Thursday, January 8, 2015

Paying The Toll For Free Speech

Don’t Let Free Speech Die In Paris

Free speech has never been truly free. We pay a high price for this precious right, sometimes with lives. What happened in Paris against the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, over its controversial, often anti-Islamic cartoons (and sometimes critical messages of Christianity and Jews) is senseless but should serve as a wake-up call to all of us.

The terrorists want you to be scared enough to think twice about speaking out against their belief system and religion. They want us silenced, if not dead. With the massacre of 12 people they did more than the cartoons could ever do, and that is to highlight the message that there is a crazed, violent group that will not stop until we cease to be free-thinking, freedom-loving people.

Armed with an artist's critical pen, images spoke louder than words and in the mind of the terrorists became actions themselves. And when one is acted upon, he fights back. The terrorists took up arms to counter the pen strokes of several journalists. Instead of ink flowing freely, the streets are filled with blood.

What is the answer for this madness? It has gone on for the history of humanity. People respond to words or images with fists and stones and guns and knives and bombs. It goes beyond Islamic fundamentalists and it is not limited to any one country. The era of Muslim or Arab-backed violence today is not unusual though deplorable. History is littered with people who suppressed the arts or presses.

Even in the US, though little actual physical violence against free speech takes place, vandalism against people’s cars/homes/businesses who espouse an unpopular viewpoint is not uncommon. Today's weapon in America to chill free speech is not necessarily the gun but the lawsuit. People will abuse the threat of the legal system to try to bankrupt the voices it disagrees with.

Additionally, as we saw with SONY, hacking and social media blackmail are the new weapons used against the media and artists.

The lesson is simple, no matter your religion, political persuasion, race, sex, nationality, education or economic status: Be tolerant of the voices contributing to the public dialogue. You may feel offended, even unfairly targeted, but without free speech for all there is free speech for none.

There are many ways to protest or counter an opposing viewpoint but killing another would be the least effective method.

It comes down to values. Do you value free speech or tyranny? Do you understand the pen is mightier than the sword? Do you realize you can't kill an idea by murdering its voice? Do you value the sanctity of life above all else?

The world needs to do a better job of educating its young to settle disputes without violence, to reduce bullying, to promote the arts and media even when limits are pushed, and above all, to preach tolerance.

There are so many ways to respond to another's free speech that we disagree with, such as:

* Talk to the publication, one on one, to explain your dissatisfaction and offer constructive solutions.
* Lobby its readers or supporters to stop reading the publication.
* Ask its advertisers and financial backers to stop supporting it.
* Counter it with your own publication and free speech.
* Ignore it and grow a thicker skin.

Or, shoot everyone until all that you have left are people who fear and hate you.

Free speech is not the problem here, but the fanatical mind of a terrorist who resorts to violence to address any grievance, often willing to sacrifice his own life, is the real problem.

Now, you might say that this isn't a case where someone stormed into The New York Times or a respectable publication over a well-researched article about political or newsworthy events, and you would be right. It is a rag publication with stupid cartoons that insult religion. And it is because this publication seems to be one of the least worthy in protecting, it demands we protect it the most. I defend the free speech that I disagree with, that I am offended by, that I find deplorable or ridiculous. Why? Because I am mature enough to disagree with such content and recognize the difference between the right to speak out and the right to ignore it or counter it with my own speech. But words and fists should never meet.

We already know free speech is limited in a variety of settings. I can't tell my boss to go screw himself without the risk of being fired. I can't tell someone in the street to drop dead without risking a physical altercation. I can't yell fire in a crowded theater when no fire exists. I can't use hate speech when beating someone up or I can be charged with a hate crime (I disagree with this law). I can't say what I really think about a number of people or issues without it backfiring in me when I apply for a job. But the law shouldn't be able to regulate my speech and armed thugs certainly shouldn't be justified in trying to punch free speech away.

The courts currently are debating whether social media statements are prosecutable crimes (if deemed a threat). For instance, if I write in a rambling blog post: "Joe needs to die because he slept with my girlfriend" is that the same as me making a direct threat against Joe? How do you judge trash-talking with real threats? If I send an email to Joe saying "you are a dead man" one might argue that is a threat, where as an online diatribe is not. With free speech, I err on the side of free speech.

Each of us may take free speech for granted but rarely is our understanding or appreciation of it tested. Start thinking about it now and determine how you would act if thrust into a situation where free speech is at stake. These cartoonists knew they were playing with fire and some say they received an expected outcome but that doesn't mean it is their fault or that they deserved to die.

These cartoonists may not be Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr., but they contributed with their lives to support free speech.  Our flags should be at half mass in their honor. This will go down as one of the saddest stories of the year but I hope our resolve to further and protect free speech results from it.

To better understand free speech, banned books, censorship and the First Amendment, please consult these resources:

First Amendment Rights

Je Suis Charlie!


2015 Book PR & Marketing Toolkit: All New

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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