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I am Charlie

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If speech rights don’t protect rude cartoons and dumb movies, they don’t protect anything.


But if you care about freedom, you don’t always have the luxury of defending monumental art.

If speech rights only protected polite comments that everyone could agree with, we wouldn’t need them.

The killers in Paris may have been lashing out at cartoons you never saw and would never have wanted to.

But the same attack was also against something you would be interested in. You just may never know it, because you’ll never get to see it.

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Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity.

Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.

It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate.

It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it’s grown.

Charlie Hebdo attack, i am charlie
This cartoon by Robert Mankoff from The New Yorker Sept 2012. Image from here.

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At different points, even France’s devoutly secular politicians have questioned whether the magazine went too far.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once asked of its cartoons, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?

It is, actually.

Part of Charlie Hebdo’s point was that respecting these taboos strengthens their censorial power.

Worse, allowing extremists to set the limits of conversation validates and entrenches the extremists’ premises: that free speech and religion are inherently at odds (they are not), and that there is some civilizational conflict between Islam and the West (there isn’t).

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