The horrific shooting in Paris took place while I was on the road. I had been invited over to Emory Law School to talk about blogging. I listened, utterly in shock at the scenario I was listening to on the news. I got to my brother-in-law’s house and read about it more online. News websites, Reddit, Twitter. The following morning I woke up and read more about it from another type of venue – law blogs.
I knew that many of the legal bloggers I know would be discussing the events. I also knew that many legal bloggers would not. It’s something I discussed at my talk at Emory – namely that all legal blogs are not cut from the same cloth. Max Kennerly made this point about the types of legal blogs a couple of years ago:
It seems the practicing lawyer blogs are separating into three general classes of blogs, which I’ll call the mainstream, the personalities, and the marketers.
- The mainstream are blogs with several in-depth, substantive posts every week. These blogs are typically written and edited by multiple people and aim for a journalistic style, sometimes in the form of third-person-omniscient, apparently-neutral-reporting or in the form of a typical newspaper opinion/editorial. (E.G. SCOTUSBlog)
- The personalities are the single lawyer or handful of lawyers who write when they’re inspired, and they’re written with a distinctive voice. These blogs can range from analysis of case law (e.g., Drug and Device Law, D & O Diary) to personal observations about law (e.g., Erik Turkewitz, Associate’s Mind, Day on Torts) to a mixture of both (e.g., China Law Blog, Abnormal Use) . When someone mentions the “blawgosphere,” they’re usually talking about those blogs…
- The marketers are blogs written first and foremost for potential clients. They rarely link out and rarely go into substantive discussion about the law. Huge numbers of them are insulting and unreadable, but they don’t have to be that way….
A few of the mainstream blogs touched on the tragedy in Paris. And of course, none of the marketer blogs have offered commentary on it. Instead, it was the “personalities,” – the blawgosphere – who chimed in and made their voices and opinions on this issue known. During my talk at Emory I gave the opinion that if you are going to have a legal blog, have something worth saying. Avoid a boring, vanilla approach to blogging. Don’t become a marketer. Not that there isn’t a place for those types of blogs, but they aren’t very interesting. More to the point, as lawyers, we have a responsibility to discuss issues that affect the very fabric of society – such as the freedom of expression.
To Blog Or Not To Blog
Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of LexBlog, made this point in his post, Self-censorship by law bloggers a dishonor to freedom of expression:
Self-censorship by lawyers — those charged to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press — out of fear of the very unlikely and the, arguably, petty.
The next time we’re feeling self-censorship as a law bloggers we ought to give thought to the battles fought by those who have given their life or liberty for freedom of the press. That blog publishing platform you have is a printing press.
The freedom of expression hill we’re asked to make a stand on is not all that high. We ought to honor it — and them.
It’s easy enough to tell publishers to risk the danger. But how do we as individuals fight back against voices that want to scare us into shutting up? Nobody should die because of something they say or write, but people do. People were assassinated today, over a cartoon. That’s freaking terrifying.
But I can’t help but notice that it’s the comedians, and not the academics or politicians, who are the ones who have shown the real balls to consistently combat the self-censorship of their own minds. The women and men who are going for a laugh are the ones fighting this battle on the front lines. Matt and Trey want to put Muhammad in a bear suit, not the cover of the New Yorker.
And it’s generally true. Comedians are generally the ones pushing the boundaries in this arena. But that has always been the role of jesters. They are able to tell uncomfortable truths dressed in glib garb. The can point out folly and foolishness without fear of reprisal. That is, until tragedies such as this occur. And that’s why it is important for lawyers to boldly stand up for the right of expression. To say that all people have the right to say what they want, no matter how offensive or preposterous. That no person, no president, no king, no priest, no imam, no religion, no culture, no government, NO ONE, gets to appoint themselves as the arbiter of taste or speech. No one gets to filter and approve of what I want to think and say. It is a fundamental right of our society and one that is painfully important. Important enough that people suffer pain to maintain it, and important enough that people must be willing to be subject to ridicule and shame because of it.
It is in this area that lawyers across the country stepped up and made their voices heard. Leading the charge was prominent 1st amendment lawyer Marco Randazza:
Today, our home was attacked. I don’t mean France. I don’t mean Paris. I don’t mean Charlie Hebdo. I mean our freedom of expression. Ours.
A group of lowlives attacked and killed at least twelve people at the offices of a satirical magazine for no other reason than they disliked its sense of humor. They believed that their religion trumped anyone’s right to mock it. They believed that their umbrage meant that they had the right to take the life of 12 people who participated in mocking it.
And therein proved that their interpretation of their religion was entirely, utterly, without merit, and worthy of being mocked.
Randazza, along with other bloggers at Legal Satyricon, have followed up with profiles of some of the slain:
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Georges Wolinski, Hero
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Frédéric Boisseau
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Ahmed Merabet
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Phillipe Honoré
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Mustapha Ourrad
- Nous Sommes Charlie: Franck Brinsolaro
The danger is that after the Charlie-Hebdo story passes from the headlines and other stories take its place, writers and publishers and artists and thinkers in the West will adjust to a new reality of fear, stifling the output of their minds and pens and keyboards for fear of giving provocation. If they don’t adjust, there are legal, insurance, and risk advisors at publications and universities who will be willing to do it for them.
And maybe lawmakers as well. Already, blasphemy laws are back on the march in Europe, after many years in which it was assumed they were a relic of the past. They must go no further.
Mark Bennett also commented on France’s blasphemy laws:
In France if you print cartoons inciting discrimination or hatred against Muslims, you may be arrested, tried by a court, and imprisoned for a year. Only if you resist can you be murdered by a band of armed thugs. This is civilization.
Scott Greenfield responded to the event and the meta-discussion of the event that followed:
The problem is that the speech that makes people most uncomfortable is the speech most in need of protection. I didn’t post the Charlie Hebdo cartoon because I love it or share its sentiment. Hell, I don’t speak French, and don’t know what it says. I don’t care. I did it to make a different point, that a healthy society demands that all of us take a risk to support free speech in the face of guns.
Kevin Underhill chose to comment on the meta-narrative that is emerging in the aftermath of the attack. Particularly the militarization of society:
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have SWAT teams, let alone guns, of which I am a fan, just that it makes no sense to militarize our whole society and crap on the Bill of Rights, with all the other consequences that has, in an effort to be 100% safe. Sadly, that’s just not gonna happen.
Rick Horowitz also chose to temper his response, and not reproduce the offending cartoons after some introspection:
So it was that I thought hard about my Muslim friends reading my post about Charlie Hebdo, and seeing caricatures of their Prophet. Muslims around the world (albeit particularly in France) are getting enough shit right now. I do not want to add to it…
…Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to voice my outrage, and my point of view, regarding the murderous rampage of asshats against Charlie Hebdo without inflicting further pain on my Muslim friends who, themselves, are reeling – in ways you and I cannot imagine – over this horrific histrionic overreaction (forgive the redundancy) to a few cartoons which not only poke fun at extremists, but also appear as sacrilege to the peaceful faithful Muslim majority.
Along self-censorship lines, Dan Hull was critical of the “Je suis Charlie” movement:
Part of what’s bothering me is that (1) “free speech” instincts are not intuitive or something we are all born with (i.e., we can’t hold the world to that standard yet), and (2) nearly every American, Brit and Parisian this week who secretly gloats about having free speech is in fact a chickenshit who won’t exercise free speech rights when it counts.
To close things out, I want to highlight Eric Turkewitz’s comments on the atrocity:
There’s no doubt that the horrific assault yesterday on the sharply satiric French political magazine Charlie Hebdo is not just an assault on all writers, but an assault on all that believe in free speech.
It doesn’t matter if we approve or not of the content of the magazine’s speech. That has nothing to do with the right to publish it.
What if we allowed ourselves to be intimidated into silence by force of guns on the subject of religion? What other subjects would be next? And who gets to make those decisions?
If we do not stand up to people now that wish to take away the fundamental right to express opinions, then when will it happen? And if not us, who then?
The answer to speech with which we disagree is more speech, not less.
A final image I saw just a bit ago this afternoon:
I am not a 1st amendment lawyer. Nor do I regularly engage in hyperbolic vitriol that is meant to outrage and antagonize others. But in the wake of such tragedy and senseless ignorance, I feel it is impossible to have any other response, as both a lawyer and a citizen, than to say,