I WAS CHARLIE – The demise of free speech

I WAS CHARLIE – The demise of free speech

The recent attack on Charlie Hebdo has left the world pretty much divided into two camps. I am Charlie and I am not Charlie.

Apparently people are mobilized by the fact that free speech has been attacked. The terrorists never said they were attacking free speech but through the media, people have somehow reached this conclusion. A lot of folks have taken this attack personally. The thinking goes like ‘If CH was attacked for publishing this cartoon, then perhaps I could be next..’. That probably explains the millions marching in protest and solidarity.

The other camp thinks that the cartoon was extremely offensive and thus doesn’t really come under free speech.

There are different ideas of what constitutes free speech. These ideas stem from various cultural values that people have around the world. What we can perhaps all unanimously agree on is that murder is wrong.

However, it’s interesting to note that while people are out marching on the streets, free speech is already dead or on it’s way to a tragic demise.


Free speech suffered a tragic blow when someone decided to send Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning) to prison for 35 years. The situation also ended up with Julian Assange on the run, hiding for years in the Ecuadorean embassy to the UK where he continues to live.

Free Bradley Manning mural, from

Free Bradley Manning mural, from


But free speech completely died when the NSA was allowed to listen in on everybody. This was something that Edward Snowden revealed to the world. Yes, the NSA keeps track of everything you do through communication networks. This is done in the interest of safety. This is done to protect us from “THEM TERRORISTS”!! So in spite of all this surveillance, despite free speech already being surrendered for safety, how did we manage to suffer another terrorist attack?!

The biggest enemies of free speech today are our governments. They are the largest engine of organized censorship in the world. While the recent terrorist attack served as a response because some groups found something extremely offensive, it’s sad to see that no one sees the bigger attacks on our liberties that take place every single day.

In recent years, governments around the world have been systematically trying to increase their control over the internet. They have been trying to use various excuses to increase their control. This goes from censoring blasphemous material (in India) to preventing abuse of intellectual property rights (in western countries). It is well known that sophisticated internet censorship programs are in operation in China where you can never read anything regarding the Tiananmen Square incident. Any search for such information within China yields different results from what you would see from the outside.


Here are some facts for you to digest:

- The Indian government asked Facebook/Google/etc. to remove lots of content. They have also been lobbying for access to be able to block everything they see as worth censoring. They’ve gone as far as to threaten to block Facebook and Google in India if they don’t comply.

-  What’s even more interesting in the above article is that the governments of the US, UK, Germany, etc. have made even more requests to block content on the internet.

- The US government is trying to pass a law that will enable the NSA to snoop in on you more efficiently. Free speech won’t feel like such a tasty delicacy if big brother is watching everything.

- The trans pacific parternship and it’s sister treaty the trans atlantic partnership both have hidden chapters that were exposed by Wikileaks. Hidden chapters mean that governments are discussing these things without citizens being aware of them! The hidden chapters of the negotiations deal with intellectual property rights around the globe and how to increase surveillance on citizens to prevent abuse. What’s well known given the stellar track records of governments with too much power (reference: History) is that these new laws can easily be abused for other cases.

- Apparently the US government cannot legally spy on it’s own citizens. Some sort of legally afforded ‘freedom’ gets in the way. These guys are ultra creative though, so they’ve come up with the wonderfully named Five Eyes program. What this basically means is: We’ll spy on your citizens, you spy on ours, and then we can just exchange the info *wink wink*.

If free speech is so sacred to everyone, why is Julian Assange in hiding? Wikileaks exposed to the world the kind of stuff that happens behind closed doors. So why is it that only the Ecuadorean embassy in the UK would grant this guy asylum? Why didn’t the so called western bastions of free speech honor their tradition of liberty and offer this guy, the king of free speech, any protection?

Quote by Julian Assange

Quote by Julian Assange


Yes, what happened to Charlie Hebdo in Paris was wrong.

But if you go out and march in support of free speech know what you’re marching for. March against government censorship, it affects you more closely than any lewd cartoon ever will. March for the protection of journalists like Felina who died reporting the abuses of the Mexican drug cartels. March for Edward Snowden and people like him who literally gave up everything they have so that you could know the truth. March for the people who dared to go on twitter and call for revolution in Egypt.

Mexican narcos murder citizen journalist "Felina"

Mexican narcos murder citizen journalist "Felina"


The internet is the greatest form of free speech in the world. Never before in human history could people communicate the way they can today.

In the information age every person holds a microphone and the world is their audience, governments are running scared for cover. Their default response in this situation is to fight back and regain control through any means or excuses necessary.

The war on free speech started a long time ago. But the aggressors aren’t a bunch of masked terrorists toting machine guns. It’s our very own governments we need to worry about.

The internet is perhaps one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. It has completely changed the way humans interact and communicate. The velocity of information has never before been so high. A tweet can go viral in a matter of seconds and be consumed by millions of people around the world.

Don’t let governments police the internet. Lets all be more active in protecting this very new and powerful form of free speech that we have somehow stumbled upon. If you want to join the struggle for a free internet there are several folks fighting the good fight.

Check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future. These organizations constantly deal with new developments in internet censorship and fight against them.

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  • Ashray you make some beyond awesome points here.

    Happy to tweet it through Triberr.


  • Anu Says

    What have we made of our world with so much hatred so much distrust one people one world where nothing has changed The blacks hate the whites All religions hate each other We have not evolved we are where we started Its still a long long way to go

  • Natalie Says

    The Turkish government banned Youtube and Twitter in 2014. Can we add them to the list?

  • No place in the world truly believes in free speech in the truest sense, although some places and institutions place tighter limits than others. The key is to find a place where the free speech rules are most suitable, and see if one can be happy there. There’s a tone of resignation as I type this – sadly. You might be interested in this –

    But from my side, #JeNeSuisPasCharlie.

    • Zara Says

      Thanks for sharing your opinion, Tim.
      We have both read that article actually… even before Ashray wrote this one. Very relevant and well-written!

  • Frank Says

    All very true. I’m currently watching something you might be interested in: The United States of Secrets, by Frontline (part of PBS). All about the NSA and it’s program to monitor internet data between the US and overseas. It’s on Netflix. Basically the NSA stepped up this surveillance after 9/11 in order to ‘protect the Homeland’ – their powers had been severely curtailed after the Nixon debacle. When 9/11 hit they felt they had to step it up and also adjust to something they didn’t have in the past; the internet.
    It’s complicated, but nothing has ever really changed in the way governments control the people. They all do it in varying degrees depending on their form of government as they always have. And I understand your point, on the other hand sometimes there’s an argument to be made for the ‘greater good’. I’m not choosing sides, but it’s not black and white. Just as people complain about the ‘police state’ (heck, they even do it in Canada where the police pretty much hands off) and then complain when a cop isn’t around to protect them. Can’t have it both ways on the cop issue and also have it both ways on the privacy/security issue. Of course there’s a fine line and its always moving…

    When I started reading the post you didn’t go in the direction I expected. I believe in free speech and I also agree that nobody should ever be killed for what they say. BUT I will say this – where is the respect for others beliefs? Can’t free speech happen without insulting the beliefs of others. Apparantly not. I’m no fan of religion and I can’t stand religious zealots of any kind. I’m not planning on going to any Middle East country anytime soon and have no desire – too many crazies. But I think the West, especially in Europe, have been fanning the flames. There’s a lot of hypocrisy. How about that movie “the Interview”? A movie about the killing of the president of another country. And we all get incensed about ‘free speech’ there as well. By the way, I still think it was a brilliant marketing ploy for a piece of shit movie with a couple of piece os shit actors – nobody would have ever heard about this movie otherwise. My point though: what if another country had made a movie about killing off the US President, or more precisely, Obama. Because “The Interview” was pretty specific. How would people in the US act? I think you can imagine…

    Lots of hypocrisy in the West. But I think it all boils down to respect.

    And once again a comment which was only supposed to be a couple of lines ends up as a long rant :)
    All I’m saying is that its a very complicated issue and there is no black and white answer to it.

    By the way: enjoy how you guys stick out your necks with your opinions even if I don’t always agree with them. Lots of really boring bloggers out there who just write fluff stories or pose in bikinis. Always enjoy reading your blog :)

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Ashray Says

      HI Frank

      Thanks for the comment and words of encouragement :)

      I did mention in the article that different cultures view free speech differently. I didn’t want to go down that route because the debate with the ‘I am Charlie’ and ‘I am not Charlie’ has pretty much boiled down to an Us Vs. Them argument. For me, as a person who grew up in India the idea of free speech definitely includes respect. I come from a country with enormous diversity in religion, culture, food, etc. As such, it’s always been ‘normal’ to not insult someone else’s god/beliefs. We wouldn’t even do that in the name of free speech.

      Zara and I were discussing this the other day. These are interesting times for Europe. Although Europe had many diverse people in the past with varied belief systems, in the last century, Europe has been pretty homogenous (after various long and painful, often brutal events of assimilation). Right now, Europe is being challenged with a diversity problem and it seems like they are unable to deal with it. They start with the typical developed country problem, there’s no one in their population who wants to clean toilets (as an example) because everyone is educated and no one with a PhD wants to be doing that! So in come the immigrants who are willing to do these jobs. Initially, everything is fine. They need the immigrants, the immigrants need the jobs, all good. But then the number of immigrants starts increasing (after all, in general there are more unskilled labor positions than highly specialized ones in most economies). Soon enough there are 2nd or 3rd generation ‘immigrants’ (in quotes because these are actually citizens). Now that there are so many and their culture is suddenly visible on the streets and is markedly different from reindeers and christmas cakes, it’s a problem! Suddenly everyone says “Tell them to go back” or “Tell them to adapt to OUR culture”. This is where I think the lack of respect and cultural animosity stems from. This is where mocking someones God or their beliefs takes shape. Unfortunately, I don’t personally see any easy solution in sight. Respect is a solution but when there’s so much hatred and animosity, respect is perhaps the first thing that is lost.

      Is it too late to ask people to respect each other? I don’t know. The governments and media are playing on the fears of the people in Europe. The other day, there were some petty thieves in Chile who put a bomb in an ATM to steal some money. Believe me, no one in Santiago heard about it but there are people from Europe who called us and said “OMG!! ARE YOU OKAY??!!! WE HEARD THERE WAS A BOMB IN SANTIAGO!!!!!!!! THE MOSLEMS!! THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!!!!!”. First of all, Chile never makes it to the news.. pretty much anywhere. Secondly, the bomb was just a homemade explosive in the middle of the night at an ATM in a deserted business district. Thirdly, I’m 99.9999% sure there was no muslim involvement and 100% sure there was no terroristic intent. I blame the media. They’ll chase down any story to create mass hysteria.

      There’s an agenda at play here. Every time something like this happens, there is an agenda that gets pushed forward. We’ve seen it happen with 9/11 (and the two ‘wars’ that followed) and we’re seeing it now with the reaction of the governments and media. Yes, perhaps the way the governments are controlling the people is through public opinion and fear rather than wire-tapping, etc. I wish 1984 was a required read for every teenager in the world.

      I’ll definitely check out that documentary. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Frank Says

    All true Ashray. We’re seeing it everywhere; an previous open door policy towards immigrants in the good times when you needed people to do the crappy jobs. It’s what many economies were built on. But then when the economy turns to crap it all turns to resentment and about ‘immigrants stealing our jobs’. Same story everywhere.
    Of course they could do what some of the Middle East countries do; contract 3rd world workers to do the manual jobs…then kick them out when the economy goes into recession. They’re given a week’s notice and told to get out.

    I think going forward that a lot of Western countries will get much more isolationist and make themselves much less appealing for would-be immigrants. Won’t be pretty going forward. I’ve heard quite a lot of people now questioning the theory of the ‘multicultural meltingpot’ and calling it a failure.

    Agree about the media. I’m a bit older and I remember when the media could be taken seriously. You had major news networks with foreign correspondents overseas. It’s all been dumbed down, they cater the majority who want to hear about Paris Hilton or the accident down the street..few people care about international issues.

    Frank (bbqboy)

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