Seven weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attack, the magazine returned to the newsstands with its first regular issue. In terms of questioning the universal terms of “free expression” and “freedom of thought”, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the Charlie Hebdo event was a major milestone.
In the wake of the attack, discussions on freedom of expression have revived and dissenting vantage points have come into focus like no other time. People from all walks of life have started to reconsider what the ideal borders of it must be. The terrorist acts solidly illustrate the importance of freedom of expression and other freedoms, for the peaceful co-existence of minorities, people of various ethnicities, religions and races that make up the Western societies of today heavily rely on them.
In this process, news executives are no doubt the ones who most mull over these ideas. Considering the enormous power the media has in shaping people’s minds, there is a large responsibility on their shoulders and it is basically their conscience and moral uprightness that determines the course they take. What is covered or skipped, accentuated or downplayed greatly determines the way people perceive and interpret the events that relate to their very lives. In this respect, the way news is conveyed to the public is what decides the level of commotion created or the peace secured in communities.
No sense of curbing freedoms can remotely justify anything good or beneficial for individuals or societies as a whole. When it comes to human rights and liberties, the fundamental principle must be to expand the borders of freedoms and not to shrink them. The actual situation and data, however, reveal the very opposite.
Freedom House, an NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, reported a general decline in political and civil rights around the world last year. The group said that democratic ideals were now under the greatest threat in 25 years and the most severe losses in freedom were a result of terrorism. Indeed, especially in the European countries, there are obvious signs of shrinking freedoms, with Muslim minorities particularly bearing the brunt.
For instance, the Austrian parliament recently passed controversial reforms to the country’s century-old law on Islam. The legislation bans the foreign funding of Islamic organisations and imams with the purpose of combating the growing influence of radical Islam in the country. In a country where the law made Islam an official religion back in 1912, the ban on foreign funding puts Muslim groups in a relatively unfair situation, for the Christian and Jewish faiths are still permitted to receive foreign funding.
Another example is France. The trauma caused by the terror acts in this country has dramatically changed the face of the French cities. In the aftermath of the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the signs of diminishing freedoms have become apparent. One week after the attack, some British journalists witnessed first hand a trio of heavily armed police rushing and dragging two men of North-African origin at a bar just off the Champs Élysées. The black men were pushed against a car and handcuffed by more police officers simply on the complaint of the bartender. The bartender said he called the police simply because the man said “something unpleasant.”
No doubt such paranoid attitudes greatly work to challenge citizen’s freedoms at the basic level and the general well-being of societies. The welfare of a country can only be assured by doing away with such things as privileged groups in terms of freedoms. In Western societies, every individual, no matter from which roots they may be, must enjoy the status of a first-class citizen, be treated as a first-class citizen and actually feel as a first-class citizen.
We must remember that peace in a country is based on how individuals actually feel about their own safety. Fostering a sense of self-worth in every individual by granting them more rights and freedoms amounts to fear-free societies which is most assuredly what our world needs most today.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Malaysian Insider & Jefferson Corner & Weekly Blitz: