By Corine Tan
Writer & Blogger
Article originally published here.
I walked into my English class Wednesday morning and saw this written on the whiteboard. Our teacher asked the class, “How many of you have heard about the news in Paris? About the Charlie Hebdo shootings?”
Until then I hadn’t. The explanation that followed stunned me. Two gunmen shot down 12 French cartoonists that were part of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. They were attending a meeting when the massacre began. Twelve people died because someone didn’t like their drawings. An act of terrorism against not only the country, but freedom of speech.
Naturally, we discussed the subject in class. We talked about freedom of speech, about the right to publish, and that freedom of press includes the freedom to publish offensive content. It was horrifying to think that someone’s art could lead to such a violent response. That several people died because they drew something someone else didn’t like.
I sat there staring at my own notes, at the doodles I had drawn on the page only moments before.
Cartoons. Drawings. Art. Someone died because they were expressing their ideas through a picture?
I didn’t know what to think.
The next day in AP European History, we covered the subject once again. We skimmed article after article, watched videos with pictures from the memorials and scrolled through political cartoons about the event. People held signs that read “Je Suis Charlie”. People gathered in the dark, holding their pens up in the open night air. Cartoons of pencils, broken, taken apart, and sharpened.
Our teacher read to us a quote from our textbook. It was from the Enlightenment, an era that we had just finished studying. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
Their message was clear. You can’t kill our freedom of speech. You can never destroy art. Our freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the most valuable freedoms we have.
This hit me. Hard.
I’m fifteen years old and I like to write. I understand that I’m the future of America and every adult I know reminds me of this. I want to write in the future, when I’m an adult. Perhaps writing novels, journals, scripts, I’m not so sure. But either way I know that I’ll be expressing an opinion.
So I began to think. As a future writer, this means that possibly what I write could get me physically hurt by people who dislike what I have to say. That idea scares the crap out of me.
I understand that with expressing my opinions, some people will be offended along the way. I understand that I may not agree with everyone that I meet. However, I also understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinions.
But perhaps not everyone in the world understands this. So what does that mean for me? Must I fear my work will have violent implications? Must I wonder whether expressing myself will be dangerous?
The fact that an artist died because of a few drawings they made is a horrifying thing to consider. I want and need to have the freedom to express myself. Both now and in the future, I hope we can all live in a world where we can express our ideas and feel safe doing it. The freedom of press and freedom of speech are rights that I am grateful to have and intend to defend.
Maybe I’m too young to understand. Obviously I have a lot to learn. The more I do, the more I find that I know nothing at all. What do I know about how the world really works? What if it’s not possible to truly have these freedoms?
I know one thing though. I wouldn’t be able to write, do one of my favorite things in the world, and do this free of fear without my freedom of speech. This blog and this post would be gone. My book gone. Art. Music. Books. Gone. Gone.
No one is allowed to take my freedom of speech away from me.
Je Suis Charlie.
Because the freedom to express myself is important to me.