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Wednesday
Jan142015

Je suis NOT Charlie

Saw an old friend from university at the weekend. He lives in Suffolk and invited me to the Ipswich-Derby match.

After the game the conversation turned to Charlie Hebdo. "You edited a satirical magazine," he said. "You must feel strongly about this."

My reply surprised him, I think.

Yes, I edited a Private Eye style student magazine and for years I maintained it was the best thing I'd done.

A few years ago however I came across some back issues and was genuinely embarrassed by some of the content.

Some of it was funny (if you knew the context) but some of it made me cringe. At worst it was quite nasty about certain individuals.

At the time we convinced ourselves everyone was fair game. Student politicians were our principal target but they weren't alone.

To this day I can't imagine why we lampooned the captain of the men's university hockey team whose only crime was to go out with a girl I fancied, but we did.

Eventually we were sued for defamation by one student and settled out of court. Although I still believe the plaintiff's solicitor exaggerated the impact we had on his client, I can see in hindsight that perhaps we did go a bit too far.

The second time we were threatened with legal action my co-editor responded in the same way the Muslim mayor of Rotterdam reacted to critics of Charlie Hebdo. He told the complainant, via his solicitor, to "fuck off" and we heard no more.

It taught me however to be more careful about what I write and I frequently self-censor this blog.

Comment moderation also allows me to edit or delete some of the more personal or vitriolic things that are posted about smokers or certain anti-smoking campaigners.

If they are gratuitously offensive I won't publish them. Simple.

In my opinion freedom – and freedom of speech – has its limits. Listen to the baying mob over the past week however and you'd be forgiven for thinking anything goes.

I know this puts me at odds with people I admire but there it is.

I am however with Ian O'Doherty, the Irish Independent columnist who yesterday tweeted:

Enough with the #je suis Charlie poseurs. If you won't even retweet the cartoons just stay out of the debate

See also: Unless you mean what you say, #Je Suis Charlie is another bandwagon to ride on (Irish Independent).

He's right. How many people using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie or demanding that newspapers publish this week's Charlie Hebdo cover (and other cartoons) have retweeted those cartoons themselves?

The reasons I won't be retweeting or posting any Charlie Hebdo cartoons on this blog are:

One, to paraphrase Neil Rafferty, co-founder of The Daily Mash, I'm not that brave.

Two, there's a fine line between legitimate comment and being gratuitously offensive and from what I've seen some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons cross the line.

I certainly wouldn't ban "offensive" comments (the definition of which is subjective) or cartoons but I do think a little self-censorship is not a bad thing. That's how the overwhelming majority of us get through life, isn't it?

Those who shout "tosser" (or worse) at anyone who calls for restraint in this delicate area don't appear to see the irony of what they're saying. We're entitled to our views too. It's called, wait for it, freedom of speech.

So no, je suis NOT Charlie, and I won't be buying a copy of this week's magazine.

Update: The latest Charlie Hebdo doesn't only mock Muhammad - it also mocks you (Brendan O'Neil).

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Reader Comments (2)

"Je ne suis pas Charlie"

#pedantic

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 18:03 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Simon, it's your blog, so you can allow whatever comments you wish. The point is whether the people making these comments should be prosecuted under some kind of "hate speech" or "causing offence" law.

Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 14:20 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

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