“The Emperor has no clothes!”
Hans Christian Anderson
“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”
The tragedy in France has been felt all over the planet. I even changed my Facebook pictures to reflect the sentiment “Je Suis Charlie”. But the more I started to consider the concept of free speech the more I wondered how “free” our speech really is.
The assassins claimed to have avenged the Prophet – in retaliation for a blasphemous cartoon published by Charlie Hebdo. In Islam, you are not allowed to make any image of the Prophet. Judaism has a similar warning in the Ten Commandments about graven images: seems that gods and prophets have thin skin and no sense of humour.
The rallies are all about freedom of expression and free speech, but in truth I think that we are only afforded “free” speech as long as governments allow it. And it doesn’t allow it nearly as often as we might think.
Governments of all varieties have their own “Prophet” and woe to any person or group that dares to speak against it. When protests are met with water cannon and pepper spray, when injunctions are laid down to keep people from expressing their anger or dismay, and when people are jailed for defending their personal convictions (against the decisions of government) freedom of expression seems to have a suddenly high price.
We are NOT Charlie. In the early days of AIDS, community groups raged against the systems that seemed to be turning a blind eye to the death of countless men and women. Now, groups are muzzled and often times this is self-imposed
And yet, it’s the very job of non-profits to speak out. We are the very voice of the voiceless – we are the “sacred clowns” that need to show a better way. But we speak out at great peril. The government won’t go blazing into an office killing people; they are more sophisticated than that. Instead, the group might suddenly find itself audited or their funding cut. They may find themselves under intense scrutiny and constant reviews.
Death by a thousand paper cuts.
These days we must be as sophisticated about how we criticize as the administrations that demand obedience and conformity. And we should not remain silent – to do so condones the stupidity of the fanaticism of bureaucracies that have such fragile egos that speaking the truth about their ineptitude is tantamount to treason.
Heresy is a dangerous game; and it is a game that must be played or we ultimately lose the freedom we so passionately embrace.