IT!”
That’s the challenge we need to remember as we sit quietly and decide to put words and images out that others will respond to murderously. I can, for example, step into the pulpit tomorrow and say what I please. I’ll post it to the Internet, and if you have a problem then you can respond.
Except it’s never just the speaker who is at risk, and this is how terrorism and oppression works. The evil side of life does not just gun for the clearly visible thorn in their side. They target friends, family, associates. They open fire in crowded supermarkets and take moms just out to pick up milk as hostages.
The goal is that, out of fear for such innocent bystanders, free speech will be curtailed. Free religion will be shut down, and free criticism of viewpoints will cease. It does not matter if it is done through legislation or if individuals simply cower down in fear and refuse to speak their minds. Either way, the goal is achieved: only one voice is heard, and that voice is whatever those with the power desire.
In France right now, and many other places, the obvious attempt is by armed individuals to cease that power. Sometimes the attempt is more subtle. Sometimes it is delayed: this is the response to actions taken at least 2 years ago. That adds to the fear: you never know when someone’s “offensive” speech will come back to bite them or how many innocents will get swept up in the crossfire.
What do we do, then? Should we curtail speech, considering our responsibility for others?
Let me say, as one who is far more likely to die a supermarket hostage than a heroic author, speaker, soldier, or police officer, no. NO. NO. Curtailing the freedom of others out of fear is the road to tyranny. You can call it a “slippery slope” argument all you want to, but I know this: if you push me at the top of an ice-covered slope, I’m going to the bottom, painfully.
You can claim that you only nudged me at the top, that it was reasonable, and what-not, but to my broken bones at the bottom, the slippery slope was more of the march of inevitability. And allowing fear to control us is the step.
Instead, this is what I say: have something to say. Seriously. I understand that the concept matters as much as the content, but make the content worthwhile.
As you consider whether or not it’s worth publishing, do not ask if it’s worth your life. I hope you never waste a drop of ink or a second of time on anything that’s not worth your life. You’re investing your life in it. Just because someone doesn’t kill you does not change that you are spending your life to print it.
Consider whether or not what you are printing is worth someone else’s life. Consider whether or not it’s worth adding to the widows and orphans of this world. If it isn’t, then make it worth those things.
Because you must not let fear slow you down, but you should make it worthwhile. It’s lives in the balance. The cost of exercised freedom is blood.
Don’t spend it on trifles. Spend it well. We’re counting on you.