An Unpopular Opinion on Charlie Hebdo

Thought long and hard about this. And as someone who worked for the news, I admit that yesterday, I felt extreme fear and anger over the incident in Paris. So much so that it won’t go away until I wrote down my two cents: Murder is never the answer. An insult also deserves an insult, not a violent retaliation. An eye for an eye.

Meanwhile, freedom of speech – a privilege we enjoy – should be used as a tool to inform, to criticize (constructively), and to inspire change where it is needed. Humor is welcome. To poke fun at some things we find different from what we are used to is a mainstream reaction. But as journalists, we all have the responsibility to use freedom of speech to bridge gaps by giving information rather than widening them. To inspire change where it is needed and not force it on people.

To give laughs (satire) every now and then but know when to stop. Know when it is doing more damage than good. Not just for the muslims but for any other religious or racial group.

This doesn’t mean we’re scared or that we’re ‘toning it down’ for a senseless reason. We must speak the truth and point out what’s wrong. Always. And that should be the number one reason for a report or a cartoon – not to illicit ridicule or to make others feel inferior over one’s values (whatever they may be) that he/she find superior over others.

Bringing together people through understanding how different they are from each other and promoting respect between them is important. Freedom doesn’t mean you can go around insulting everyone just for the sake of it. It means you have the right to an opinion. A constructive one. To go way beyond that and to hide behind this freedom as an excuse for being mean is an abuse of the freedom of speech we enjoy.

Giving constructive criticism is different from promoting ridicule and being mean. You can always argue that to you, it’s valid. You like racist jokes? Go ahead and laugh but keep it to yourself and your friends. If you publish it – for thousands or millions of people to consume, a journalist must ask himself whether what he is sharing to a huge number of people is a responsible piece of journalism or something that will just promote hate and misunderstanding.

Having the freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can go around publishing irresponsible and mean pieces of journalism just cos you are free to do it. If it ain’t helping to share information or promote understanding of an issue (negatively/positively/whatever) – trash it.

By all means, poke fun at the things and people that need to be given a taste of satirical medicine. But will a naked prophet on a compromising position get your point across to someone who you decide to insult (in the most extreme way for them possible)? Or maybe a different funny drawing – one that would not fan the flames of an ongoing problem – could have done it better? Maybe something else that can represent the problem you see in them clearer rather than their prophet in a scandalous position. You insult, enrage, then expect them to understand you. How will they listen to you when you’ve already made them so angry that they are now blind and deaf to what you’re saying? There are other ways to be effective in one’s job. And as journalists we must call a spade for what it is. Those cartoons were made with the intention to enrage some, to illicit condescending laughs, and to sell copies – to inform was just secondary. And this may seem like being too much of an idealist but maybe we should all remember what journalism is all about. While selling more copies is great, shouldn’t your responsibility to the society have more weight?

It’s time we value freedom of speech more. It’s time we put a higher premium on journalism. Do it responsibly. A pen is mightier than a sword (or a gun). Use your might properly.

I entered journ school not to become famous or to be rich (it will and should never happen in journalism!) but with the mindset that maybe my stories can start a small change in the world and inspire a bigger change in the future. Sounds like a boatload of cheese, I know. But Im sure other journalists felt the same way. So we should stick to that. Don’t let yourself be disillusioned by what you see other journos are doing. Be that change.

Once again, murder is never the answer. I hope the gunmen are captured and brought to justice. Murder is an act that is most vile and my heart is broken that these people had to die for their craft and their ideas even though I disagree with them to some extent.

This incident should not dampen the spirits of those who seek to report true and unbiased stories. Journalism is a vocation. The truth can sometimes be expensive – some journalists had to pay for it with their lives. But it’s the life we chose and if we stand for the truth and everything else that matters like peace and the freedom of expression and practicing one’s own religion, then we may be seeing a better world in a nearer future.

I look forward to a world where it is normal for Atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and any other religious group to coexist by letting each one do his own thing. “You believe that? That’s weird. But that’s all cool. I believe this. You find me weird. I’m ok with that too. Let’s agree to disagree.” Sounds better, don’t you think? Heck, I want my future kids to live in that kind of world. Too idealist? One can dream. ‪#‎NoToViolence‬ ‪#‎CharlieHebdo‬

P.S. And just so its clear: I have my own opinions about religion and politics. I’m no saint. And I have bias too. But to let your bias make its way to your journalism is irresponsible.

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