The massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices have rightly produced outrage and condemnation across the world. Within the reflection upon this horrific act the right to freedom and freedom of speech has dominated many conversations. Added to this are discussions over the nature of Islam and how we speak and respond to the rise of radical Islam.
I think however we need to be more aware of what we mean when we talk about freedom and freedom of speech.
There is a dominant cultural narrative and ideology in the West that underpins our daily lives, one that determines what is acceptable in our speech and acts and one that is not. Whilst difficult to pinpoint it invariably reveals itself, especially at times such as this.
So we believe in freedom of speech as long as that speech is formed according to our ideology of tolerant intolerance. What I mean by this is that there are certain people groups and topics that quite simply are out of bounds for criticism and challenge. So underneath the call to freedom of speech are the unwritten rules of bounded speech. There are rules as what one can and cannot say, lines drawn in the sand, yet those lines differ accordingly and if you find yourself on the other side of the dominant ideological narrative you will soon know about it.
So challenge rampant individualism and you'll feel the wrath of many who say that people died in the Wars to protect our civil liberty. Thus we see the interwoven strands of militarism, capitalism, individualism and nostalgia.
There is, as Žižek argues, no great passion from us, just a desire to protect and hold on to what we already have. If someone comes along to disrupt and challenge our way of life we rise in bile in order to save it. 'Aha!' some may say, 'right there is passion!' But real passion comes through thinking things through and then responding rather than a zombie-esque desire to survive or continue.
Take for instance a very fleeting trend on Facebook right now to post your very first profile picture. This nostalgic act seeks to preserve and gaze back to something lost. Nostalgia is the gazing back to the lost Other in order to bring meaning, and yet it never provides anything other than loss and therefore grief. So we are perpetually in a state of mourning seeking to reclaim and resurrect that which has long since died, whether it be a way of life, a person, how we looked, how we felt, what we owned or whatever. This nostalgic loss also lies to us as to how things really were, always making us believe in some utopic version of events.
When a Prophet comes along and denounces the System, calling us to repentance and transformation we become angry because we believe in the ideological narrative fed to us, indeed so angry that we crucify Him.
Yet some hear the music and start to dance believing transformation is possible. Whilst at first they may look strange to those who cannot hear the music, little by little revolution rises and the music finds its way into the ears and hearts and minds of communities.
It is a revolution that does not massacre people over a cartoon. I mean, once again as Žižek points out, how insecure must you feel about what you believe if you are willing to kill over a cartoon? This is why radical Islamists are a strange breed. They speak as fundamentalists determined to get their message out there, yet believe so little in what they believe that they live and act as violent hedonists.
Revolution happens when it is recognised there is no real freedom in our speech. We are conditioned to believe a certain way and adopt certain thought processes, whereas revolution occurs when we find ourselves thinking in others way, believing a different narrative that rehumanizes us.
It is fascinating that today we have this dominant narrative of individual choice, of individualism that declares all actions are ok as long as they do not hurt anyone. It is a narrative that tells us not to judge, a perceived freedom that declares 'my rights' to do what I want as long as I am not harming others.
Yet such a choice is pure myth, such freedom does not actually exist.
'Sexual freedom' to indulge in porn, have multiple sexual partners and be free to express myself sexually however I feel like, 'as long as I am not harming others' is a falsity because there is always someone who is harmed through any of these actions. Someone is always the recipient of abuse, emotional or physical, distress, betrayal and capitalistic gain, certainly in regard to porn. And yet if you challenge anything in this regard you are seen to be a person who wants to strip (excuse the pun) people of their freedom and their choices.
Real freedom in the sense of being able to do whatever I want is a dangerous thing. This is what, as Žižek highlights below, extremists engage in, total uninhibited 'freedom' to do whatever they want regardless of the harm it gives to others. This is where the similarities our so called 'liberal' society has with extremism with one caveat; the harm we give to others through our so called freedom is concealed, passive aggressive with degrees of separation.
So I can buy what I want, watch what I want, eat what I want etc etc without guilt whilst enjoying my freedom regardless of the pain and suffering my actions and the System are causing people elsewhere in the world.
Self-Giving, sacrificial, non-violent, forgiving, grace-filled, unconditional love is the only true freedom. This alone opens our ears to the music and brings about real transformation. Lust desires our own desires to be fulfilled whatever the cost, whereas love desires to raise up the lowly and install dignity, value and worth.
Perfect love casts out all fear, therefore pursue love and freedom will rise like a new dawn.