A few weeks ago I wrote about the CBC’s censorship of Stuart McLean’s comic piece “Dave Cooks the Turkey”. On the scale of censorship and pressure, I’d call that a “one”; some animal rights activist made shaming noises and the CBC caved like a paper plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
On the other end of the scale is what happened at the offices of Charlie Hebdo; twelve people shot to death by religious whack jobs who didn’t like what the magazine printed. It’s deeply shocking; not just the deaths, but the frightening idea that there are people who believe that those journalists and political cartoonists, and the police trying to protect them, should die because of what they said.
The incidents are very different, but the issue is the same, and when I say “issue”, I mean the subject of discussion. It’s about free speech.
Let’s be quite clear here – speech is never truly free. Yell “Fire!” in a public place without due cause, or make a bomb joke in an airport, and you face judicial consequences. I’m also in favour of having a school or workplace free of any kind of harassment or bullying. This kind of restriction is applied with legal consent, which is, at least theoretically, supported by the population at large, and is enforced by due process.
Aside from this judicial restriction, we have other forms of restriction. We often curb our own tongues from respect or courtesy, or the simple desire to avoid a fight. Sometimes other people try to restrict our speech. Most women of my age are familiar with shaming. (“Nice girls don’t say…”. )
I’ve also had political-correctness jerks tell me I can’t say certain words, and had to say others that they dictated, because mine were offensive. The words in question were, if I recall, “kids”, “dump” and “problem”. People who know me can imagine how I reacted to that. I’m not good at holding my tongue, or at tact. One friend has characterised me as someone who says what nobody else will say.
Is it because I’m a writer that I believe it’s important to be able to say what you mean without fear or favour? Or is it just that I’m a stroppy bitch by nature, who happens also to write? A bit of both, I imagine. Either way, I find myself, a woman who has not often participated in public movements, deeply supportive of the “Je suis Charlie” campaign.
Charlie Hebdo is not a nice publication. It takes the piss out of everyone, and offends someone with every issue. Those who made it and who, I hope, will go on making it, probably see that as part of their job. I sympathize with that; sometimes it’s my job, too.
I’m not sure what everyone else thinks of the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, and I don’t particularly care. To me it speaks of solidarity. It’s flipping the bird to people who think they can shut us up with the threat of death. “Say something that offends us and die,” was the message we were supposed to take from the Charlie Hebdo killings. We’re supposed to shut up and shut down, and not write anything offensive to anyone who might decide to kill us for it.
I’m not doing that. I’d rather speak my truth and be a target than weigh every word against the possibility of offending someone. Everyone makes their own choice in this. Me, je suis Charlie.