Janathon day 11
Today was a fabulous day to be out running. Cool out with a stiff cold breeze, but the sun was shining and the skies were clear. I opted for a long sleeved shirt and my gillet, not because it was cold as much as the gillet offers more wind resistance than a second shirt does. It wasn’t just me that thought today was a good day to be out and about either, the tally of active people included 2 runners (one who waved cheerily from the other side of the road and second who was running on the wrong side, but took the advice that she swop sides to face oncoming traffic in very good part), 4 bunches of cyclists (I’m sure the collective noun for cyclists isn’t bunch, but I’m struggling to think what it might be!), a pair and 3 lone peddlers. Not just me being a nutter out in the open then.
After Friday’s rediscovery that running off tarmac is not quite the same as the on tarmac stuff, I decided that today would be a good day to extend the distance I covered. So once I got to the pylon, I turned right to follow the footpath into the next village, this means I run more of a P shaped loop, rejoining my longer out and back route at the manor house. The extended distance is all to the good, but the thing that makes it a really good workout is that it’s off road. Depending on the season, this route can be of varying quality underfoot, as it is a mixture of paths across or round fields and unsurfaced farm tracks. Today it appears that it’s not been long since the top field was ploughed as there was no obvious path across the furrows. It meant that the soil was fairly loose and the recent rain meant it was quite damp. An ideal combination for most of the field to decided to stick to my shoes! So not only are you trying to make progress across something quite uneven and yielding, but you’re doing so with feet that weigh three times as much as usual. My shoes have big cut outs in the heels, I assume for lightness or cushioning. The downside of these being that they soon fill with mud and I end up running with what feels like half the shire attached to my feet. Like I need any further handicaps… But it’s good for the balance, the core gets a good work out, it’s kinder on the joints and is just kind of fun (in a mildly masochistic kind of way). Pretty much stuck to the 5 minutes run with 1 minute walk intervals, so that’s good, especially as this is the furthest I have run since May 2012! The extended loop took me to 4.08 miles and I covered that in less than 54 minutes.
In a departure from my usual style, I would like to associate my run with the Unity Run for Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. I don’t know what comfort it brings to the families of those who have been killed in the terrible events in France last week, however I am fully behind the notion that freedom of speech and the freedom of the press is important enough to stand up for. I have never read the satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo, in fact a lot of satire leaves me feeling mildly uncomfortable; it can be cruel, the sensation that you’re laughing at someone , not laughing with them. Although I can appreciate that a lot of the targets of satire need to be laughed at, otherwise you’d cry or despair over them; I don’t have to like it to see that it has its place in society.
The assumption has to be that the attack on the office of the magazine was a result of the magazine’s decision to print some cartoons that depicted Mohammed in a less than favourable light. You don’t have to like or agree with the cartoons, in the same way that I don’t have to like or agree with everything you say. I don’t believe any person can deny the right of an individual to hold and express an opinion. And individual freedoms are only going to be present and protected when the press is free to comment, report and criticise whoever and whatever it deems appropriate. There can be no sacred cows. The down side of freedom of the press is that we also have to extend that freedom to the Sun and the Star, but, to paraphrase from a Toby Ziegler speech in the West Wing, “That the Star can publish what it likes is the only way I know that the Times/Telegraph/Guardian can publish what it likes as well”. Freedom of the press mirrors personal freedom of expression, one will fall without the other and to suppress either results in restrictions that are unacceptable.
The side effect of a freedom of expression is that every one else also has the right to express the opinion. With the right comes the responsibility to accept that there are a myriad of views that can be expressed. I have no more right to suppress your opinion, should I disagree with it, than you have to suppress mine. What you say may well offend me, but I have no right to suppress what offends me simply because it offends me. With the right of freedom of expression comes a responsibility to accept that we can and will be offended. Get used to it, it’s part of being an adult in a functioning society. There is a famous misquote by Voltaire that sums this up.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
That is a summary of Voltaire’s views on freedom of expression, it’s not from Voltaire himself. What was actually written in Voltaire’s Essay on Tolerance was “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too”. But that lacks the panache, the hyperbole, the dramatic flourish of the misquote. I think that for most people within the Western world, that has become part of our expectation. It hasn’t always been the case, as this Viewpoint article from the BBC explains. We’ve come a long way in a few hundred years, but that’s not to say that the freedoms we currently enjoy are universally acknowledged, welcomed or even considered rights at all.
What we are certainly not accustomed to is the idea that to express an opinion leads to physical consequences. That someone could take such offence that they would resort to violence is outside our realm of common experience. To hit out at a view in the heat of the moment is possibly more understandable than the concept that the terrorists concerned could plan and execute their act of revenge in response to the publication of something they found offensive. I’m sure lots of people may have found those publication offensive to various levels. Including the first person to be shot a policeman who was a muslim. Was he offended by the cartoons? Would he prefer they were not published? We’ll possibly not know, but he died doing his duty first and foremost. The appropriate response to something we disapprove of is not violence, it is to produce a rebuttal, to respond so as to show the thrust of the publication to be foolish. Gunning down 12 people and causing the deaths of 4 more is not an appropriate response. The pen is mightier than the sword, goes the saying.
That might not be true in the short term – the gun certainly trumped the pen in the case of those killed. In the long term the case is less clear cut; the magazine Charlie Hebdo is being published this week from temporary offices and the cartoon community has responded with a series of cartoons – they are not suppressed by the threat of the gun. In a few months the name of the magazine and the target of the shooters will remain known, the names of the terrorists will live in few memories.
The right of expression is worth standing up for and, as with all rights, it needs protection; otherwise we will one day wake up to find they have been removed, little by little, without our noticing. In the UK press there is an increasing tendency to demand an apology or retraction from someone who expresses a view that a person or social group finds offensive. Obviously if you say something that is criminal (incitement to violence, libel, making threats etc) there is recourse to the law and that should be used. To censor expressed views simple because a social norm doesn’t approve of them is a highly undesirable trend; the thin end of the wedge, at the other end of which lies Orwell’s thought police. The whole point of freedom of expression is that all ideas and views are expressed without let or hinderance.
That I find your view offensive should have no impact on your right to express it. Demanding an apology from a politician or other public figure who expresses a view that could be considered offensive is a sure way to suppress those views. It is a form of censorship and it risks limiting all of our freedoms by making some views taboo. This is, in it’s own way, as undesirable a response as a resort to violence. It is far less obvious, far less dramatic, but it is a more insidious form of suppression of expression.
There is another undesirable element of communication in the modern world that runs counter to the freedom of expression. It takes the form of compulsion – the “if you’re not with us you’re against us” phenomenon. There is an expectation that people on social media will all voice an opinion that has been decided by the masses as appropriate. Freedom to express an opinion means the right exists to choose not to voice an opinion. The social media compulsion seems to exist in the expectation that everyone will voice support for a particular cause. However choosing not to voice support for a cause should never be equated with supporting the opposite case. The world is not a place that exists in black and white, there are an unlimited shades of grey that exist between two polar opposites.
A culture of censorship would no doubt have never allowed Charlie Hedbo to publish the cartoons, or probably a significant amount of its content. But that is the price we pay for a valuable freedom; it’s a price I think we should expect to pay. That I am able to spout whatever rubbish I choose in this blog is how I opt to exercise my right to express an opinion and I stand in solidarity with anyone who stands up for that right – even to the point of dying for it. Je suis Charlie