Thursday, 29 January 2015

"Freedom of speech is not absolute and responsibilities are attached to it..."

Living in the liberal western world where it is regularly taken for granted, I support the right for freedom of self expression. But although I may support the 'right' to do a particular thing, I hope I will always question if, given particular circumstances it is in fact the right thing to do (or say).

"Freedom of speech is not absolute and responsibilities are attached to it and more so when those living at the margins are subject to racism and discrimination. We should defend free speech but doing so while listening to the voice of the voiceless living in our midst..." 1.

This probably seems old fashioned, but whatever happened to "consideration for others"? Whatever happened to putting someone else's wellbeing on a par with our own perhaps even with some sacrifice on our part? Is demanding our right without consideration for others the right thing to do or as I've said before, is it not one of arrogance that says "this is my right and you are going to have to live with its consequences"?

Demanding our rights to something may indeed bring us into conflict with others whose rights are diametrically opposite our own. We can witness a battle of extremes where, for example, "on one side, freedom of speech is sacred. On the other, for all those who believe, religion is sacred" 2. Sadly it still needs to be said that although both have the right to defend their respective values, both are absolutely wrong to impose those values and views upon others.

So pervasive is our indignation at the attack on our Western liberal ideals of 'freedom' how many of us remember now, or even realised that the very first victim of the murders in Paris recently was a Muslim, a Frenchman, a policeman who, outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo died defending the right of those inside to continue insulting, and in my view irresponsibly caricaturing his religion.

Freedom of speech is a powerful tool but used selfishly can easily become a powerful weapon. With freedom of speech we should seek to "ask the right questions - the questions that need to be asked - rather than accusatory ones that fuel the stereotypes that have originated in mainstream media" 3. We can seek to build bridges of mutual respect and understanding therefore negating the need to defend our own position from attack.

With freedom of speech we have been given the responsibility, opportunity and tools to narrow the gap of misunderstanding and conflict, not to widen it.

The new artworks

Although I hadn’t planned on releasing these two new works until later in the Spring (as part of a larger body of new images), I felt that it was relevant to do so in the wake of the Paris atrocities. A friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem loves all things that start with  "keep calm and..." so, having added my now familiar tag of 'coexist' this became the title of the first new work. She and her husband are an inspiration for seeking the wellbeing of others. This piece is dedicated to them.

The second work is called "Orphans in an Orphaned Land" and was also finished well before the events in Paris. It is a graphite drawing and contains, perhaps somewhat prophetically the Latin term lex talionis; the law of retaliation. It was Gandhi who said that if everyone practised 'an eye for an eye' the whole world would go blind. However, no one deserves death for drawing a cartoon regardless of how intolerant and insulting it may seem to have been.  So perhaps limiting an eye for an eye, a cartoon for a cartoon may well serve as justice in our sometimes self-centred liberal society. Also written into this work is a second dedication "to all the children of Yitzak and Ishmael"

“One day…peace will come to our troubled region. On that day we will all of us have to ask ourselves what we did for peace. Did we capitalise on the conflict for political gain or did we contribute something of value to give hope to the region? Did we build boycotts or bridges? Did we pull people into a dark and primitive past, or help them envision a better future?” 4.

Shalom aleichem, salaam aleikum, peace be with you.

1. Yasmina Khadra. One of the most celebrated authors in France today whose real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul. He is Muslim and was born in Algeria, where he served in the military.  

2. Hatem Bazian. Senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley University, USA

3. Khalid Albaih. Sudanese artist, political cartoonist, illustrator, designer and writer.

4 Daniel Taub. Israel's ambassador to the UK. Source: Jewish Chronicle