Art instructor comments on free speech, Charlie Hebdo

By Scott Brown

I’m glad to see some heavy hitting articles concerning the issues of the day making an appearance in THC!

The Charlie Hebdo articles hit at the same time my Art Appreciation courses were dealing with propaganda and art of persuasion and fostered some great discussion — sometimes insightful, sometimes frightening but definitely eye opening.

Concerning Charlie Hebdo and the slippery issue of free speech, I have my own opinions.

First, we should always be careful not to blame the victim. These folks were murdered for their speech, plain and simple. Whether you understand, agree or disagree with that speech does not figure into the equation, if you understand the tenants of free speech.

Free speech means that we should value and cherish all speech, even speech that we may disagree with.

It may be uncomfortable, you may find it irreverent, impolite and rude, and it may be infuriating. I hope for you all that it never incites murder.

Many feel that the satirical publication had crossed the line. My question to you is where is that line? What if my line is different from your line? Who should draw this magical line?

I can guarantee you that my values probably do not line up with a large segment of society. Should I temper my speech because someone somewhere might take offense?

Even the mildest critique of an ideology can cause discontent. We can choose to hold our tongue out of fear that someone might take offense, but at what cost?

Every advance of our society and civilization is the result of someone challenging some prevailing ideology, often at great personal risk. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong; it is only through dialogue that we arrive at some semblance of truth, or if ‘truth’ is too slippery of a term, agreement or consensus.

I don’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo made the decision to publish their ongoing critique of a particular ideology lightly, considering the recent historical context.

The decision to publish, knowing that some might take offense, reveals something about character. I would call it bold, honest and brave.

Many of you framed Hebdo as rude and disrespectful (Again, who decides?) and you are entitled to that view point. I don’t believe these folks were merely attempting to spark anger. They were (and still are) making a conscious effort to challenge a specific ideology, on their own terms. Recognize it or not, that is what free speech looks like.

Some have pointed to the religious underpinnings of the controversy (rightfully so). I have been told that there two things that we should never discuss – religion and politics. But these are things that impact my life the most. Cordoning them off from the realm of discourse is dangerous. It is only through dialogue (speech and expression) that ideologies evolve and humanity advances.

As one of my students pointed out — without dialogue, without speech and the freedom to question and challenge prevailing ideologies, we would be living as we did at the dawn of western civilization.

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