The Bombing of Free Speech
by Claudio Grass, Global Gold, via The Daily Coin Was Charlie Hebdo A “Convenient” Incident For Policymakers? On the 7th of January two gunmen attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly magazine. The shooters were two brothers who belonged to the Yemeni branch of the Islamist terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. The attack resulted in 11 casualties and many injured, while the shooters were shot a few days later in an exchange of fire. Charlie Hebdo is known for being a satire magazine, which is reflected in its jokes, cartoons and its secular approach that is to a great extent considered anti-religious. Social media went on a frenzy with the hashtag of “Je suis Charlie”. Four days later two million people including tens of world leaders participated in a rally for national unity in Paris, and over three million across France. A lot of questions were raised from this tragic event and its aftermath that we will tackle in this article. How free should free speech be when it comes to religion? Let’s start with the obvious: What was the motive of the shooters? According to witness reports of the attack, one of the shooters said “You are going to pay for insulting the Prophet”. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and jokes are regarded as significantly controversial as they mock all religions, whether Islam, Christianity or Judaism. When it concerns Islam, they repeatedly published cartoons of Mohammed, which infuriated Muslim communities worldwide as the display of the Prophet is not allowed in many Islamic interpretations. Not only was the magazine sued for this, its editor-in-chief, who was killed in the attack, had been on the hit list of this Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen for some time. Certainly these attacks have added to a climate of tension and fear, and many would classify it as hate speech or discriminatory means of expression. But the bottom line is that it is an opinion, which you can choose to agree or disagree with. To redress an opinion with a barrel of a gun is never the right answer. Freedom of speech has been established universally, but is constantly attacked. Even after having codified freedom of speech and expression into their constitutions, the West has introduced contradicting defamation laws. The line has clearly not been drawn. Yet again, why should there be a line in the first place? In my view, the right to speak freely should be absolute, and should not be restricted. The essence of liberty lies in the freedom from restrictions and control from an external entity. Ideas and thoughts are entitled to be expressed and circulated freely to whoever wishes to listen. This is what distinguishes democracies from authoritarian regimes. But what should govern conflicting ideas particularly when it comes to “sensitive” subjects like religion? Like the free market, free speech will govern itself and find its own equilibrium. In a society that upholds the right to free speech, there will be disagreements and these disagreements will develop a debate between the conflicting parties. The significance however lies in that these parties agree to disagree, and are willing to defend that right to free speech and expression, at all costs. Renowned economist and strong advocate for libertarianism, Murray N. Rothbard, offers an interesting perspective as he argues that free speech is concerned with where we can exercise this right. In other words, the right to speak is connected with the right to property. A man can exercise his right of free speech within the parameters of his own property, or within the property of someone who has willingly agreed to allow him to exercise this right within his premises. According to Rothbard: “a person does not have a “right to freedom of speech”; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a “right to freedom of the press”; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it).” Because it is a matter of property, you can exercise your right within your property, but you cannot exceed it. At the end of the day, if you watch a show on TV that you disagree with, you can simply turn it off, and should you find an interesting article you can choose to read it or not to. It is this freedom that should and deserves to be defended! I recently read an interesting article by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, with the following paragraph: “The State in its long history has made some people richer and others poorer than they would have been otherwise. It killed some people and let others survive. It moved people around from one place to another. It promoted some professions, industries or regions and prevented or delayed and changed the development of others. It awarded some people with privileges and monopolies and legally discriminated against and disadvantaged others, and on and on. The list of past injustices, of winners and losers, perpetrators and victims, is endless.” Although he wasn’t discussing freedom of speech in his article I think it is applicable to our discussion here. Even if the case could be made for limiting freedom of speech in certain cases such as discrimination or inciting violence, do we really want to entrust the government, historically the biggest killer and discriminator, with the task of defining where these limitations should lie? Is Charlie Hebdo a “convenient” incident for policymakers? Since 9/11 the global war on terror “justified” the excessive legislation that restricted many basic and fundamental civil liberties and legitimized the state’s clear violation of privacy. States have and will continue to misuse such incidents to further violate the civil liberties of citizens. By fuelling hatred and anger against different religions and ethnicities, states are very much applying the old political strategy of divide and conquer. The war on terror wouldn’t have gained this much support if it weren’t for fuelling dissent against Islam worldwide (let’s not forget that the US conveniently allied Osama Bin Laden and his followers against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s). It is astonishing how states get their way when they stress on emotionally-driven forces linked to identity and human life. The American public suddenly gave away their right to privacy through the Patriot Act, which was introduced under the pretext of deterring terrorism and to better support the authorities to find and hunt down those criminals that are targeting the American public. This question leads us to recall our recent interview with former Czech President, Mr. Václav Klaus, who made a rather honest and realistic statement: “We experienced it in 2001 in America and it had very negative repercussions for us in Europe. I am afraid there will be a new wave of attempts to limit our personal freedom due to the so-called fighting of terrorism.” Looking back on the interview his fears were more than justified as we are seeing similar developments such as in the US after 9/11! The lower house of parliament in France just passed a bill that has been already dubbed the “French Patriot Act”. Due to the huge majority in the lower house we expect it to pass the upper house next month. This bill lays down the rules regarding the surveillance of all forms of communication without prior approval by a judge. Furthermore, starting September of this year there will be massive new restrictions on the use of cash in France. Cash transactions over 1’000 Euro will no longer be allowed (down from 3’000 Euro). Foreign exchange transactions over 1’000 Euro will have to be recorded with an ID or passport of the person in question (down from 8’000 Euro). All cash deposits or withdrawals higher than 10’000 EUR per month will have to be reported to the anti fraud and money laundering agency. I think these developments only a few months after the Hebdo attack show clearly how this event is being misused to implement further restrictions on the civil liberties of the French population. How selective is media coverage when it comes to acts of terrorism and violence? Charlie Hebdo remained as a focal topic in the media, the march in Paris was widely celebrated, and “Je suis Charlie” was everywhere on Facebook and Twitter. Other attacks did not receive this much attention, although they were equally gruesome and violent. Between the 3rd and 7th of January (the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack) there were mass killings by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram is a violent militia group that operates in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. In these four days it burned down 16 towns and villages, and overran the headquarters of the joint task force. The estimated number of casualties was ranging between hundreds and thousands. How can such a mass killing be ignored? Isn’t terrorism a violation of human rights across the board? On February 11th a gunman shot three citizens, a young Muslim couple and the woman’s sister, in the US town of Chapel Hill. The motive? Apparently it was because of a parking issue. Meanwhile the families of the victims labeled it a hate crime. However, an article published in the British Independent newspaper put the real issue at the forefront: “Would the media have covered the tragedy if Twitter didn’t exist, and what would have happened if the murderer was Muslim?” What about hate crimes after Charlie Hebdo? France saw more attacks following the incident, which were not widely covered in the media, and certainly the list goes on around the world. An article in the UK’s Telegraph was titled “’We’re leaving Britain – Jews aren’t safe here anymore’”. Yes, we knew racial and religious profiling was a problem, but how many of us knew that it has become so bad that people felt threatened and at constant risk? The article cited figures from the Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, which revealed a record 1168 incidents of anti Semitism in 2014, which more than doubled from just a year earlier. Where is the media from all this? The issue at stake here is the selectivity of media coverage. Why do some stories deserve more coverage than others? We’ve established our case that free speech should be with no restrictions, but we also argue that media outlets should not be instrumentalized for certain political agendas. Where would we be if it weren’t for social media and the Internet? It takes revolutionary means to promote revolutionary ideas. The invention of the first European movable printing type with the Gutenberg Press was a revolutionary discovery which played a significant role during the time of reformation, as it enabled the mass-exposure of the ideas and concepts of the protestant faith, and making the case for religious decentralization and secularism that threatened the power of political and religious authorities. Then why can’t we make the best out of today’s mass media and social networks – to exercise your right to post your opinion online with no Big Brother watching over your shoulder controlling what or what you cannot say on the worldwide web? Whether Charlie Hebdo, or other cases of religious violence, all have certainly put the media coverage in the spotlight. If it weren’t for social media, we may have not taken account of the biased coverage and analysis or how states are manipulating racial profiling to satisfy their agendas. The media and the state are now under great scrutiny. Since the West signed up for the global war on terror, they willingly and knowingly aggravated and encouraged more and more discrimination, while further infringing on those same civil liberties they claim to be protecting. For me, the most important takeaway from the tragic events in France is that we need to stay as vigilant as ever defending our freedoms. As the aftermath of the Hebdo attack has shown, governments will misuse any opportunity they see to further circumvent our freedoms and increase their powers. This is especially easy when people are in an understandably emotional situation like 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. However, thanks to the Internet we are less prone to state propaganda and are able to get a more objective view of what is really happening the world around us. This article appeared in the newest Global Gold Outlook Report. Subscribe for future updates on www.globalgold.ch.