When Islamic terrorists gunned people down a few weeks ago in France in response to cartoons of Mohammed, the whole world sympathized with both the victims and the publisher, Charlie Hebdo. "Je Suis Charlie" was shouted in solidarity across the globe by those who value their freedom even more than their lives.
For a couple of days.
Almost as shocking was how quickly those who share the terrorists' desire to limit free speech became the dominant voices in the media again. See CNN and Laurie Penny.
We ourselves declared "Je Suis Charlie", as well as "Je Suis Page3" in defiance of those who want The Sun newspaper in Britain to stop publishing topless models. "Absurd!" the would-be censors mocked. "The idea that protesting Page3 and shooting people have anything in common. Ridiculous!" Obviously the level of violence is dramatically different (Page3 models lost a livelihood while the French victims lost their lives), but the thinking that led to both is identical. Both NoMorePage3 and the French terrorists felt completely entitled to censor expression. And that is where the problem really starts. Certainly we cross a political, physical line whenever we shoot someone, and we have laws to prevent that. But we cross a mental, moral line when we expect others to give up their freedom of speech, and this sense of entitlement has led to even more belief-related violence these last few weeks.
The onus around the world seems to have shifted onto publishers to avoid offending people, which forces them to risk their own lives and the lives of others by simply doing their job. If we are going to defend lives, livelihoods - or freedoms of any kind - the onus needs to be put back where it belongs, on people to keep their censorial thoughts to themselves, before it ever reaches the level of entitlement currently motivating so much hatred and violence in the world.
We think anti-silencing laws could do that.
Such laws would make it possible for any publisher, speaker, or artist to sue anyone who publicly suggests they should not express themselves. For example The Sun, Page3 models & photographers could sue NoMorePage3. Charlie Hebdo, its cartoonists or the families of the shooting victims could sue Islamic leaders.
If such laws were along the same lines as existing libel and slander laws, the number of actual cases taken to court would be tiny. But so would the number of people who think it's perfectly okay to break them.