Honouring ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and freedom of speech

Firefighters carry a victim on a stretcher at the scene after a shooting at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper,

Where the line is drawn and where it is crossed

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

The hostile take over of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical left-wing magazine, and the massacre of nine employees and two National Police officers reminds us of the thin barrier protecting our freedom of speech and the fine line between poking fun and instigating attack.

The senselessness that occurred on January 7 gave strength to what many agree to be a dying medium. Publications across the globe banded together to acknowledge the bravery of those cartoonists who died so that we may continue to speak our mind and express our opinions.

Newspapers, magazines, and various other publications that hold the mirror upon society, showing all the blemishes, scars, and corruption, are the vehicles for democracy. Without them, without freedom of speech, without public and private institutions to speak up, we are doomed. And for that reason alone, I honour those who have lost their lives over the years—CharlieHebdo included—for our right to express ourselves.

Yet, such ruthlessness cannot be ignored. Forthright as I am, I am not eager to die for my craft. So I must ask, where is the line I must draw for myself? How will I know when I have crossed it? When should I cross it?

Those who know me know that I only view activism from the perimeter. I have yet to determine my stance. Should I fight against corporate giants like Kinder Morgan? Should I challenge government discourse, like those in Hong Kong did last year? Should I rally for legalization of marijuana? I know at some point I’ll have to pick a battle, because those who stand idly by give power to the enemy, whoever it is.

So I ask us all: What are we willing to die for? What change in the world do we wish to see for the next generation? What have we inherited from the sacrifice of those before us? Take a moment to learn about our history, whatever realm you are interested in—art, politics, civil rights, etc. You will find that what we have did not materialize overnight; what we have came from battles hard-fought. Unlike a war, but still a battle with casualties.

We should arm ourselves with open-mindedness and good intentions. We should not talk or write with the goal of being accurate, but with a whim of curiosity. Societal issues lie in a grey area.  What is right in our minds may be wrong somewhere else. We as artists, journalists, comedians, filmmakers, and other influencers must set the example. We too must not be close-minded. We too must see from our opposition’s point of view, understand where they are coming from, and why they are willing to risk their lives to defeat us.

Let’s harbour discussion to create a better world—one without intentions to provoke, one without intention to kill.