Saturday

17th Nov 2018

Opinion

Are we going to stand up for Charlie?

However great in number, the mainstream reactions to past week’s terrorist attacks could, so far, be boiled down to two narratives. Both start by acknowledging that the freedom of speech and expression has been brutally attacked.

Then they diverge along the established paths of European left and right - one stressing the danger of radical Islam, the other warning against the possible surge of islamophobia.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • We don’t all need to be Charlie, as long as we allow a Charlie to exist among us (Photo: Charlie Hebdo)

The overall focus remains on tolerance towards and within Muslim communities in Europe. Free speech itself is overlooked, and the “assault” that happened is seen as little more than a symbolic attack that merits the strongest symbolic response – a massive rally.

In this, we are avoiding a question that we absolutely need to consider: namely, what do these terrorist attacks tell us about the state of free speech in Europe?

Many commentators have criticised the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, pointing out that “no, we’re not all Charlie Hebdo”.

Sure, they’re right – most of us are biased in our criticism, and our humour is limited by our individual taboos. We don’t all need to be Charlie, as long as we allow a Charlie to exist among us.

We can all quietly hiss at the distasteful satirist whose jokes have gone too far, as long as we treasure his tiny, but indispensable role in the liberal-democratic order. And, as such a “flame keeper” of free speech, Charlie is meant to exist on the margin, far from the political mainstream.

So, the question to ask is not “why isn’t the mainstream more like Charlie Hebdo”, but – “why wasn’t the mainstream able to protect Charlie Hebdo”?

Freedom of speech

The Paris attacks should do more than shock us with their barbarism. This is a chance for the political mainstream to reflect on whether it has lost sight of the values for which the victims stood.

This is a moment to realise that the most basic of all our civil liberties – the freedom of speech - is in an alarmingly grave state.

That the process of its degradation has been going on for decades. That, throughout this period, free speech has been attacked from all directions, and that the long-term danger of this continuous, systematic suppression of free speech is, as horrid as this may sound, even greater than that of an occasional armed lunatic.

Yes, the blame is on all sides. Remember the post-9/11 frenzy and the mainstream media’s paranoid expurgation of “unpatriotic” criticism.

The Catholic Church has, in recent times, often tried to censor “insulting” content. So did many other bastions of traditionalism. One barely needs to take a look at the Heads of State marching at the Paris rally to spot the immense hypocrisy of these supposed defenders of liberty in Russia, Turkey or Israel.

That the freedom of expression has too many exploiters and too few admirers in all spheres of the establishment is not a new thing.

But we would be dishonest if we did not admit that, in the past few decades, the single most effective suppressant of liberty has come from the liberal left, through its obsession with political correctness.

Soft censorship

Think of the prohibitive non-legal barriers imposed on those whose opinions are ever so slightly differ from the mainstream orthodoxy: their views are immediately branded as phobic or offensive by hypersensitive cultural minorities.

Think of the general atmosphere that’s been created, in which publishers face restrictive pressures to censor a myriad of views that would have been commonplace as much as a decade ago.

Think of the unreserved concessions to almost any group that screams disrespect, and the bureaucratic lines about the need to foster tolerance, “while recognising the limitations of free speech”.

Anyone who’s ever tried to publish views that in any way challenge the narrative of political correctness will know this experience – hitting the wall of acceptability, dreading if you’ve asked your question in a bad way, or whether it was bad to ask the question at all.

That’s as effective as soft censorship gets.

Look at the growing levels of ideological narrowness in US campuses, or outright political discrimination or in Western academia, where holding conservative views may cost you your job.

Recall, for instance, how even the prospect of a campus debate on abortion policy was offensive enough to a feminist student group, that the University administrators were forced to cancel it.

Seeing that this happened, of all places, at the University of Oxford, shouldn’t we pay more attention to Alasdair Macintyre’s warnings that the Western public sphere has lost its capacity to have an argument about moral issues?

It is not hard to see where this increased readiness to compromise our freedom of expression has gotten us – a society terrified of conflict, willing to make ever greater concessions to appease intolerant radicals and avoid unrest.

A society that, over the years, prioritised almost any sort of comfort to the comfort of liberty, forgetting that all these blessings are themselves derived from it. Now even the threat of leaking Sony executives’ private emails is enough for a faraway nut to dictate what movies we will and won’t watch.

Does this seem like a society that’s got the spine to stand up for Charlie Hebdo before it is too late?

That question has been answered in the bloodiest of ways.

Shall we choose to ignore this predicament, hold a massive rally and focus on dealing with radical Islam? Or shall we pull ourselves together and start paying minimal respects to a piece of liberal-democratic heritage for which twelve people have paid with their lives?

Fedja Pavlovic is a philosophy student at KU Leuven, coming from Montenegro. Send him a tweet at @FedjaPavlovic

Orban demonises immigrants at Paris march

A French press watchdog has highlighted the hypocrisy of some VIPs at Sunday’s march in Paris, while Hungary’s Orban used the event to call for a crackdown on immigration.

Why are liberal democracies not winning the argument?

Unlimited freedom to say whatever one wants, the right to love and marry whomever one likes, a democratic decision-making process - we should not fool ourselves into thinking that these are universally accepted concepts.

Charlie's false friends

Remove the right to offend anyone and you roll back centuries of progress towards free thought, free speech and free societies.

US steps in to clean up Cyprus

Cyprus has overlooked undertakings on bank probity made to the EU in the context of the 2013 bailout - but it might prove harder to get the US off its back.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us