Opinion: Freedom of expression

POSTED: 11/6/11 2:03 PM

We all know that freedom of expression and by extension freedom of the press is not absolute. We all know that it is not done to deliberately insult someone. Right?
Well, not so fast. Satirical magazines and satirical columnists have a lot of freedom to make public figures look utterly ridiculous, and they hardly ever get sued, let alone punished, for it.
Writing that somebody is a liar without supporting that statement with evidence is tricky. Writing that somebody is fat is a lot easier, but writing that somebody is really bad at his or her riddled with pitfalls.
Of course, everybody is free to have an opinion about anybody else. That opinion does not necessarily have to be favorable. If a reader thinks that a piece we published in the paper is really bad, or unprofessional, or biased, or whatever, she or he is free to vent an opinion about it in a letter to the editor. We welcome those letters, though we do of course our stinking best not to write stories that are bad, unprofessional or biased.
Truth be told, we think that most people get a fair treatment (and feel free to write to us if you disagree). There are countries where the press has a somewhat wilder approach, where publisher are seeking the limits of their possibilities.

The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is a fine example. We admire those guys for their daring attitude. On Wednesday, the publisher got a nasty surprise when unknown attackers set fire to its headquarters in Paris. That fire targeted an edition of the weekly that was about to hit the streets and that featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.
It was not just any cartoon. Charlie Hebdo depicted Mohammed with a speech bubble that contained the text: 100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter. To add to the fun, the weekly mangled its own name and turned it into Charia Hebdo, a reference to Islamic sharia law, and claimed that the issue had been edited by Mohammed.
Fundamentalist Muslims, like Germans, don’t have a great sense of humor. They’d rather set your place on fire than retaliate with a cartoon of their own that shows the Pope as a coke snorting pedophile.
If it is not allowed to make fun of the Prophet Mohammed, the Queen, the crown prince or the Prime Minister, God, not to mention members of parliament and members of the cabinet, who is left to make fun of?
The thing with public figures is that they are, well, public. These people have a lot of advantages ordinary people have to live without. They also have a lot of headaches ordinary people don’t have. But if public figures had to choose between remaining a public figure and becoming ordinary, a large majority would still opt for being a public figure. The fringe benefits are simply too interesting.
Mohammed does not speak for himself anymore, but he has a frightening fundy fan-base that has no problem with taking violent action once somebody pokes fun of their idol. Do these people have extraordinary long toes? What is the matter with them?
We know a few people with ordinary long toes ourselves, and they are certainly no prophets. They are, actually, ordinary people who don’t know that they are ordinary. They have a big ego and they let that ego rule their lives.
Again, we have no problem with that so we are glad to notice that in the circles of French Muslims there are also people who had a good laugh about Charlie Hebdo’s stunt. We all know that the only people capable of making cruel jokes about the Jews and get away with them are the Jews themselves. The same goes for Muslims, some of whom say stuff about their own religion that goes far beyond Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon.
So while hope does not exist, there is at least some perspective that the non-thinking Muslims will pick up that sense of humor from their less sensitive brethren.

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