Free speech should not cost lives

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Jenn Oswald, Columnist

 

Our worldly sense of free speech is being not only challenged, but attacked with gunfire. From North Korean computer hacks to last weekend’s Copenhagen café shooting, the world is being shown that fundamental rights are only our own as long as we are fearless in their pursuit.

First, the American produced film, The Interview, was met with threats of “merciless” action by North Korea against both Columbia Pictures and any theaters that dared to show the film. The movie follows the (mis)adventures of an American gossip show’s host and producer (played by James Franco and Seth Rogen, respectively) as they use an interview with notoriously unforgiving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as means to carry out his assassination.

All of this is guided by the help of the CIA, of course. The choice to write a script about particularly relevant Jong-un and skepticism of North Korea’s politics continues to grow in controversy. It may not have been in the best taste, but really, when has Seth Rogen been known for creating things in good taste?

However one feels about the movie or its subject matter, the important outcome of the whole issue is North Korea’s response. Starting with the now infamous Sony computer hacks, North Korea proceeded to demand The Interview not be released, ironically referred to it as “the movie of terrorism” and threatened to attack any theater that did follow through with its release.

The theme of attacks on free speech consists of unreasonable, extremist responses to comedic depictions of a group or figure. For one example, if we so diligently protect the right to express one’s religion, we must also acknowledge and protect the right to offend.

The next major attack was in France at the headquarters for Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. After publishing controversial illustrations of Muhammad and other Islamic leaders, men later identified as members of the Yemen branch of Al-Qaeda killed 12 people. They claimed their motive was “revenge for the honor of Muhammad.” The phrase “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) became famous for those standing in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo’s right to free expression.

Following those two events, the Golden Globes were abuzz with Je suis Charlie buttons, cracks at North Korea and references to Al-Qaeda’s extreme responses to unfavorable representations of their religious and political leaders.

Despite the lightness that came in the aftermath of the attacks within the safety of the star studded room, Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. President Theo Kingma put them back into perspective.  “The freedom of artistic expression is a beacon across the globe. We stand united everywhere from North Korea to Paris,” Kingma said.

Met with a standing ovation, anyone who has ever dared to share their opinion was reminded of the risk of doing just that.

As the world recovers and continues to create with only the slightest bit of hesitation, this past weekend found us once again in a position of weakness thanks to those afraid of the voices of the fearless.

On February 14, a cafe in Copenhagen, Denmark was hosting an event called, Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression when a gunman entered, killing one civilian and three police officers. The shooter is assumed to be targeting a speaker at the event, Lars Vilks, an artist whose drawings of the prophet Muhammad depicted as a dog has caused protests and uproar in his home of Sweden. A long time target of Islamic aggression, Vilks continues to portray Muhammad in his cartoons.

This is unacceptable. We should be able to live in a world where free expression is valued, where fear of condemnation and retaliation is of the past and opinion is protected. While respect of culture, religion and value is imperative, without free speech and expression, we are nothing. When we stop talking, they win. We must keep talking.