Freedom of Speech Should this be limited or not?

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1 Freedom of Speech Should this be limited or not? Van der Heijden, Rachel Student number: Class COAC4A Advanced Course Ethics Wordcount: 2147

2 Content Content Normative statement Supporting Arguments Critical arguments Personal conclusions... 7 Sources

3 1. Normative statement On January 7 th two masked gunman attacked the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in addition 12 people were killed. Nine of them were journalists with the paper, a building maintenance worker and two police officers. Charlie Hebdo s editor-in-chief, Gérard Biard, escaped the attack because he was in London. He expressed his shock and said the magazine had had no specific threats of violence. A newspaper is not a weapon of war, he said. The perpetrators of the attack would have wanted to avenge the Prophet Muhammad. Witnesses described hearing the attackers shout Allahu akbar ( Allah is Mighty ) as well as We have avenged the prophet. The attack appears to be very well prepared. The perpetrators were able to cope with their heavy weapons, knew when to strike, knew the names of the victims and were able to escape. The French magazine Charlie Hebdo is known as anti-fundamentalist and in 2011 also been targeted by an attack with an incendiary bomb. This was in response to a joke and a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. (Topping, 2015) The weekly magazine is strongly anti-islamic and is not afraid to share their opinion with the world about the religion. This can be very offensive for Muslims from all over the world. In France everyone has freedom of speech. Journalists are free to write about their opinions on every subject possible even when it s in a negative or maybe even offensive way. Hugh Muir of the Guardian writes the following interesting article on the horrific conflict. How can all this horror have been caused by a few cartoons, people ask, quite reasonably. Why don t aggrieved Muslims just accept that, in a democratic society, people have the right to say and draw what they like, as long as what they do is legal. My take is different. I don t seek to persuade them to be sanguine about the cartoons. The images seem harmless to me, but my beliefs are different. A group of French Muslims went to court to try to stop the cartoons being published. Unfortunately they didn t win the case. Hugh Muir doesn t criticise them, these Muslims accepted the fact that this is a part of the freedom of speech within France. Muir thinks that the Muslims who didn t want the images published were not the problem. They also have to right to dislike the pictures and communicate about that. That is just as much freedom of speech. Even is the rest of the people might not understand that we still have to respect their opinions. (Muir, 2015) That is good point to think about. Of course killing innocent people can t be justified because that is an actual crime. Maybe people should have respected each other s opinions more. That is the difficulty of freedom of speech. Because everything can be said people get hurt and feel disrespected. Maybe there should be a limit on how offensive certain subjects are being portrayed for the safety of people. To what extend can you write about a subject? When is something considered offensive? Is it ethical to disrespect people, religions, beliefs just because you want to share your opinion? Or is it not ethical when you can t say everything you think. Will that affect your freedom? 3

4 In order to discuss this subject I formulated the following normative statement: Freedom of speech should not be limited because everyone has the right to share their opinion. In the further chapters arguments for and against this subject will be presented. 4

5 2. Supporting Arguments Freedom of speech should not be limited. It should be possible for everyone to say everything they believe in. Limiting freedom of speech will affect the feeling of freedom. If you can t say what and how you really feel this will limit you in your expressions. Charbonnier, the murdered satirist, stood for absolute freedom of expression. If you admit to the threats, the extremists won, he thought. The only limits are the expression of the French law, he said in several interviews. According to him, Charlie Hebdo put drawings in the magazine to make readers laugh. "And if our drawings also stimulate to think about the subject, that is good." (NOS, 2015) René Descartes finds can be considered a supporter of freedom of speech. His best known philosophical statement is: I think, therefore I am. According to him it is part of our human being. If I think, I must be something that is thinking and therefore I must logically exist. (Souza, 2014) You can say that Descartes believes that thinking for yourself is very important. If you are not able to share what you think you can t be the ultimate you. If you limit freedom of speech this might lead to not being a complete human. It makes you feel trapped and it will interfere with the value freedom in general. John Stuart Mill believes people should be free to do as they please as long as what they do does not harm others. This means that if someone s action does not lead to a consequence for others, then no restriction should be imposed. This is also known as 'Negative Freedom' an absence of external restriction. This can be considered to be for and against freedom of speech. You could see Mill is supporting freedom of speech. When people are able to say what they want to say they are free to do what they please. When people are limited in how they can express themselves there not totally free. (Souza, 2014) Total freedom of speech might hurt other people. When you think about it, freedom of speech isn t really possible without hurting someone. No everyone will simply share the same believes you do. Is that really that much of a problem? Being able to express yourself and learn from others might be very good for your personal development. Debating with others about a certain subject makes you more open-minded. When people can t share their opinions you might be stuck in your own world. Discussing and arguing is very natural and helps you blow off steam. If you keep your emotions to yourself you will explode someday. 5

6 3. Critical arguments Total freedom of speech can be very dangerous. In the case used for this essay it shows that total freedom of speech can lead to a terrible attack in which innocent people died. Because everything can be said people sometimes feel offended. In some cases this will lead to extreme situations. A situation in which someone feels so attacked by someone s opinion that it fills him/her with rage. Total freedom of speech disrespect the norms and values of other people. Even though you might not share the same norms and values that doesn t mean you can disrespect that. It hard to set a line between discrimination or just saying what you think. If you for example say all Muslims are bad you can in fact say that because of the freedom of speech. But in a way it is also discrimination because you judge someone based on their religion. Still it s hard to fight this. The only way to solve this is to ban total freedom of speech. Having the right to free speech isn't the right to be irresponsible. To say things just because you can. To offend someone or something. When you limit the things people are allowed to say and write you can control it better. People don t feel offended and that would be a lot safer. Freedom of speech can harm people. Not always in a physical way but also mentally. A major critical argument is de saying: No rights are absolute. Rights must be limited by respect for others, and by the needs of society as a whole. The British Lord Bhikhu Parekh writes, Although free speech is an important value, it is not the only one. Human dignity, equality, freedom to live without harassment and intimidation, social harmony, mutual respect, and protection of one s good name and honour are also central to the good life and deserve to be safeguarded. Because these values conflict, either inherently or in particular contexts, they need to be balanced. (Heinze, 2014) This said freedom of speech does not respect others. It offends and intimidate others and definitely conflicts with other values. This can only be balanced if freedom of speech is being limited. Limited in a way that makes sure people will not harm another by their believes. This means that hate speech should be banned. But even in countries where hate speech is already forbidden it seems necessary to limit certain expressions of opinions. Even though Mill believes can be considered as supporting freedom of speech it can also be considered otherwise. Mill says that your actions shouldn t harm others. With freedom of speech this often happens. The terrible attack in Paris is a good example of that. Because of the content the magazine provides Muslim radicals attacked the office. Not only employees were harmed but also police officers. This means the action does harm others. Even though this was something the magazine didn t plan they knew they provoked certain reactions. Even if nothing had happened people were still harmed. The Muslim in France would still be harmed because they would feel disrespected. In this matter even more people where actually harmed because of the terrible attack. It doesn t matter in what way people are harmed the fact that they were harmed is enough for Mill. With Mill believes you can thus also say that he is against freedom of speech. If this will be limited to a situation in which people aren t harmed than it could be acceptable. 6

7 4. Personal conclusions My personal opinion on the matter is that freedom of speech should be limited. When you don t, horrible situations like in Paris might happen. It think especially with the current technology we should consider to respect each other more on this bases. Trough internet and definitely trough social media everyone can share their opinion with lots of people all over the world. Online people can hide behind their laptops, computer and phones. They can say whatever they want to say and no one really knows who this person is. It makes it easier to spread offensive messages all over the world. When you look at for example religion people have different believes about that subject. Believes that are so different that it sometimes causes friction. There are radical believers of different religions that feel offended by the things that been said about their god, values, country etc. Because of the freedom of speech these radicals might get pushed to act in a way that people get hurt. Once again, the example of Charlie Hebdo. I am not saying that every aspect of freedom is bad. I also not believe that radicals are only pushed by arguments about their religion. There is a lot more necessary to create this kind of incident. I do believe that if joking or criticizing a religion is more controlled less people would be harmed. Not only in this specific incident but also in general. Even though this wasn t seen as hate speech it is very difficult to cross a line between what is hate speech and what isn t. I think the government should keep an eye on this a bit more. This is hard to do online but not that hard to do with hard copy media, like newspapers and magazine. The same is possible for television. The government should look better on how subjects are being portrayed. Freedom of speech is very important because without it our feeling of freedom is being damaged. It makes us more open minded and helps us defining our own opinions. I therefore believe that freedom of speech should definitely not be banned. It should only be adjust by the government a bit to make sure people will not get hurt. When freedom of speech is used in a positive way I think it is very beneficial for a country. And not only for a country in general but also for schools, colleges, work environments and on a personal level. 7

8 Sources Heinze, E. (2014, March 31). Free Speech Debate. January 12, 2015, from Muir, H. (2015, January 11). The Guardian. January 12, 2015, from NOS. (2015, January 7). NOS Buitenland. January 8, 2015, from Research, I. S. (2011). Deerfield USA. Souza, O. d. (2014). Ethics Course Reader. Topping, A. (2015, January 8). January 8, 2015, from The Guardian: 8

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