In light of the recent attack on the cartoon publication “Charlie Hebdo,” some have quoted Voltaire’s words: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” However, there is one problem. Voltaire never said this. The words come from a woman.
“What the book could never have done for itself, or for its author, persecution did for them both. ‘On the Mind’ became not the success of a season, but one of the most famous books of the century. The men who had hated it, and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now.” – The Friends of Voltaire
What Voltaire did write may surprise “free speech” advocates who endorse what I call, “bullying with the pen.” Voltaire wrote:
“The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.” –1763 Treatise on Toleration
These words are important because they grasp my thoughts on the “Charlie Hebdo” tragedy. While I value free speech, there has to be some reservation when using it. What I mean by this is that we cannot misuse the gift of free speech in order to abuse others, bully them or slander them. Neither should we use this gift to mock or ridicule others and their beliefs. This serves no purpose in rational and intelligent discourse. It is not news that the cartoons and publications of “Charlie Hebdo” are racist, promote religious hate, and so forth. Their intention was to provoke others or instigate intolerance.
However, there is no need to make vulgar cartoons or write paragraphs that “rend” others, as Voltaire put it. If you need a cartoon or mockery in order to get your point across, then you are showing that you are not intelligent, articulate or educated enough to present your views in a logical and intelligent manner. Ridicule and mockery are for school bullies who seek pleasure in the provocation they instill on their victims. In light of this, if we are to endorse content like that found in “Charlie Hebdo,” then why bother promoting campaigns against hate and bullying? Is not harassing a gay teen, minority or woman “free speech?” What is the difference? Why is this bad but cartoons mocking religion and people praised? The action is the same: bullying. What changes is the platform upon which the bullying is being communicated with.
Now we all make jokes and poke fun at each other. However, we usually do this with people who we know well and know that they can take a joke. It is not smart or wise to do this to groups of
people we do not know personally, especially groups that abide by collectivistic social scripts. The latter will get offended because their beliefs encompass what it means to be “them.” So in
effect; if you mock their beliefs, then you are mocking them. Apparently the people at “Charlie Hebdo” and those who support offending people do not understand this. I recall watching on CNN or Fox News some people saying that “we have the right to offend people.” As I heard this and saw the passion in their facial expressions I shook my head in disbelief. Yes we have the right to say whatever we want, but is it okay to offend people just because we can?
|May the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Rest in Peace|