The recent attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine known for its cutting political satire, by militant jihadists on January 7, 2015 leaving a dozen dead and another dozen wounded has underscored the need for all those who value freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of thought, conscience and opinion to stand up and be counted.
Free speech is not just a constitutional right. It is not just a political value or principle. It is a condition of humanity without which our individual and collective lives are made poorer. Whenever it is threatened, whether the threat comes from a government, a religious cult, or a corporation, it becomes incumbent on all of us to take notice and to act in its defence.
As France mourns, we here in Canada and elsewhere in the world must let our French friends know that we support their quest for a free society, a society where even unpopular views can be expressed without fear of reprisal.
But all of us must also remember that, in our passionate defence of free speech, we cannot lose sight of other conditions of free and democratic society, such as those of tolerance and openness. It would be too easy to look upon Muslim members of our societies as “outsiders” and to throw them into the same lot as the Paris jihadist extremists. Modern free and democratic societies must not only protect the foundational value of freedom of expression: they must similarly defend vociferously equality and fairness for all. We must be all the more conscious of this responsibility when our emotions have been swayed by senseless acts of violence like those that occurred on January 7, 2015.
Thus, like so many others who value freedom of expression, today I must say “je suis Charlie”.