— travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams —

travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams


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. 

12 Responses

    1. Thank you Alison! It really is a horrible mess, as you say. There’s so much nastiness and violence in the world, and I truly hope we can deal with it in such a way that our children and our children’s children don’t have to fear for their lives OR swallow disrespect everyday. No one should have to live like that.

  1. Great post. It’s amazing how our egos get so easily bruised that we feel like we have to respond to every thing that differs from us. By paying attention to that which upsets us, we actually empower it and give it legitimacy as a real threat. That’s not to say that sometimes there aren’t real threats that need a response, but wisdom is in knowing what are real threats and what just upsets us and should be left alone to go away on its own.

    1. Yes! Well, I’m Catholic, and Charlie Hebdo doesn’t like us too, but I don’t really care. In this world, you have to choose whose opinions you care about, you know? And elements of the Catholic Church have in the past tried to clamp down opposition, for all the good that did. 😉 😀 So, no, history has shown that you can’t kill ideas, and now all the Kouachis have succeeded doing is making martyrs of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

  2. So well said. I’ve stayed away from this topic thus far, but it’s so strange that the words that keep springing to mind are in your post – “Poke a bear with a stick..”
    We must use free speech with responsibility and sensitivity, civility and respect.
    In absolutely no way do I defend or excuse heinous acts of murder and hatred, but I cannot understand why we would choose to provoke it either. If we poke the bear, just for fun, we can predict that he may react unfavourably, even if no harm was meant. It all just makes me so sad. None of it is justified or necessary, the insults, the deaths, the hatred, the divisions that will only worsen. And again I don’t absolve the extremists who are themselves being manipulated and don’t represent the peaceful millions who they purport to, who just want to live their lives amongst the rest of us. What they do is drive a wedge and that is so desperately destructive.
    I fear worse to come.

    1. I think so too. I can actually see some Muslims becoming more defiant and crossing the line towards extremism because of this continued deliberate insensitivity to their beliefs.

      And it’s so stupid, if you think about it. If a certain religion believed in, say, child sacrifice, then I can see why the rest of the world would oppose that and not respect that belief. But not creating images of Muhammad — it’s such a harmless belief. Why intentionally create conflict over that? And then actually going further, creating not just any image of Muhammad but such disrespectful images…it still doesn’t justify murder, but it’s such a needless provocation.

      I think any form of absolutism is dangerous, and even if you don’t believe in something, if you force your unbelief on other people, then you have just basically opened the door for them to force their belief on you. It doesn’t make them right, but it also doesn’t make you right.

      1. We need to be uniting with those millions whose faith is peaceful against those who misuse it to wield violence and seek power, not alienating the majority by insisting on exercising free speech to repeat our insensitivities regardless of the consequences. That is exactly what the terrorists want to achieve, division not integration. That is their aim. Divide and conquer is their game, and we are unwittingly abetting by taking this stance. At least thats how I see it.

      2. No, no problem at all! I think you’re right. It made me think — you know, theoretically, if I were a crazy devious Al Qaeda supporter (which I am not, but if I was) I would create/finance a magazine like Charlie Hebdo to create even more divisiveness and encourage moderate Muslims to move closer to extremism. When the cartoonists have served my purpose, I would kill them off, because they’re my enemies anyway. And when people hold them up as martyrs of free speech, I would laugh because they’re actually supporting a magazine that I own that is furthering my goals. It’ll be the stuff of suspense novels.

      3. Never thought of taking the theory that far. It just occurs to me that the manipulators behind terrorist attacks want to fight imtegration as it is seen as dilution, and separatism as you say forces us to take sides. And taking sides promotes opposition and as a result fundamentalist extremism, as well as fear and control. That’s why I feel that perhaps, if so intent on posting the prophet, perhaps a picture holding hands with Jesus might have been about the least offensive option rather than suggesting he supported those who poked fun of him. Of course i dont for a moment ignore the needless and horrific attacks on the innocents in the supermarket or those at the magazine and the police of course, and the malicious intent behind them.

Share your thoughts!