By now, you have doubtless heard every analysis of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. As we at the Independent saw our social media feeds flood with support for the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, we realized that “Charlies” are often the same people who chide the CI and others for publishing articles that don’t line up with the progressive, politically correct agenda. Suddenly, everyone was a champion of free speech and the values of liberal democracy, but no one seemed to know what that means.
Citizens of Western democracies, especially of the progressive or social democrat variety, must come to terms with reality. They have taken freedom, including, but not limited to, freedom of speech, for granted, and rarely appreciate its import.
In 2014, for the ninth consecutive year, according to Freedom House, the tide of freedom retreated around the world. Last year, nearly twice as many countries saw declines in freedom as saw improvements. About as many people live in “free” countries (2.9 billion) as in those that are “not free” (2.6 billion). No continent, no region is immune from illiberalism.
While the Charlie Hebdo killings hit close to home, similar and far worse tragedies are being orchestrated daily across the globe. For example, in Pakistan, a pregnant Farzana Paveen was stoned to death by her father, brother, and her spurned cousin-fiance because she chose to marry a man she loved. She was just one among the hundreds, if not thousands, of women killed in the name of honor in Pakistan every year. Raif Badawi, a blogger in Saudi Arabia, faces 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for allegedly “insulting Islam” on his blog, “Free Saudi Liberals.” Among its countless acts of barbarism, ISIS is throwing gay men out of buildings, stoning women, and crucifying young men who refuse to convert to Sunni Islam. The abridgement of freedom is not in any way limited to Muslim-majority nations. In Nigeria, Boko Haram (“Western Education is Forbidden”) is ramping up its murderous campaign in Nigeria against those who refuse to live under its inhumane rule. Journalists the world over face threats of murder. Officially secular China is continuing to aggressively censor its media and stifle religion, Christianity in particular. Xinhua, a Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper, called for more censorship in light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Russia, Vietnam, Belarus, Cuba, and many other nations also deny basic freedoms.
Conservatives are often chastised for saying we want to promote freedom and democracy around the world, as if it’s some sort of imperial plot to subjugate the savages. Such couldn’t be further from the truth. We tend to think that people around the world deserve to be free and that opponents of freedom must be challenged as much as possible. As history has shown, the expansion of freedom is hardly inevitable. And when there is more freedom, not only is there less oppression, but there is also a great flourishing of humanity, technology, and other forms of progress. Look at China since the death of Mao. Even a modicum of additional freedom in marriage, work, travel, trade, and thought has brought about an enormous explosion in well-being.
There is no reason why people in China, Chad, or Syria are any less deserving or capable of being free and creating Charlies of their own than Europeans or Americans. They should have that chance.
At home, we should work to maintain our democratic institutions. Progressive justice warriors, resist the temptation to censor others. Instead of seeking to silence those you disagree with, engage with them. When a straight, cisgender white male speaks, confront his ideas and not his traits. If you think something is important, make your argument. Tweet. Post. Blog. Write. Speak. Debate.
The ones who bring about progress in society are often those with “incorrect” views. If the left truly wants to see societal progress, as opposed to greater statism, allow for and engage with those marginal views. If they’re good, help them go mainstream. And if they’re not, defeat them with your arguments, not through censorship.
We want to live in a free society. You probably do too.