Do we really have Freedom of Speech?

Je-suis-Charlie *This post turned out to be quite long, so sorry about that! I had a lot to say…

So, I was watching Loose Women yesterday and they brought up an interesting point. How can we truly say we have freedom of speech in the UK if have to censor our views so we don’t offend people, or if we find ourselves attacking others for views we disagree with? As in, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. But it’s also frustrating when some people have a view of free speech as ‘I can be as rude as I like and you’re not allowed to get offended’ or ‘you taking offence at my harshly-worded opinions must mean you think I’m not allowed to have opinions’ and people like that are just obnoxious, to be perfectly honest. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I think it’s important to be respectful to others when expressing them.

So I think we need some kind of happy medium between the two extremes. I think this debate is quite relevant to recent events as well, particularly the tragic Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, which as you probably know, prompted the widespread use of the phrase ‘Je Suis Charlie‘, in social media as well as real life, including in marches like this one with up to 2 million people all uniting to declare their right to freedom of speech. The satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is refusing to be intimidated by terrorism and have published millions of copies of the new issue depicting of the prophet Muhammad on the cover – the massacre itself having apparently been brought on by the offence at previous depictions of him. Now, I think Muslims have a right to be offended by that – (obviously that does not mean I’m in any way condoning the terror attacks) I’m not sure that the new issue’s further depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is a good idea. It may be doing more harm than good, further dividing us and provoking outrage. Why not just respect each other’s religion? I am not religious, so I can’t exactly relate to this feeling of outrage, but if you truly believe in a religion with all your heart and then it is disrespected then you have a right to be upset. It is not the first time the magazine has sparked controversy – back in 2012, it published a series of satirical cartoons of Muhammad, some of which featured nude caricatures of him.  Given that this issue came days after a series of attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East, purportedly in response to the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims, the French government decided to increase security at certain French embassies and riot police surrounded the offices of the magazine to protect it against possible attacks. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticised the magazine’s decision, saying, “In France, there is a principle of freedom of expression, which should not be undermined. In the present context, given this absurd video that has been aired, strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries. Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?” However, the newspaper’s editor defended publication of the cartoons, saying, “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.”  So, I think this provocation is intended to annoy the truly extreme Muslims, like those in Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Unfortunately, terrorists who happen to be Muslim can cause generalisations and ill-feeling towards Muslims, when it is only a very small minority who are extreme, hence why I saw protesters in Birmingham at the Christmas Market, trying to get across that they do not condone terrorism.

On a less serious note, almost everyone in Britain will have heard of Katie Hopkins, who is known for having strong opinions and not being afraid to express them, and who often seems to enjoy riling people up. She thinks she’s ‘telling it like it is’ and saying what everyone else thinks but is too afraid to say – reminding me of the ‘if you can’t say anything nice’ rule. The thing is, I’m not sure that Katie understands that her opinion is not necessarily the ‘right’ one which everyone else is thinking.

She also never censors her opinions, which I think can be both admirable and questionable. On the one hand, if we truly have freedom of speech, then ideally we should all be like Katie Hopkins and say exactly what we think without considering the consequences or minding if we offend people. But that sounds like a quick way to start a metaphorical World War Three if you ask me. That’s why, again, I think there should be some kind of happy medium. Katie Hopkins can be quite insensitive with her comments, but ultimately I don’t think she’s a bad person.

Another person who’s offended people lately is Ken Morley, who was removed from the Celebrity Big Brother house on Monday after repeatedly using offensive language, including racist and sexist comments. He appeared on Loose Women yesterday and apologised for the racist comments (note that he said an ‘n word’, but not the usual one) but seemed to refuse to apologise for sexist comments, including when he perved at young women in the house and commented on their behinds. Some viewers on Twitter were angry by what they saw as an attack on Morley by the Loose Women panelists, who repeatedly asked him if he was going to apologise after he’d already apologised. While the interview was a bit awkward, personally I still don’t really like Morley. He doesn’t seem to have apologised sincerely or care very much that he’s offended people. I can’t say that he has actually offended me as a viewer, though.


So I have to wonder, (as was also pointed out on Loose Women) isn’t it quite hypocritical and unfair that a man cannot get away with sexist comments objectifying women on a Reality TV show when a woman can get away with the same thing? (Edwina Currie on I’m a Celebrity apparently ogled the younger men in camp, but quite frankly I think this is a lot less creepy than Ken Morley’s perving.) This is relevant to freedom of speech and Feminism. Men and women are both completely equal and entitled to the same rights, so doesn’t that mean they’re both equally entitled to not be sexually objectified? That said, I don’t think men suffer nearly the same amount of this objectification in popular media as women do. Case in point: Blurred Lines. Don’t even get me started on Blurred Lines…

I think that perhaps constructive criticism is the closest we can get to the ‘happy medium’ that I keep mentioning. It still involves censoring your opinion to some extent because you don’t want to hurt others. But this way you can still get across what you don’t like about something. A slight problem with this is that it has less impact – Katie Hopkins thrives on being blunt and has no problem with being voted ‘Dick of the year’ or considered ‘Britain’s most hated woman’, and recently she’s been trying to prove that fat people are lazy by deliberately gaining a lot of weight, then working hard to lose it. If any dangerously overweight people were to say to themselves “Ok, it’s not nice, but she’s right, and I’m going to work hard and lose weight” then the impact of the point Katie made is potentially life-changing. Personally I’d say that if people just ignored Katie and stopped giving her exposure then she’d probably fade out of public view, in the same way people say ‘don’t feed the troll’ to Internet trolls who deliberately set out to annoy people.

Lastly, I’m glad we do live in a country where we can say (or tweet) whatever we like – within reason anyway, as there have been cases of arrests due to very offensive tweets – such as this recent one in the aftermath of the Glasgow crash. I’m glad I don’t live in somewhere like North Korea with awful human rights and little or no freedom of speech. Thanks for reading this very long post – if you have any thoughts, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments! Also, sorry there haven’t been any creative writing posts lately. I’ve been quite busy with other things and haven’t written as much as I’d hoped. I also haven’t had a huge amount of ideas so I may have to try out some Daily Prompts!


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