Je suis Charlie – Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to disrespect

By: Kai Teo

First of all, our team at Buddha Mag offer our deepest condolences to the families of those who have perished in the recent shooting at the Charlie Hebdo Paris office. We would also like to extend our heartfelt grief for the 2,000 who have lost their lives in the tragic Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria.

And to the peace-loving Muslims who have once again become victimised by a world that regards Islam as a violent religion, and looks at you as if you’re a terrorist, our hearts are with you.

The recent onslaught of depressing news on our Facebook feeds didn’t quite seem to affect our ordinary lives here in Sweden. Whether it’s 17 people who were gunned down, or 2,000 innocent folks senselessly murdered, it’s still winter in Malmö, and I still gotta drag my ass out in the cold to the office and write some fucking brochures for a new printer that Canon recently launched.

Bring the death toll up to 10,000. My boss will still be hounding me to come up with a cold, pretentious headline that goes something like “Experience the true colours of life” or “A new dimension in colour”.

The pain is too far away to be felt. The threat too small to cause any tremors in the still, stale, stoic Swedish January.

Human stupidity and evilness have stopped shocking me. The media has turned deaths into statistics, stupidity into glamour, and personal choices into national concerns. Marijuana is still seen as evil, and gay sex is still illegal in Singapore. So was the Paris attack shocking to me? No.

But as I stare at my Facebook friends who have suddenly converted into champions of free speech and religious satire, I couldn’t help but throw up last night’s curry in my mouth, and then swallowed it again in the name of political correctness, and hygiene.

Another peaceful demonstration in the name of solidarity, one more Facebook group set up to uphold freedom, yet another minute of silence to mourn for the dead. Nothing much has changed. And I’m sceptical that this attack would “rock the world”.

It seems as if social media has empowered millions of otherwise unquestioning, follow-the-crowd, law-abiding citizens to become fearless revolutionaries that fight day and night for the greater human values of freedom, equality and love. Their weapon of choice is the keyboard or the touchscreen. Rat-a-tat-a-tat away. But who really lives according to the values they scream so loud about on their status updates? Who really gives a shit about Charlie Hebdo? I fear to find out.

Many of us have never heard of Charlie Hebdo until recently, including me.

What appears to be a funny satirical magazine can also be regarded as a racist, bigoted and disrespectful tool for slander. Depends on whose side you’re on, and depends on whose god they’re talking about. So issue 43 makes fun of Muslims. “Oh, ok, that’s kinda funny. Come on, it’s just satire, don’t take it so seriously. Learn to laugh about yourselves.” But when issue 45 gets published and it’s slightly homophobic, it suddenly becomes all-out gay jihad.

Freedom of speech is great. But freedom of speech really doesn’t mean that you have liberty to be disrespectful. If I go around Sweden with a sign hanging from my neck that says, “Swedish girls are whores”, I’m pretty certain I’d get into deep shit in less than 24 hours. 

We’re not religious people here. But we do respect others’ choice to adopt one. Religions aren’t bad. It’s people who are fucked up. I bet Prophet Muhammad was kinda cool and Jesus had the most awesome wine parties. And I’m sure they wouldn’t like politicians.


And in every religion, every subculture, every social movement, there will be dumb fucks.

A dumb Christian reading about the crusades would go out and shoot some Buddhists. Likewise, there are dumb feminists running around threatening to cut off penises too.

Would you walk straight into a violent anti-fascism protest wearing a Swastika t-shirt? Not over my dead body. 

The world isn’t quite ready for freedom of speech. People, given this freedom, say stupid things (yea they could be funny as fuck). But stupid people, hearing these stupid things, do stupid things. Like shoot people.

To all of us not directly affected by this tragedy, perhaps we can learn to avoid another one.  

With freedom comes responsibility. And all our talk about freedom doesn’t mean shit if we can’t handle ourselves and start pissing on everyone in the name of freedom. I’m sorry Charlie Hebdo, your Prophet Muhammad cartoon is not a fight for freedom, it’s plain tasteless. And I’m sorry AK-47 extremists, you shooting people will only cause further ostracism and victimisation of all Muslims. Wrong move, everyone.  

Let’s take a step back, humans. We’re not ready for freedom. We gotta go back to Humanity 102 and learn what it means to respect one another.

Peace out. Amen. Amitabha. Ameen. Namaste. 

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