An act of terrorism is supposed to strike fear into us, to make people afraid to say what they think. It is about control. Dominance. Threats of violence or death attempt to do the same thing – shut up the party in question. This week we have witnessed a horrific attempt to silence freedom of speech, but really all these terrorists are doing are promoting it.
How many of you had heard of Charlie Hebdo and its cartoons before this week? Just like many others outside of France, I had never seen the cartoons before. This terrorist group has created an international PR campaign for the magazine. It set out to destroy it, and stop anyone else from creating similar artwork. The attack has shaken the world yes, but people’s first response was to make more cartoons. Not every journalist, satire-writer or cartoonist can be killed. We are strongest when we are united, and this devastating attack has brought us together and increased our defences, not shattered them.
There have been many attempts to stifle people’s right to freedom of speech recently. Although no where near as awful, the Sony hack and terrorism threats made to cinemas who dared to screen ‘The Interview’ didn’t end up silencing Sony and film-makers like the hackers had hoped, it instead acted as a fantastic PR campaign for the film. If whoever carried out the attack had simply let the film be released, it probably wouldn’t have made that much at the box office – it wasn’t exactly popular with reviewers. Sony managed to make more than $15 million (£9.92 million) in online sales and $2.8 million (£1.85 million) at theatres, and it will make even more when the DVD and Bluray are inevitably released. It may be a sub-par comedy, but people flocked to cinemas and streaming sites to stand up for freedom of speech. That, and they wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Hate campaigns are another way people try to silence freedom of speech. Last year, Gamergate, which ironically was supposedly meant to be about making the gaming press more truthful, sought to oppress the views of women within the gaming industry. Misogynistic Gamergaters attempted to silence certain women by sending them death and rape threats and publishing their home addresses online, but in reality, the women involved won. Most notably, Anita Sarkeesian received a huge PR boost off the back of the vile campaign. Whether you love her or loath her, Anita stands for the freedom of speech. In her online videos, she is trying to expose the gaming industry’s inherent sexism, to try and improve the way women are portrayed in video games. During the Gamergate scandal, she was interviewed on popular talkshows, appeared in several publications and gained a whole raft of supporters. If Gamergaters wanted her to disappear, they would have stood more of a chance of success if they had just ignored her.
All these events may be separate, but they all tried to silence someone. Whether we create satirical cartoons, films, or online videos, no one should stop us speaking up for what is right. Freedom of speech isn’t about letting people be hateful, it’s about allowing us to comment on serious issues. Right now, more than ever, we need to stand together to ensure that this right isn’t taken away from us. Je suis Charlie.
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington