Thoughts, Dreams, and Coffee Rings

The Right to Speak

As one person out of more than 7 billion, living within the grinds of a world driven by expansive, complex political and cultural machines, it often feels like there are very few things that we can control.

Amidst all of this, the one thing that we have full power over is our expression.

Our words. Our art. Our protests.

The freedom of expression gives individuals the power to defy, to defend, to directly influence the lives of others, to pressure, and  to instigate change within the systems that surround us.

When that right is stripped from us, whether through law or intimidation, we have nothing.

On Jan. 7, one week ago, 12 people were killed in an attack on this right. Two masked gunmen armed with assault rifles entered the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France during an editorial meeting and shot to death eight journalists, two police officers, a caretaker and a visitor.

The controversial magazine, which had previously depicted satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, was targeted by the gunmen in retaliation for these images.

A wide-range of major media outlets referred to the incident as an attack on free speech and argued that speech cannot be repressed by intimidation.

Many of the same media outlets, including “The New York Times,” “Time,” and “The Associated Press,” that condemned the murders as an attack on free speech, self-censored the images that their colleagues were killed for publishing, either pixelating or cropping out the controversial portions, or refusing to print them.

Others, such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Buzzfeed,  have chosen to publish the images and have been both applauded and chastised for it.

It’s a difficult editorial call and I am not taking their decisions lightly. I have struggled throughout the past week with determining what is right for The Navigator.

On one level, this self-censorship gets under my skin. It seems like a hypocrisy and a way of giving the attackers control by succumbing to fear. On another, I understand that the images are offensive, and I can respect the decision not to publish them.

I feel that the images, in their original form, are important to the story.

While out of consideration for the varying views of “The Navigator” staff and its readership, I have not published the images, what I have done is made them easily accessible through the adjacent QR codes to provide you as the reader with the opportunity to choose whether or not you want to see them.

For some, it seems that it is easy to be critical. In the past week, some have placed the blame on the magazine. I have heard it said that Charlie Hebdo should have “been shut down” or  “learned their lesson” when their office was bombed in 2011 for a similar illustration.

However, I ask that everyone remember that the protection of free speech is either universal or nonexistent. Regardless of whether we like speech or not, it is our responsibility to defend expression unbiasedly. It is the unpopular speech that needs the most protection.

While I may not like the comics published in Charlie Hebdo, I may think “The Interview,” which has recently been a hot-button topic of free speech, is a terrible, stupid movie, and as the child of a military family I may not like to see someone burn the American flag, I will forever defend people’s rights to speak, whether they  publish, screen, or burn.

Amy Davidson of The New Yorker described the implications of the attack well when in a Jan. 7 editorial, she argued that the assault was not limited to Charlie Hebdo.

“This was an attack on a publication and a neighborhood, a country and its press, and on any journalist, in any city,” she said.

But it goes farther than that. This attack spans beyond the expressions of media. At its core, it is an attack on the basic human right to speak. It is an attack on any person, in any city, who has anything to say that others might not want to hear.