Charlie Hebdo and Free Speech

In the wake of the shootings, eight months ago at the time of writing, it became de rigueur to draw an indelible line linking the atrocity to the principle of free speech. It became necessary to demonstrate our solidarity with the publication so as to reconfirm our commitment to this principle. God rest the victims of this tragedy, but I have arrived at a different conclusion. What we had was a violent crime (more assassination than terrorism per se, though there can obviously exist overlap between the two) as opposed to the suppression of free speech. Traditionally this right is conceived in negative terms (i.e. it is something you may not be prevented from exercising, rather than something which others must be actively involved in guaranteeing). If somebody was to insult you, causing you to strike them, this would not constitute a breach of their right. Police are not on hand to guarantee their ability to insult you. Clearly the massacre was related to the subject of speech and expression (and doubtless the perpetrators took a dim view to the right under law) but it was, principally, an act of murder. If the victims had been random, and the murderers not motivated by any particular cause or creed, the severity of the act would not have been diminished. I am afraid what solidarity I have for the publication extends to the victims, their families and the narrowly conceived parameters of free speech.


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