While most of us were home with our families enjoying the holidays over break, a couple of events occurred that once again made the public take a critical look at the current state of free speech.
First, there were threats surrounding the release of the movie “The Interview” — that no moviegoers would be safe, and that people should “keep yourself distant from the places (showing the movie) at that time,” While the idea of nobody being safe to watch the movie at any theatre in the U.S. seemed unrealistic, the threats brought back memories of the Aurora movie theatre shooting in 2012.
Not long after the threats, movie theatre chains began to cancel showings of the movie, and eventually Sony scrapped the movie entirely. However, the public was displeased with this decision, saying that pulling the movie was cowardly and that Sony was essentially “letting the terrorists win.” After it became clear that people really wanted to see the movie, it eventually ended up being shown in movie theatres all over the USA and released online.
After the controversy surrounding “The Interview,” and on a much more serious note, there was the shooting in Paris. A satirical weekly magazine called Charlie Hebdo was attacked by two gunmen in response to a depiction of Muhammad by the magazine in a previous edition, leaving 12 dead and more injured. After the shooting, the newspaper received massive support on both a local and international level. While the newspaper usually only published about 60,000 copies a week, they ended up publishing 7,000,000 copies of the first edition after the attack.
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of your speech. However, the widespread response to both of these recent events suggests that many people want to live in a society that allows and supports free speech more than they want to live in a society that is too afraid to speak its mind for fear of retaliation.
In my opinion, this is the right stance to take. Free speech is absolutely essential in any democratic society, and without it there can be no progress. Although an average buddy comedy and an edgy magazine cartoon may not seem like they are worth human lives, like anything, it is much more important to see the big picture.
If we give in to threats and let fear dictate our actions and words, it only sends the message that violence is an effective means of accomplishing a certain goal and opens the door to anyone willing to use violence to accomplish their goals.
Larry Philbin is the News editor at The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]