It’s been two weeks since the Charlie Hebdo incident took the world by storm stirring the outcry for freedom of expression. Thousands of people marched together with their eminent leaders and echoing the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” across the globe. Looking at the phenomenon, I tried not to be involved in the public discussion nor jumping into the bandwagon condemning the two misguided guys who took the lives of 12 artists for doing their jobs. However, after reading the news about Nigerian protesters who murdered more than five innocent people and set churches in fire to show support for the two killers, my self-restraint was relinquished and I decided to follow the current by sharing my opinion.
Looking back to the 7th of January 2015 when two gunmen broke into the Charlie Hebdo’s headquarter and fired bullets towards 12 people, I was surprised by the power of faith, not in the positive way but in the way that got me thinking how dangerous a misguided belief could be. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised in a religious family and an act of blasphemy is something that is totally out of the line. But taking your guns, sneaking into someone’s office and fired bullets like crazy, is also something to be frowned upon on. Nevertheless, what people saw, or let me get it straight, what the media people saw regarding the shooting was a violation of human’s rights and oppression to the freedom of expression. Due to the extensive media coverage, public was provoked to rise up their pens and shouted out loudly the slogan “#JeSuisCharlie” in solidarity of the victims. Once again, Islam was exposed and under scrutiny. The non-muslims (and maybe even the muslims themselves) started to ask some questions: what Islam is really about! Is it really a religion of peace or is it a cult performed by mad men called Jihadist? In Britain, a British MP suggested to cancel the immigration policy and banned entry for asylum seekers who come from the Middle East leaving human’s right experts and those who care gobsmacked!. Across the north Atlantic, the almighty Rupert Murdoch verbally harassed all the muslims around the globe by putting the blame on them for simply believing in the same God as the two killers. That all said, this anecdote needs to see an end.
Indeed, the freedom to express our thoughts and opinion is a human right. It is even acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). No argument here! I like what John Stuart Mill said in his book, Liberty, stating that over himself, his body and mind, individual is sovereign. But yeah, here’s comes the problem. The premise “over himself his body and mind, individual is sovereign” becomes a flaw when someone’s sovereignty out shadows the sovereignty of others. It’s not a rocket-science and everyone should understand that when it comes to exercising our power to claim our human’s rights, we also need to be aware that other people are doing exactly the same thing and therefore, there is a need for self-control. In other words, if we choose to be part of a society where people are fighting against each other for their human’s rights, such thing as “absolute sovereignty” is non-existence and this also applies to the freedom of expression. It is important not to offend someone else with our opinions. The 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stipulates the importance of the self-control and wisdom as quoted here: “In the exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article (freedom of expression) carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and may therefore be subject to certain restriction.” If one asks, what does restriction mean, the covenant explains in the next article, “For respect of other rights and reputation of others.”
So, a question arises: Have the those two killers and the 12 victims respected each other’s freedom of expression? Had there been a boundaries set up?
In the attempt to answer these questions, allow me put the Charlie Hebdo’s incident in the context of the two references that I have mentioned above. Referring to Mill, the two killers and the 12 victims are independent beings who are free to speak their mind or do whatever they think is right. They earned their freedom of expression when they were born. In this context, both are right in terms of exercising their sovereignty! But yeah, I am not mad and let’s not stop there!! Moving to the next context, based on ICCPR, the two parties are equally wrong by exercising their rights without a control.
But before jumping into a conclusion, it is also important to notice that the public outcry was in favour of the victims. The slogan #JeNeSuisPasCharlie was almost every where and discrimination against muslim was tense. While based on the contexts, both are equally responsible for their acts. That said, isn’t it bias to support one party and be against the other? I dare to say that some of those who rallied have never heard about Mill and those who set the churches on fire might have never read ICCPR. But the most important question to ask, have the media executives and educated journalists cared about the impact of their biased coverage had they chose to be impartial? be it towards the killer or the victims? France is an inspiration when it comes to democracy, freedom of expression and free press. Criticising the government, demonstration and nudity on a national tv channel are normalcies. And yet, should we, or the people of France close their eyes when a funny magazine go overboard with their content? Satire when exercised in a great extent in the political realm, such as denouncing a certain group or individual, could be deemed as a libel and cause serious consequences. However, given the case of Charlie Hebdo where it took two gunmen to slaughter the whole members of the creative department, there must be something that didn’t work properly. Therefore, it is okay to ask, has the law of hate-speech enacted when it comes to blasphemy or denouncing a holy figure praised by a certain group in France? Were the people aware of Mill or the ICCPR?
Based on my limited research, all those appeals indicating an objection towards libel or blasphemy in the case of Charlie Hebdo have always foundered or annulled either in supreme court or in lower court. It seemed like the judges think that a minority group taking things personally irrelevant. I didn’t blame the judges though, I mean who am I to judge? my point is that had they tried to put a bit more attention on those appeals, the Charlie Hebdo incident might never happenned. But yeah, it is just a speculation.
What is real now is that Charlie hebdo’s incident had transformed the joy of new year’s celebration into a tragedy. And when the public opinion claimed that the action of Chérif and Said Kouachi as a violation to the freedom of expression thus rallying and trending the topic of #JeSuisCharlie. I must say that “Je ne suis pas #JesuisCharlie ni Je suis #JeNeSuisPasCharlie” even if I have a lot of pens collection that I gathered from many countries. And that’s because, as mentioned, both parties were equally out of boundaries.