I fervently wanted my first post of 2015 to start on a happy note. I wanted my words to inspire and bring hope to those who follow my blog and those who enjoy reading my posts. But, that cannot be.
This week’s events in Paris have overshadowed my every other thought. Though the attack itself is heinous, what makes it more grave is that it symbolizes a threat to freedom at so many levels. The fourth estate has always enjoyed more liberties in freedom of expression than do normal citizens around the world. There is no doubt that journalists do sometimes tend to cross certain unwritten boundaries in the name of reporting or freedom of expression. So, they do sometimes end up insulting a certain religion, religious figure, a certain region, or a group of people.
While I do sometimes question the depths of depravity that journalists can sink into, I do respect their right to express themselves. But today, that right stands threatened. For, the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not just an act of revenge by a couple of madmen, but the beginning of the end of the freedom of expression. This event has ingrained the seed of fear in people all around the world about what they can express online or in the papers. It is not the first time this has happened. I believe it was two years ago when two girls were arrested in Mumbai for posting something on Facebook that questioned the reason for Mumbai coming to a halt as a result of the death of Bal Thackeray, the late Shiv Sena supremo. That event also represented a threat to freedom of expression. And there have been many such instances where journalists and normal citizens have been attacked in some form or the other for expressing their views.
Freedom is the right to live without fear. And I think today we all live in a state of fear because we have to be very careful about what we say, how we behave, what we wear, and how we live. Tolerance has disintegrated into vehemence. The solution to every problem seems to be violence instead of dialogue.
Why should we live in such fear? What is going to happen to the freedom that I enjoy today? Will future generations have the same freedom that I have today? Can the world move beyond this event and continue to believe in the freedom that existed prior to these attacks?
Yes, I saw some newspapers reprinting the ‘offensive’ cartoons to challenge the attacks. But I also read a disturbing news that one of the Danish newspapers, which had originally published the cartoons, announced that they would no longer print such material. To me, that represented the beginning of the end of the freedom of expression.
Will more newspapers follow suit? While I do believe media should exercise some restraint while publishing news articles, it should not be as a result of the fear of retaliation. That is just wrong. If one newspaper stops publishing because of fear of vengeance, wouldn’t that encourage other negative elements to use violent tactics to suppress the freedom of others?
So, no. We need to continue to march on with expressing what we feel and what we want to say. If we exercise caution, we only do it to avoid hurting others, whether it is a person, a community, a culture, or a religion – not out of fear, but out of respect.
Freedom must survive, no matter how many times it is interrupted.
I am Charlie.