Freedom of Expression – The New Millennium’s Tightrope Act

…Carnival, Fastnacht or Fasching, whatever you call it, in German-speaking countries means a tradition of satire. And politics and religion are the favorite targets.

But this year, with the terrorist acts in Paris and now in Copenhagen so fresh in everyone’s thoughts, those responsible  in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz had to perform a veritable tightrope act when designing the parade floats. Do we stand up and deride / denounce the terrorists for what they are – (mainly) young men dispossessed from our modern affluent society, claiming to murder to defend Allah’s honor? Or in doing so, would we provoke violent responses that endanger the crowds of people – including families with children – who come out for a day of jolly celebrations? What a monumental responsibility to carry!

The reaction of the carnival club in Cologne: self censorship. They canceled the first float they created that showed the pen mightier than the sword. The outcry was great. They were bending to the terrorists, some wrote; others defended them for taking seriously the danger to the public. On the day, they did come through with another float that proclaimed the same message. Mainz and Düsseldorf also showed backbone. In Braunschweig were concrete threats of attacks were received, the organizers canceled the parade. What else could they do?

Life is becoming, for all of us, a veritable balancing act. Does criticism offend others’ beliefs? Shouldn’t we respect their beliefs and opinions? I was speaking to a teacher friend of mine who said they try to teach the kids to respect the differences in others, whether religious or political or whatever. Then terrorists acts like those in Paris come along and everyone is defending the satirists who are often way past the borderline of respectful criticism. How do you draw a line between what is an acceptable critique and satire that’s gone over the top? We do, in our western democracies, have the freedom and the right to declare our opinions. We must be perfectly clear that the terrorist perpetrators consider every one of us to be infidels and they have absolutely no respect for our freedoms, rights and beliefs.

Sorry. Unfortunately, I don’t have a final answer to this dilemma. All I can say is that Kalashnikovs versus words and cartoons is overkill! No one forces anyone to look at the cartoons or read satirical magazines. If it offends you, turn away. But shooting down the authors in cold  blood is just not a commensurate response.

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Filed under civil rights, Europe, human rights, Terror, Traditions

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