Freedom of speech is something that no one should be denied. Not every society has this same opinion, but I stand by the founding fathers of the United States on this matter. Opinions are personal, and no one should be punished for sharing theirs; or be denied the right to share it.
A few years ago, I wrote a profile piece for my university’s newspaper about the endangered right of free speech, freedom of the press, and the lives of the journalists in Sri Lanka. I was lucky enough to meet and interview Ruan Pethiyagoda; a former Sri Lankan journalist who was studying journalism at Seattle University; my alma mater.
His story captivated me.
His experiences as a journalist in Sri Lanka, gave me a small personalized view into a society where censorship was common, and a writer’s pen literally was a weapon against corruption. Through research and many interviews with Ruan and some of his acquaintances, I was exposed to a facet of the journalism world that I had never before imagined.
My article (found here), which was limited by available print space as well as my own amateur skills of the time, fell short of my own expectations, and in no way does justice to the experiences of Ruan and his fellow journalists in Sri Lanka; but I am forever grateful for the opportunity to write that piece, because it gave me my first real experience with the importance of free speech. Before I met Ruan, free speech was just an ideal that I thought I understood and appreciated. After talking to Ruan, freedom of speech meant something personal to me. It became something I wanted to protect and use.
As far as history is concerned, the idea of free speech and free press is considered new and somewhat revolutionary. There are many people in many societies that are denied their right to free speech; especially their right to free speech without persecution.
The recent events in France, with the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices, demonstrates how the right of free speech is still under attack, even in societies that promote the right. Such acts of violence are an attempt to squander people’s ability to think and speak freely through fear. The only way to fight back, is to actively practice our right of free speech.
The artists and writers at Charlie Hebdo understood the importance of continuing to practice their right. They were aware of the threats made against them, and yet, they continued day after day to create and publish their opinions and ideas. For that, they should be remembered; they should be remembered as defenders of an inalienable human right.
Their opinions were there own, and many of them were unpopular; but whether or not they were right in their opinions is subjective, and it is also not the point. The point is that they had a right to express their opinions and perspectives, and no one should be able to take that away. Not through fear, violence, censorship, or any other means.
I may not be an official journalist yet, but I know the path I have chosen. My life may never be threatened for the things I write; but then again, maybe it will. Often times, people won’t like what I write, and at other times, they will. Some of what I write will be my opinion, or the opinion of others; sometimes it will be straight facts. Being a journalist and fighting for the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press won’t be easy, but I know the path I have chosen, and I know that it is worth it.
Je suis Charlie. Je suis liberté!
(Image: “Solidarité” by Ana Juan from the “New Yorker”)