“If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
Parents give this advice to their children in order to teach them good manners and help them avoid the repercussions of mean words. However, obeying such advice is censorship, which all too often we dislike. We want to exercise our God-given freedom of speech instead, usually at other people’s expense. But freedom comes with responsibility and we have a moral duty to others in our word choices. Are some subjects off limits? No. But we should display maturity and wisdom in how we treat people. Yes, self-censorship is hard, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Therefore, how should we respond to satire, “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices” (Oxford Dictionary)? It rarely says anything nice. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” (1729) shocked readers with suggestions of cannibalism, but he had a point – questioning England’s policies toward Ireland and the poor. Was the Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Mohammed satirical? No. This atheistic French magazine just wants to ridicule organized religion, Christianity included. I agree with the former head of MI-6, who said the Mohammed cartoon was “an act of provocation.”
Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo. This magazine isn’t true journalism. It also has poor taste. But its staff certainly didn’t deserve to die for a piece of paper. They still should have obeyed this piece of advice: “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes, silence is an act of kindness. Self-censorship has its rewards.