Freedom of speech and of the press is an important aspect of life and living in Western countries. In France satirizing authority and government in journalistic press is a national pass time since the end of the French Revolution (1789). To be struck down in a country where freedom of expression prevails is a slap in the face of human diversity.
How can we define freedom? Freedom can be defined as “The condition of being free from restraints” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language); it is also defined as “Frankness, openness, outspokenness, unrestrictedness” (The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia). Yet are we really free in today’s society? Can we really express our thoughts and ideals without some form of hindrance or restraint hovering over our heads? Some of those who dared, as the journalists in the French satirical newspaper, have paid with their lives. Others have been shot down, beheaded or flogged. In the West we are fortunate to be able to have the right to freely express ourselves, yet this liberty is not entirely free unless we remove the shackles of limitations that burden free thought. It is coming to a time when journalists, and along with them writers and cartoonists, are advancing the idea of rebelling against limitations. To honestly inform and express what they see and feel of that which is going on around them, to put forward terrible injustices, and even at times express what others are afraid to express, writers are needing to take risks to go above and beyond their professional duties to decry universal injustices. The very essence of freedom of the press and of speech is to act as a aid in informing, educating and encouraging personal development. In other words, freedom of speech is not only the possibility to express our personal ideas; it is also the possibility to accept or reject those of others. Where there is a lack of freedom of speech there is most often unilateral exposure to hate and violence.
Recently there is a saying that has been going around in journalistic circles: “Le plume est plus fort que le fusil,” that is, “the pen is stronger than the gun.” Some journalists are wary of this idea, believing that arms, whether the simple hand gun, the machine gun or arms of massive destruction, because of their ability to strike down to the core, will always be a greater force above and beyond the simple pen. This thought ignores the fact that throughout the history of the world, where one group of writers, and more recently journalists and cartoonists, have fallen, a younger, vibrant, courageous group rises to take their place. If this were not true, we would be ignorant about past history; we would have no historical time line from which to base the lives of our ancestors, and we would have no newspapers, books, television and other media to inform us about what is happening in the world today. Most important, we would be in total ignorance and at the mercy of manipulation as are certain populations on the planet.
The late French philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) said, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” As things are going right now, some writers, cartoonists and journalists, in order to express their guaranteed right to free expression, are becoming rebels; they are taking the risk to defy fixed limitations, especially in lands where freedom of speech is nonexistent. Fortunately in many cases freedom of speech needn’t go to such extremes, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Journalistic writing and cartooning are precarious professions that not only uphold the truths that citizens are free to accept or reject exposed expressions, and also the right to express their own personal ideas. This is true freedom of speech. It should never be taken for granted in all its myriad forms. As long as the freedom to write, to speak and to caricature exists, and its counter part right to accept, reject and reply exists, newspapers, magazines, radio, television and other multimedia and cartoons will prevail, even if their existence is an act of rebellion.
It is only when tragedy strikes that we are compelled to re-examine our consciences to try and understand the true meaning of freedom of expression, of the possibility to write and caricature individuals, groups, thoughts, governments and ideals. This means confronting that which we might not agree with in the light of our own beliefs and culture. Open minded exchange means learning to agree to disagree. The most important thing to understand is the fact that while we may not agree with what has been expressed, we need to understand that in Western countries that uphold freedom of speech those who have expressed these ideas have the perfect legal right to express them, even if it might be disagreeable to some. Humanity, with its different faiths, cultures and philosophies can be compared to a kaleidoscope: different elements, colors, forms and shapes joining together to create a unified image: the planet Earth. It is my belief that it is possible for human diversity to join together hand in hand and live together in peace and harmony.
©Joanne Pons, 18 January 2015