Over the weekend, there was a massive march in Paris in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings and subsequent hostage events. World leaders — with one notable Nobel-prize-winning exception — marched with the protesters to show their commitment to freedom and unity.
At least, that’s what the narrative is. But, as usual, the narrative is bull:
Following the terrorist attacks on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the EU has issued a joint statement to condemn the act and work to prevent extremism and safeguard freedom of expression. The leaders’ suggestion? More surveillance and internet censorship.
The statement, adopted by EU representatives including UK Home Secretary Theresa May, focuses on addressing radicalisation “in an early stage.” It condemns the January 7 attacks, in which two Islamist gunmen killed 12 people, and specifically mentions the internet as a factor in the “fight against radicalisation.”
“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” the statement reads.
“With this in mind, the partnership of the major internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible,” it continues.
Ignore the caveats, concentrate on the message: they want to control internet content. And as we’ve learned, controlling internet content doesn’t just mean silencing terrorists. It means silencing anyone who says anything deemed racist or bigoted or insensitive. The EU wants to stop terrorists from silencing critics of Islam all right. They will do this by silencing Islam’s critics on their own.
David Cameron has specifically responded to these events by saying he wants to mandate a back door into all internet communication:
British Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to last week’s terrorist attack in Paris by participating in a march declaring solidarity with freedom of expression. Then he went home and attacked freedom of expression with a promise: If his party, the Conservatives, win an upcoming election, they’ll pass legislation that would empower security services to read anything sent over the Internet.
He favors a Britain where everything that anyone communicates can be spied upon if authorities determine that certain conditions are met. In short order, this would enable security services to spy on all innocent communications even as terrorists and non-criminals begin to communicate in code or through still-dark channels. And that is just the beginning of the problems with this privacy-killing proposal.
As has been noted many times, when the government demands a backdoor into your cellphone or computer, that makes it possible for the backdoor to be abused by hackers, terrorists and other criminals.
Oh, and that march? The world leaders weren’t even there:
Now, a different perspective on the leader’s portion of the march has emerged in the form of a wide shot displayed on French TV news reports.
It shows that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows other dignitaries and officials – after which there was a large security presence maintaining a significant gap with the throngs of other marchers.
The measure was presumably taken for security reasons – but political commentators have suggested that it raises doubts as to whether the leaders were really part of the march at all.
And their commitment to free expression? You should check out Daniel Wickham’s tweets, which run down their level of “commitment”. Example:
2) Prime Minister of Davutoglu of Turkey, which imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world http://t.co/sLCJaZprex
— Daniel Wickham (@DanielWickham93) January 11, 2015
— Daniel Wickham (@DanielWickham93) January 11, 2015
So this March for Solidarity or Unity or whatever was not really a march against censorship or for free speech. Not as far as world leaders were concerned, at least. The only reason they oppose terrorists attacking freedom of expression is because they see that as their job. Fresh off of silencing critics, imprisoning journalists and attacking civil liberties, they are going to use this attack on free expression to ratchet up the attack on our liberties through more censorship, more control of media and more “sensitivity”. Don’t think for a second this is about stopping future Charlie Hebdo attacks. This is about control.
Politicians hate free speech. They hate the free press. They will enact as many controls on expression as they can get away with. The only people who care about our civil liberties are us. The Hebdo attack is seen by the majority of politicians as a way to ramp up their control of us. They will mask it with concern about terrorism, as they always do. But in the end, we will all be under their thumb.
If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they would be challenging the blasphemy laws that infest dozens of countries around the world. If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they’d be trying to free imprisoned journalists. If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they would be challenging the speech codes that have flowered on college campuses. Until they attack those things, I will not believe them when they talk about their commitment to freedom of expression. They’re just placating us.
A lot of people misunderstood the “I Am Charlie Hebdo” thing. It’s not that liking their content. The point is that we are all under the real or implied threat of censorious thugs and we must zealously defend our freedom from those thugs. That mean terrorists, yes. But it also means the thugs who wear suits and ties and march near crowds to show their unity.