Professor Chris Frost, the former head of journalism at Liverpool John Moores University, told Index of the importance of allowing every individual view to be heard, and that those who fear taking on opposing ideas and seek to silence or no-platform should consider that it is their ideas that may be wrong. He said: “If someone’s views or policies are that appalling then they need to be challenged in public for fear they will, as a prejudice, capture support for lack of challenge. If we are unable to defeat our opponent’s arguments then perhaps it is us that is wrong.
“I would also be concerned at the fascism of a majority (or often a minority) preventing views from being spoken in public merely because they don’t like them and find them difficult to counter. Whether it is through violence or the abuse of power such as no-platform we should always fear those who seek to close down debate and impose their view, right or wrong. They are the tyrants. We need to hear many truths and live many experiences in order to gain the wisdom to make the right and justified decisions.”
Free speech has been the topic of many debates in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The terrorist attack on the satirical magazine’s Paris office, in January 2015, has led to many questioning whether free speech is used as an excuse to be offensive.
Many world leaders spoke out in support of Charlie Hebdo and the hashtag #Jesuischarlie was used worldwide as an act of solidarity. However, the hashtag also faced some criticism as those who denounced the attacks but also found the magazine’s use of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed offensive instead spoke out on Twitter with the hashtag #Jenesuispascharlie.
After the city was the victim of another terrorist attack at the hands of ISIS at the Bataclan Theatre in November 2015, President François Hollande released a statement in which he said: “Freedom will always be stronger than barbarity.” This statement showed solidarity across the country and gave a message that no amount of violence or attacks could take away a person’s freedom.
French cartoonist t0ad told Index about the importance of free speech in allowing him to do his job as a cartoonist, and the effect the attacks have had on free speech in France: “Mundanely and along the same tracks, it means I can draw and post (social media has changed a hell of a lot of notions there) a drawing without expecting the police or secret services knocking at my door and sending me to jail, or risking being lynched. Cartoonists in some other countries do not have that chance, as we are brutally reminded. Free speech makes cartooning a relatively risk-free activity; however…
“Well, you know the howevers: Charlie Hebdo attacks, country law while globalisation of images and ideas, rise of intolerances, complex realities and ever shorter time and thought, etc.
“As we all see, and it concerns the other attacks, the other countries. From where I stand (behind a screen, as many of us), speech seems to have gone freer … where it consists of hate – though this should not be defined as freedom.”
In the spring 2015 issue of Index on Censorship, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Richard Sambrook, professor of Journalism and director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, took the opportunity to highlight the number journalists that a murdered around the world every day for doing their job, yet go unnoticed.
Sambrook told Index why everyone should have the right to free speech: “Firstly, it’s a basic liberty. Intellectual restriction is as serious as physical incarceration. Freedom to think and to speak is a basic human right. Anyone seeking to restrict it only does so in the name of seeking further power over individuals against their will. So free speech is an indicator of other freedoms.
“Secondly, it is important for a healthy society. Free speech and the free exchange of ideas is essential to a healthy democracy and – as the UN and the World Bank have researched and indicated – it is crucial for social and economic development. So free speech is not just ‘nice to have’, it is essential to the well-being, prosperity and development of societies.”
Ian Morse, a member of the Index on Censorship youth advisory board told Index how he believes free speech is important for a society to have access to information and know what options are available to them.
He said: “One thing I am beginning to realise is immensely important for a society is for individuals to know what other ideas are out there. Turkey is a baffling case study that I have been looking at for a while, but still evades my understanding. The vast majority of educated and young populations (indeed some older generations as well) realise how detrimental the AKP government has been to the country, internationally and socially. Yet the party still won a large portion of the vote in recent elections.
“I think what’s critical in each of these elections is that right before, the government has blocked Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook – so they’ve simultaneously controlled which information is released and produced a damaging image of the news media. The media crackdown perpetuates the idea that the news and social media, except the ones controlled by the AKP, are bad for the country.”
Much of this is going to be dependent on two elements. The first is what you think other thinkers have said on the topic and the second is going to be what you, yourself, feel about it. I think that both of these are interlinked with one another. There is not a specific amount of primacy placed on one over another, but since the question of freedom's importance is something that has dominated political philosophy and the ideas of philosophical analysis, I think that both do converge with one another to a certain extent.
In terms of a practical answer, I think that freedom is vitally important to the notion of self definition. In an increasingly globalized world where barriers are being replaced with a sense of interconnectivity at rapid speed, freedom is essential to understanding one's place within such a paradigm. To this extent, I think that freedom is an important element in the self- definition process. The internet and the concept of the "world wide web" has made information collection so intensely easy. We have more information and more "bits" at our fingertips. However, it is the role of freedom and of choice that are essential in making sense of this information, the organization of these bits. To that extent, I think that freedom is an extremely important organizing principle.
From an intellectual standpoint, freedom has always been vitally important to the study of philosophers. I think that two, in particular, might allow you some level of intellectual engagement given the topic. John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx held some interesting takes on freedom and its importance. For Marx, freedom was something seen in a collective context. Essentially, Marx argues that one's sense of freedom is tied to one's social group. If that particular group is oppressed or denied their collective freedom, than the individual's notion of freedom is fairly worthless, for no matter what, there can be no true liberation. In this respect, freedom is important to the collective state of being. When the group or social identity of individuals are free, then, and only then, will they, themselves as individuals, be free. Another point of reference on the importance of freedom is found in the work of Mill, who argues that individual freedom of choice and decision is vitally important. In his work, the importance of freedom is essential in the carving out of one's identity and their sense of being, with it being seen as an individualistic notion that can operate and should be allowed to operate outside the norm of the collective.