From France to India, Charlie Hebdo and the promise of free speech

Poster by Sanjay Sipahimalani; from Vikram Seth's speech at the Kolkata Book Fair.
Poster by Sanjay Sipahimalani; from Vikram Seth’s speech at the Kolkata Book Fair.

Wrote this in some sadness for the Huffington Post. It was published on January 10, a few days after the murders of the editorial team and others, including bodyguards and police officers, at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“Responsibility cuts both ways. It is true that you cannot reason with a fundamentalist, of any religion, that there is no rational argument to be had with armed men bent on murder. But civil society and religious organizations have their responsibilities, too, and one of them is to enable and support those who want the freedom to question, to create, to debunk, and yes, even to mock. It must be kept in mind that what the team at Charlie Hebdo died for was not just the right to offend, but also the right to challenge and question everything — including religion, including Islam.

The promise of free speech goes far beyond the schoolboy thrill of being able to offend; the real promise of free speech is that we all hope to live uncensored lives, free to create in peace, and free to ask questions of or satirize the leaders, and the institutions, that run our everyday lives.”

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