Finding a balance between satire and respect

Since the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, Islamist terrorism has claimed more than 270 lives in France alone. No religion can justify murder, commentators stress. But is freedom of expression such a sacred principle that it justifies any form of blasphemy?

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La Stampa (IT) /

Satire has its limits

Commenting in La Stampa, philosopher Donatella di Cesare says we must also see that responsibility imposes limits on how we exercise the freedom of expression:

“Does freedom really consist in the right to blaspheme, in being presumptuous enough to want to offend, insult and desecrate what others hold 'sacred'? ... Particularly in these dark times of the pandemic we see just how empty the idea of the freedom of a subject who considers himself sovereign is - an ego closed in on itself, free from any responsibility for others. The freedom of mockery reminds us of those who are walking around without masks. With each new attack, the choice between 'secularism and fanaticism' - between Macron and Erdoğan - is emphasised more starkly! No to both, we must respond loudly and clearly!”

Le Monde (FR) /

Learn to live with religious globalisation

We cannot simply expect all nations, cultures and religions to have France's level of advanced secularisation, the two former heads of the political newspaper Esprit, Olivier Mongin und Jean-Louis Schlegel, point out in Le Monde:

“Things we no longer consider blasphemous are very much so for others! ... We have not understood the implications of religious globalisation. It implies that the absent or incomplete secularisation of one nation collides head on with the secularisation of another, that this contact ends in violence, and that a sword of Damocles is left dangling over all of them - particularly in countries which have instituted the separation of church and state and guarantee the freedom of all, believers and non-believers alike.”

The Economist (GB) /

Blasphemy must be allowed

Freedom of speech and opinion come first, The Economist stresses:

“A religion is a set of ideas, and therefore open to debate and even mockery. Considerate speakers will try not to give gratuitous offence. But governments should not compel them to be inoffensive. If they did, everyone would have to censor themselves, for fear of offending the most easily offended person in the audience. And as Mr Paty discovered, an audience can include anyone on Earth with a phone. The French state should never give the impression that it endorses blasphemy, but it is right to protect blasphemers, just as it is right to protect those who complain about them, so long as they do not advocate violence.”

Dnevnik (BG) /

Let us not regress to the Inquisition

No religion worthy of the name accepts murder as the punishment for satire, Dnevnik declares:

“These murderers are not 'religious martyrs' but violent criminals who are brandishing the flag of religion. ... If we accept murder as the punishment for satire, which some see as sacrilege, we regress to the age of the Holy Inquisition and the burning of witches, scientists and forbidden books. ... Let us instead strengthen the secular state as an achievement of the modern age and protect it from having to submit religious teachings of this sort. We must be very clear that when a religion leads to fanaticism, it ceases to be a religion.”