Freedom of speech.
We have, in the Western world, had this right since the dawn of time. Freedom to challenge, freedom to speak out.
The Charlie Hebdo tragedy could’ve been in any country around the world. The people massacred could have been anyone. The magazine targeted could have been Private Eye or the Spectator in England, the cartoonist could have been Steve Bell. This is one of the reasons I decided to organise the candlelit vigil happening tonight, on Sunday 11th January, in the centre of Bristol.
Think back exactly a decade ago, to 2005, the Jyllands-Posten and the cartoonist Kurt Vestergárd. The Prophet Mohammed was depicted in a series of cartoons which sparked protests around the world. Many of these events unfortunately turned violent and there were several attempts at Hr. Vestergárd’s life as well as bomb-scares in the offices of the newspaper. 10 years later, Kurt Vestergárd is still under close protection from the Danish Police and the Danish equivalent of the Secret Service. 10 years later.
I think that we, as human beings, deserve the right to free speech. Charlie Hebdo is an example of a hardening shell to Islamic extremists – several published cartoons over a number of years by the magazine lead to a continued growth of outcries from extreme factions of Islam, but still they continued. As is their basic human right.
The other, core, reason that I have organised the candlelit vigil on Sunday 11th in Bristol is to show that, whatever your creed or colour, freedom of speech is important.
Whether you’re black or white, gay or straight, atheist or devoutly religious, it doesn’t matter. What matters is being able to express yourself around the world without fear, without prejudice or worry.
I hope you take a minute to think.
I hope you stand with everyone else and honour the dead – not only the dead from Paris but the dead in Nigeria.
I hope this stirs you and makes you think, even for a minute, about freedom of speech and the right to express yourself.