CharlieThere has been much debate over the meaning of the hash tag #JeSuisCharlie, and as much debate over the nature of the publication in question.

What has been missing is a wider discussion over the nature of freedom, what it is and how it challenges us. The simple fact is that most of us are not free. Our freedoms have been eroded and curtailed in ways of which we are barely conscious.

Many people used the hash tag #JeSuisCharlie to express solidarity, but solidarity with what? With whom? The cartoonists? The publication? France? Their friends on Facebook? Freedom of speech? Freedom in general?

Many people rejected the hash tag because they were uncomfortable with the magazine. But what were they really rejecting? Do we need to be comfortable with someone’s use of a freedom in order to support and demand that freedom? To defend it when it is attacked?

How far does your belief in freedom stretch?

Let me give an example. Let us imagine that I own a restaurant. Let us also imagine that I really dislike black people; I’m a proud racist. Should I have the freedom to put a sign up in my window barring black people from dining in my restaurant? Should I have the freedom to be openly racist?

I enjoy a mature garden. I have the freedom to grow many varieties of flowers, plants, shrubs and trees. If I also enjoy smoking marijuana, should I have the freedom to grow it? To smoke it? To sell it?

Most people would claim to have dominion over their bodies. Since it’s my body, should I have the freedom to be a professional sex worker? Should men and women have the freedom to procure and enjoy the services of a professional sex worker?

If I am terminally ill and the quality of my life deteriorates, should I have the freedom to end it on my terms?

If I am appalled by religion, should I have the freedom to burn Bibles and Korans in public?

You don’t have to like any of these freedoms, but if you have answered ‘no’ to any of them, then you are arguing that these freedoms should not exist. What this translates to, is authorisation for the state to use violence against its citizens to take away these freedoms.

If you don’t believe that I should be free to bar people of a certain skin colour from my restaurant, then you believe that the state should use violence against me to stop me from doing so.

If you don’t believe I should have the freedom to grow, smoke and sell my own plants, then you believe that the state should use violence against me to stop me from doing so.

If you don’t believe I should have the freedom to be a sex worker, or that I should have the freedom to procure the services of a sex worker, then you believe that the state should use violence against me to stop me from doing so.

If you don’t believe I should have the freedom to end my own life, then you believe that the state should use violence against me to stop me from doing so.

If you don’t believe that I should have the freedom to burn religious texts,
If you don’t believe I should have the freedom to end my own life, then you believe that the state should use violence against me to stop me from doing so.

The attackers at Charlie Hebdo did NOT believe that the cartoonists should have the freedom to mock Islam or Muslims, and they believed that violence should be used to stop them from doing so.

So ask yourself, how far does your belief in freedom stretch? Are you Charlie? Or the attackers?