Death as a price for the freedom of expression can never destruct. On the contrary, it strengthens and even guarantees our freedom. No amount of harassment or violence can silence the basic human capacity and desire to express, and to be fulfilled by this action.
It is not only cartoonists who mourn today. Nor is it only those who adhere to democracy. Every single human being has a right to freely express his or her opinions, thoughts, ideas, and emotions without fear of retribution, without fear of being assaulted or killed, especially when the expression aims to check and balance the powers of social institutions.
The pen is mightier than the sword. No saying rings truer than today. And no saying will echo as loudly moving forward.
At the same time, my heart goes out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who may unjustly be subjected to further discrimination. The Philippine Center for Islam & Democracy released a statement on the Charlie Hebdo attack which summarized my own fears:
…The violence that claimed the lives of 12 French journalists, ostensibly in the name of religion, is anathema to the universally-held values of liberty, equality and brotherhood- concepts which are part of the fundamental tenets of Islam.
While many would take offense at the satirical lampooning characteristic of the Charles Hebdo magazine, no one could countenance the brutal assault that took place yesterday in Paris. Such violent intolerance contravenes the precepts of Islam, which values the sanctity of human life.
We are saddened by this horrific event, that has once again, cast Muslims as rampaging over-zealous demagogues, belying the fact that a vast majority are peaceful, law-abiding members of their respective communities…
While it is easy to say that the satirical lampooning employed by the magazine had provoked the attack, there is no justification in resorting to violent means. In an increasingly globalized and digital world, many venues exist to claim “redress of our grievances…
We must also remember that the freedom of expression is not absolute. Whatever one’s opinion is with hostility towards religion, we should also call to mind that not all free expressions should be tolerated, especially if it conflicts with other rights, in this case, the free exercise of religion. Many democratic societies guarantee in their constitution both freedoms, and both demand to be valued with responsibility. (Editorial) restraint must be practiced when expression borders on obscenity or is explicitly aimed at the denigration of religion. With this, all of us are called to carry a profound respect for men and women of all faiths. As we are free to express, we are also free to believe.
President Obama commented on this by saying:
Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.
We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
In ending this, let me leave you with Nietzsche:
Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man?