It is impossible not to feel the need to comment on the recent atrocities in Paris and add our voices to those condemning the murder of Charlie Hebdo journalists, and police officers. It was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, and I’m sure everyone reading will agree that nothing can justify the murder of 14 innocent people, however offensive or provocative the cartoons they may have published.
Debates have taken place surrounding the rights and responsibilities of media products, some of which feature in this edition of Epigram. My view is fairly simple. We do have the right to pretty much publish what we want. But that doesn’t mean we should feel that we have to publish images which we know will offend or hurt people. It is largely for this reason that I have taken the decision not to publish the ‘offending’ Charlie Hebdo cartoons in Epigram. But that in no way means that we as Epigramjournalists do not feel solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.
It’s not for me to pass judgement on what someone ‘should’ believe in, what they ‘should’ be offended in. Do we really want to tell people of a certain religion that they should not take offence at perceived caricature of an idol? It may be your right to offend them, but it is also their right to be offended, and for me it is a question of common decency whether or not to publish cartoons knowing that they may offend.
It would be especially insensitive at a time in which there have been disgraceful attacks on Muslims across Europe and politicians which espouse Islamophobia appear to be gaining considerable traction. Recent statements from Muslim leaders across the UK, and in Bristol itself, have made it clear that many feel deeply uncomfortable about what they deem as ‘gratuitous’ publishing of cartoons. That in no way whatsoever justifies any kind of attack on Charlie Hebdo or others who choose to depict Muhammad. That is obvious.
Whatever columnists in some newspapers have argued, printing cartoons of Muhammad is not necessary to show solidarity. A number of those to have done so take the view that free speech should be absolute. But we have laws, rightly in my view, that impose certain limits.
Why should Jewish people have to put up with blatant anti-Semitism? Why should Muslims have to put up with those who deliberately incite violence and racial hatred? I digress a little. But this is worth remembering as, in what is an extremely complex debate, it has seemingly been forgotten at times.
In summary, everyone at Epigram feels revulsion towards the acts of the terrorists, particularly as journalists who believe in free speech. But it is also frustrating to see the horrors of 7 January exploited by politicians and by free speech absolutists, a small number of which seem to actively enjoy promoting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.