By A. Suiter Clarke
It’s been a rough year for freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom to offend, freedom to work without being killed, freedom to protest, freedom to walk down the street without getting hit by a potato.
All of the above have been or currently are being hotly debated. (Well, except the last one, which I just found a little funny and twisted. There’s really no debate to be had about whether an 18-year-old should chuck raw potatoes at people as he drives by, but points for creativity.)
As a writer and creative professional, several of the past year’s events have been very disturbing to me. I mean, what really happened with The Interview? Was it all just a hoax to get people to watch an admittedly crappy movie? Or did Sony really allow a dictatorship to ban an American film?
Should Sia have chosen another child to dance/act alongside Maddie Ziegler, or should people stop looking for reasons to be offended and just enjoy a beautiful expression of art? Were Maryland police crazy for arresting a middle school teacher when they found he wrote a fictional book , set 900 years in the future, in which a school shooting took place?
And perhaps most frightening, most sickening, most brutal, are the attacks on Charlie Hebdo just a few days ago. In the past year, journalists and writers have been beheaded live on camera, imprisoned, vilified, banned, impoverished, and gunned down simply for speaking their minds through art. Many opinions are unpopular, and Charlie Hebdo has indeed offended countless members of many races and creeds, but under the laws of freedom of speech, that is their right. Of course, just because someone has the legal right to do something doesn’t mean they should do it, and certainly doesn’t mean it is morally right to do so, but the problem with moral rights is that they vary depending on whom you’re talking to.
Religions such as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have been persecuted and mocked for thousands of years, and have withstood. True belief systems, intimate belief systems, are held onto strongly no matter what ridicule and mockery comes in the way of the believer. Killing people who ridicule one’s faith seems to me more an expression of fear and insecurity on the part of the attacker, rather than an expression of fierce honor, which is what the perpetrators would like the public to believe. If God is really as powerful as he is made out to be, then surely he doesn’t need people to defend him, and surely he is mature enough not to get offended over a cartoon.
In many ways, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo have demonstrated two equally powerful truths:
- Just because one belongs to a group or religion does not mean one supports all of the actions taken by that group. Muslims are not responsible for the murders at Charlie Hebdo, or for that matter, the terrorist attacks taking place in the Middle East. A small, militant, radical group of people claiming the Muslim faith are responsible.
- You don’t have to support the message being relayed by a group of people in order to support their right to share that message. Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights of people in civilized countries, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean I agree with what everyone says. Of course, I couldn’t. But do I support the right to write and share one’s opinion without being arrested, tortured or killed for it? Of course I do.
There is no way that the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo could have known that they would die for their art, but they knew for sure they would come under fire. And they did it anyway. I would like to think they did it not only to express what they believed, but also to confront the members of those various religions with an image, the picture of how they appear to the outsiders looking in. Shakespeare said the purpose of a play is “to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature.” Perhaps that is what made those three gunmen so angry: not the cartoon that made fun of their faith, but the reflection of what so many see when looking upon instigators of terror. There is nothing quite so disheartening as hating what one sees when looking in a mirror.
Generally, I shy away from confrontation. I lose a lot of fights that way, but I get fewer ulcers and anxiety attacks that way too. But if there’s one thing that all of the attacks on writers and artists this year have inspired in me, it’s the courage to be controversial, to be brave. To sit down at my keyboard and write without worrying, what if readers don’t like it? What if people disagree? What if someone misinterprets my meaning?
Well, what if they do? One of my former creative writing lecturers said he became a writer because there was something inside of him that he needed to get out, and writing became his vessel. I feel the same way, and if you’re a writer, I’m guessing you do too. Whatever that something is, it will never feel satisfying to release if you’re diluting it in order to avoid offending someone. Some of the greatest literature was once banned: may still be, in fact, in some countries. The most important messages are often offensive. Revolutionary ideas necessitate bold pens.
What would you write if you stopped wondering what people might think?
A. Suiter Clarke is a writer, teacher, traveler, and lover of all kinds of stories. After completing an undergraduate in Theatre, she moved to London to do a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Kingston University. While in Europe, she traveled, worked, and wrote. A lot. Experimenting with short stories, poems, and one-act plays during her studies was good fun, but her first love is the novel. She is currently seeking representation for her debut novel, and is 25,000 words into a second. Now living in Melbourne, Australia, she is a copywriter for the Law Institute of Victoria.