by Eric Davenport
“This is not a ban, and it isn’t censorship,” said David Studer, the CBC’s director of Journalistic Standards and Practices, about the company’s decision not to publish caricatures of the prophet Muhammad following the tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks on Wednesday, January 7th. “We are being consistent with our historic practices and history, not because of fear, but out of respect for the beliefs and sensibilities of the mass Muslim believers about the images of the Prophet. Similarly,” he added, “we wouldn’t publish cartoons likely to dismay or outrage mainstream followers of other religions.”
I call bull.
The CBC’s recent statement justifying their cowardly decision to censor satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad clearly illustrates the hypocrisy that has taken over multiple key liberal ideals in Western society.
Before I begin, I have to admit that any article with the word “hypocritical” in the title poses a significant risk to my credibility. In fact, by the time you’re reading this article, it has likely been censored countless times by myself, parents, friends, and teachers. Heck – that’s right, I said heck – by the time you read this, this sentence may very well be gone, while your eyes hover over where it might have been, if not for the cruel reality of political correctness and my backspace button. But I am not here to tell you all of my immunity to hypocrisy or censorship; no, quite the opposite, in fact. I am here to illustrate the hypocritical nature that now threatens the shared ideals of our society – myself included – when it comes to fundamental topics like free speech.
The core institutions and ideals of Western Civilization are now subject to a flurry of dangerous double standards. We shut down and block out other’s opinions because we don’t agree with them, we pick and choose which religions are subject to respect and which ones subject to mockery, and we put emphasis on attacks against certain races, while overshadowing crimes committed against others.
In recent years, there has been a troubling growing trend in our social discussions and debates, exemplified by talk show comedians and Facebook commentators, of shutting out others’ opinions simply because we don’t agree with them. We have begun to dismiss people based on our preconceptions of their opinions – a trend that would trouble the pioneers of liberty and freedom in the Western world, who preached a message of freedom and conversation between people of different beliefs.
Recently, a pro-life speaker at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia was shouted down and humiliated by chants of “No hate speech in our school!” before university officials shut down the talk – a talk that did not promote hatred, but instead encouraged discussion between two parties in disagreement. Meanwhile, democratic politician Eric Cantor releases the following statement on twitter: “Anti choice, abortion haters are all basically mentally disabled. They cannot see or reason. It’s all bible thumping.” Instead of the outcry it deserved, this hateful comment received little – if any – coverage from major American news organizations. This situation’s hypocrisy is undeniably atrocious. A conservative, pro-life speaker schedules a respectful and thought-provoking speech at a university, and is accused of hate speech. A liberal, pro-choice politician releases a fundamentally hateful statement, and nobody reacts. Is this the kind of debate and conversation that once forged a noble, democratic civilization? This is fundamentally hypocritical. We go around saying that we respect all opinions and enable free speech, yet the major institutions of Western Civilization turn a blind eye when this free speech is so grievously taken.
Our society is one-sided – protecting one side’s opinions under freedom of speech, while muting their opponents under claims of hate speech. Just as the CBC censored pictures of Muhammad, Western society – whether it be universities, the press, or ourselves – is censoring what we hear about and what we accept, so as to give an unfair slant on a certain opinion and vilify those who oppose it.
Not only do we favour certain opinions, but we also favour certain religions – while mocking others. Something that seems to have been lost in this whole debate is the reality that the press, including the CBC, has no problem mocking and insulting Christianity, while they go to extreme measures to protect Islam from insult and mockery. South Park, a popular weekly animated show on Comedy Central, has gained a reputation for vulgar and offensive satirical episodes – not dissimilar to the comics released by Charlie Hebdo. Among these episodes lie extremely offensive depictions of the Christian faith – including a portrayal of Jesus Christ as a character who routinely uses the expression “goddamn”, kills and murders other characters in the show, and is incapable of performing miracles. Not once has the network censored or banned one of these episodes – and rightly so, as that would violate freedom of speech. However, after creating an episode seen as offensive to the Islamic religion and the Prophet Muhammad, Comedy Central cut a South Park episode out of their schedule for fear of insulting the Islamic faith.
This demonstrates a double standard and hypocrisy that is widespread throughout Western media. Late-night comedians will routinely mock the Christian faith, as they have every right to do. However, jokes poking fun at Islam are a rare occurrence, and when uttered, take on a much less extreme fashion than those aimed at Christianity. The CBC is not innocent of this, either, as their show 22 Minutes routinely mocks the Christian faith – by contrast to their censorship of images offensive to the Muslim faith. Therefore, their statement of “…we wouldn’t publish cartoons likely to dismay or outrage mainstream followers of other religions,” is fundamentally fruitless.
On January 7, 2015, social media exploded in an outcry against the terrible, inexplicably tragic murder of writers at the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Meanwhile, as people tweeted “Je suis Charlie”, posted satirical comics, and vowed never to let an attack of such magnitude and tragedy occur without a response, two thousand people in Nigeria were murdered in the streets by radical Islamist group Boko Haram. Two thousand men, women, and children, who had never done anything to offend anybody, were mowed down in the streets to the same cry that had claimed the lives of the twelve satirical cartoonists in Paris. It is so ironic, so hypocritical, so tragic, that as we mourn the loss of those in Paris with a gigantic response, not even a footnote goes to the gallons of innocent blood shed in the streets of Nigeria.
Not only is it ironic, is it hypocritical, is it tragic, but it is fundamentally and profoundly racist. If two thousand British people were killed in the streets of London on January 7th, do you think it would have received some news coverage? If two thousand Americans were massacred in Times Square on January 7th, do you think it would have acquired more than a backpage mention in the newspaper? If two thousand Canadians were slaughtered in downtown Vancouver on January 7th, do you think it would’ve garnered a hashtag? I think yes. I am not saying that it is racist to feel solidarity with the Parisian victims, but I’m saying that it is racist how the press is so self-centered, that they have not the ability to at least mention the attacks in Nigeria with the same outrage as they did for those in Paris. The spilling of innocent blood – regardless of how much, and regardless of whose it is – is always a tragedy. The press should have treated it as such.
In the outcry against the attacks in Paris, three words triumphed over all the others. These words, unfortunately, perfectly exemplify Western Civilization’s hypocrisy. “Je suis Charlie.” As much as we all wish that we are Charlie – defenders of free speech and fundamental ideals – the harsh reality is that we are not. In the wake of these terrible attacks, we must face the facts – our society is on a downward spin, a straight dive down that, if we do not fix, will result in the loss of liberal freedoms as a whole. The twelve defenders of freedom who were murdered this month would be the first to tell you that Western Civilization is becoming increasingly hypocritical, because of our tendencies to censor those we don’t agree with, and to be one-sided in our mockery of religion and coverage of current events. The twelve who were Charlie were special in our society – unique. They were unique because they offended everybody. They were not afraid to go after Christians, Muslims, Conservatives, Liberals, Russians, Americans and themselves. So, unless we are all willing to do the same, we are left with only one option: to mourn the loss of our fallen defenders and hope that, one day, we will be the beacon of free speech that was, and still is, Charlie Hebdo.