Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mike's Musings: Free Speech at Any Cost

The freedom to express one's self without fear of government oppression is essential to our way of life.  It allows us to grow not only as people, but as a civilization and a culture.  We learn just as much about ourselves, other people and the world we live in by talking to people, watching a movie, listening to music or reading a book than we do sitting in a classroom.  In fact, we may learn more.

The slaughter of 12 people working at the satirical newspaper "Charlie Hebdo" is an assault on humanity itself.  It is a tragedy that inspired outrage from all corners of the world, and deservedly so.

This Mike's Musing's is not a discourse on politics or terrorism.  Rather, it is a response to Bill Donahue's comments about the attack, which are as disturbing as they are reprehensible.

But first, a little history...Bill Donahue is the CEO of the Catholic League in the United States, and has been since 1993.  He's become infamous for his protests of a number of Hollywood films and TV shows like Antonia Bird's 1995 feature "Priest," featuring a closeted gay priest facing a two crises of conscience, the TV show "Nothing Sacred" (he claimed it was offensive, although not all Catholics felt that way), and Joan Osborne's song "What if God was One of Us?"  But most infamously, he publicly blasted Kevin Smith's film "Dogma."  He railed against it for months (even before it was released) and set up a number of protests.  Then it became known that he had not actually seen the film yet.  Six months later, he contacted Smith and requested "a private screening of the film so he and Smith could discuss it intelligently" (Smith quipped..."So what has he been doing for the last six months?"  And apparently he invited Smith out for a beer afterwards).

But never mind the hypocrisy of that.  That's just background.  What really made me mad was his insinuation that the editor of "Charlie Hebdo," Stephane Charbonnier (aka Charb) was asking for it.

The link to his column is posted here, but two sentences royally pissed me off: "It is too bad that [Charbonnier] didn't understand the role he played in his tragic death.  In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said "Muhammad isn't sacred to me."  Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive."

The idea that Charbonnier played a role in his own death is deplorable, and Donahue should be ashamed of himself.  Not having read the magazine, I can't confirm the kinds of things that they put in there, but apparently it was risque (it is only beginning with physical depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous in and of itself).  But to imply that he was complicit does two things: it puts the blame on the victim, a man exercising his right to express himself, and lends justification to what the event really was: a savage act of terrorism.

If I wasn't so angry, I'd be having a dark laugh at Donahue's expense.  Apparently he is unaware (or so full of himself that he thinks himself above it) of the blatant hypocrisy of his statement.  The same rights that gave Charbonnier and his staff to make fun of anyone and everyone they pleased (one that they paid the ultimate price for) are the same rights that allow him to criticize Charbonnier in the way that he has.  While there are a number of people who have called him out on his comments, the government can't do a damn thing about it.

Freedom of speech is not without its limits (you can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater if there's no fire without getting arrested).  So while Donahue can criticize the Bush Administration for using "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" on their greeting cards or complain about Kathy Griffin mocking those who thank Jesus when they win awards (both of which he has done), the public has every right to get pissed off.  It's a two-way street.

I'm not necessarily defending what "Charlie Hebdo" did.  Satire is a tricky thing, especially if you're trying to push buttons.  Do I think that all religions should be respected?  Of course.  Unequivocally.  What I am defending is their right to do it.  Twelve people died for exercising that right, and Donahue cast the blame on them.  That, in my book, is despicable.

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