Although reacting to the Paris massacre is not in our line of work, but we are not outside world events. The tragedy has brought on mixed reactions from all across, ever since the murder of people associated with the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. The world is decrying the horrific act by terrorists in the name of religion and most of people are floundering with regard to Freedom of Expression.
Looking back we are well aware that free speech has a long history, predating today’s world. It is a concept that had gained acceptance from times of ancient Athens, from where in fact the genesis of democratic traditions had emerged in the late 6th – early 5th century BC. The Roman Republic had incorporated the values of freedom of speech and freedom of religion back then.
In fact the notion of freedom of speech is to be found in early human rights documents of England too that had granted freedom of speech through the Bill of Rights in 1689, still effective to this day. In 1789 France also affirmed freedom of speech through The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted during the French Revolution.
Acceptance of free speech iterates the idea of free communication of ideas and opinions and remains one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen accordingly may speak, write, and print with freedom as long as it does not abuse the freedom of another. However, often one gets carried away overlooking freedom of another to spell out home truths. In such times remember the words – “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Penned by one the most famous of French men, François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, it is time to remember his advocacy for freedom of expression. Voltaire was outspoken despite threats under strict censorship laws of his time. But his satirical wit continued to criticize intolerance, and dogma. This courageous writer continued fighting for civil rights while denouncing hypocrisies and injustices of the Ancien Regime of France.
Let us then encourage a more tolerant viewpoint and remember that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. It is a right that includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. In conclusion we can do well to remember George Orwell’s words – “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”