The events of the Paris massacres at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and elsewhere have generated much editorial ink. But first, a curious observation from a large-scale literary study exercise. The group were asked to spend thirty minutes turning a brief literary text over and over again and then to write down at least thirty things that they noticed. Pretty hard! When all was done, and the people had persevered, the instructor asked how many had found their best thought in the first five minutes, there were no hands; in the first fifteen, just a few hands; towards the end, the vast majority of hands suddenly shot up.
Personally, my very first impression was the clarion and consistent call to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. It seemed so very right, in an almost unqualified way, to get up and march expressing our utter solidarity. To hold aloft pencils and say, in our best French: “Je Suis Charlie”. Reflecting further, I began to wonder quite how unqualified and absolute this commitment to freedom of speech is in our Western nations. You see, only the day before the Paris atrocity, Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta Fire Chief, was fired from his job because, as he said: “…there are grave consequences for publicly expressing my faith and having the audacity to state that sex was created for procreation and should be kept within the bonds of holy matrimony.”
Thinking now, in the colder light of day, our democratic countries solidly decide which groups and opinions are privileged and protected and which are not, leaving only the remainder genuinely open to freedom of speech and expression. Perhaps the literary group experience is validated – first impressions could be worst impressions.