It’s a question that probably has no answer but I’m going to ask it anyway: why can’t we just be kind to each other?
I condemn in the strongest terms the Charlie Hebdo attack. I condemn it because it was cold-blooded murder; an act of terror, merciless and misguided. When I first heard of the shootings, my immediate impulse was to head here and add my voice to the growing rumble of millions proclaiming Je suis Charlie. But as people from hodunk to Hollywood held up their hashtags in the name of free speech, I started to feel that unpopular questions must be asked too, and lines must be drawn. Questions such as:
Is free speech absolute? Can anyone really say anything — even things that are disrespectful and hurtful and demeaning — and call it free speech? I’m not just talking about Charlie Hebdo: I understand it is a satirical magazine, and I hope that all its inflammatory content was created for the purpose of social criticism, with the ultimate goal of spurring positive change; I hope, somewhere out there, an extremist became more reasonable and a degenerate willingly reformed as a result of Charlie Hebdo‘s satire. But what I’m trying to say is this: in general, can “free speech” justify anything?
In the aftermath of the shootings, I was reminded of this paragraph from CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength: “It may seem strange to say that Mark, having long lived in a world without charity, had nevertheless very seldom met real anger. Malice in plenty he had encountered, but it all operated by snubs and sneers and stabbing in the back. … At Belbury one used the words ‘whining’ and ‘yapping,’ to describe any opposition which the actions of Belbury aroused in the outer world. And Mark had never had enough imagination to realise what the ‘whining’ would really be like if you met it face to face.”
Poke a bear with a stick…
Again, let me emphasize: what the Kouachi brothers did was wrong, and I would never dream either of defending them or blaming their victims. The terror group to which they belonged, and any terror group for that matter, must be stopped; I have no sympathy whatsoever for these people. My sympathy, rather, is with the good Muslim, a victim twice: first, by the relentless skewering of his beliefs; second, by the heinous and ultimately counterproductive response.
Why can’t we just be kind to each other? Respect doesn’t always beget respect, and sober, sincere discussions aren’t always possible. But can’t we ask ourselves, before doing anything, “What is it I’m trying to accomplish? Will it be achieved by what I’m about to do?” Instead of using “free speech” to, however inadvertently, make a bad situation worse, can’t we try instead — like #illridewithyou in Australia — to find a way to make it better?
My country has been through a dictatorship and the freedom to speak my mind is something I hold very dearly. But if you needlessly, wrongfully insult and disrespect my family, I’m going to ask you just once to stop it; if you persist, I’m going to have to ask you to step outside. If your son repeatedly bullies my son, even after being asked to stop, I’m going to tell my son to punch, and punch hard. And if my son bullies your son, you tell me; I’ll whoop his arse for you.
There are limits to everything, and hate in any form or fashion, from whatever source and however fashionable, is just unacceptable. That’s the line I’m drawing.
“#Illridewithyou, Not #Jesuischarlie: Drawing Lines” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.