In the wake of the murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists there is a continuation of the debate over free speech (and expression). Amongst those making a contribution are those who say things like “I believe in free speech, but …”.
As soon as someone sticks a “but” into a sentence like that, you begin to wonder if they are really in favour or not. Usually it turns out they are not.
And one of the points raised after the stereotypical “but” is the issue of offence. Which is a tricky area because who likes being offended? Or to be more precise, who likes their personal sacred cows to be offended? And perhaps that is the tipping point – if your intention is to offend someone or a group of people, perhaps you should re-consider.
But if you are intending to criticise someone’s beliefs – religious or otherwise – it is perfectly justifiable. And yes using humour to make fun of someone’s beliefs is just as much criticism as a long, tedious, and boring blog posting. Any offence caused is a byproduct of the criticism, so perhaps this blog posting should be “The right to criticise includes the right to offend.”.
And in most cases the criticism comes in response to offence caused – if you create a religion that requires human sacrifice, you can expect a Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking your religion.
And all religions include ridiculous and offensive aspects. After all the depiction of a mythical sky-daddy and impugning the godless nature of the universe causes offence to atheists.
So if you want free expression like the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo banned because they are offensive, I’ll be asking for all those religious tomes like the bible and the koran to be banned because they are offensive – to me. Your rights as a believer in fairies, angels, and other imaginary and infectious friends do not trump my rights as an atheist. Just as my rights as a godless and amoral unbeliever do not trump your rights as a believer.