In the immediate wake of the terrorist murders of Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists in France, the question that was repeated posed by the British ‘ever so considerate’ media (especially the BBC!) was (is) whether free speech extended to giving offence (or words to this effect). To my mind, this is an insidious way of ceding moral ground to terrorism, a way of giving effect to its demands.
The correct, the appropriate, the brave question to insist upon continuing to ask is whether killing in reaction to merely being offended is ever justified. Gerard Biard, the late and courageous editor of Charlie Hebdo knew this.
Timorous editors of a number of British publications, most notably the Jewish Chronicle, could not bring themselves even to publish the benign cartoon in the first post-massacre edition of Charlie Hebdo saying that they did not wish to place their staff at risk. Well, this goes to expose the inherently undemocratic nature of many publishing organisations, and how restricted are their notions of free speech. Stephen Pollard could have conducted a quick poll of all his employees at the Chronicle, but that would have entailed giving each person a vote and creating the possibility of a majority being in favour of publishing the offending cartoon.
We are in a situation in which there is greater safety in numbers. Unfortunately it was too much to expect the editors of major publications plus those operating broadcasting organisations in the UK to jointly agree to publish that particular cartoon. Instead, it is left to fewer principled and brave souls to maintain such freedom of speech and thereby to expose themselves to much greater danger than would otherwise be the case. Pastor Bonhoeffer eat your heart out!