The BBC tries to host a discussion of free speech but as always it phrases everything in such a fatuously empty meaningless unhelpful way that the discussion is undercut before it starts. They clearly have a mandated list of the correct words to use, and those words are the most anodyne and obfuscatory they can think of. That’s some unfree speech right there.
Am I free to offend you?
Should I deliberately share images that I know will offend others, as a statement of everyone’s freedom to do so?
What about extremists? Should their speech be banned?
“Offend” in what sense? What are we talking about? What does that even mean? Is it even possible to say anything that can’t “offend” someone somewhere?
What can “images that I know will offend others” mean? Again – it’s not possible to share an image that can’t “offend” anyone anywhere. It’s not possible to “know” what will offend whom in advance. None of this is as simple as that; none of it.
What does “extremists” mean? Extremist about what?
The questions are on their face so general that they mean nothing. If you read them through the lens of Charlie Hebdo or Raif Badawi you can attach a specific meaning to them, but the questions are supposed to be general and generalizable, which they fail at.
Questions like this have been dominating social media conversation in the days since the satirists of Charlie Hebdo were attacked and killed.
Ok, so that’s the lens. But the language remains unhelpful and misleading.
But it wasn’t long before much of the debate online became angry and polarised, and people began asking searching questions about freedom of expression in their own countries. There’s been a spate of “Je Suis” hashtags for all sorts of other free speech causes around the world, along with accusations of double standards and strong reactions from Muslims about the new edition of Charlie Hebdo.
See that? That last line? That’s a vice of the media in general, not just the BBC – saying “strong reactions from Muslims” like that. It gives the impression that there are no Muslims in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, and that’s wrong, and not just wrong but harmful. Reactionary theocratic Muslims are not the only Muslims there are. There are also progressive, liberal, secular Muslims. Quit writing them out of the story.