The murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists was shocking and repulsive, and has rightly been condemned. Nevertheless, it is undesirable that this tragedy should be elevated into a heroic defence of freedom of speech.
Such freedom is a privilege which must be exercised responsibly. It is not an absolute human right. The law of civilised nations does not protect defamation, plagiarism, blackmail, harassment and other forms of bullying. There has to be a sense of balance. It is legitimate to lampoon living public figures such as politicians and celebrities for their politics and lifestyle. It is also legitimate to criticise religious leaders for extreme beliefs, pomp and ostentation and perhaps, above all, for child abuse.
This is not the same as lampooning the founders of Islam and Christianity and other world religions. It is simply an insult to millions of sincere devotees, the majority of whom are totally opposed to fanatical terrorism.
All newspapers write about what they think their own audience wish to read. The journalists of Charlie Hebdo chose to write for self-proclaimed intellectuals who believe that their superiority justifies insult of lesser mortals who are seen (by them) as uneducated or unsophisticated. It is, in the case of the particular cartoons, the journalism of the snigger and the sneer.
The murder of the journalists is deplorable, but it is not appropriate to canonise them as martyrs to the cause of free speech.
It was sadly inevitable that someone would write suggesting that the journalists at Charlie Hebdo brought it on themselves, and that someone turns out to be Daniel Emlyn-Jones: “These writers should have known better than to insult Islam” (Letters, 9 January). Just like those rape victims, no doubt, who should never have gone out in their short skirts. What does Mr Emlyn-Jones expect us all to do? Censor ourselves and circumscribe our everyday freedoms lest some maniac feels justified in committing an outrage against us?
Not only was this latest carnage in Paris a brutal attack on freedom of expression in France, it was also an attack against our fundamental democratic values. There is absolutely nothing that can justify such cowardly and callous attack.
The military-like precision, extensive weaponry deployed and tragic targeting of pre-selected victims (where terrorists apparently knew the time of the editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo) is alarmingly ominous – necessitating that we in Britain adopt a far more assertive stance against militant Islamism in the UK.
This involves more material and communal support for our intelligence services and the Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police (SO15). The Home Secretary’s recent, courageous measures to counter British “jihadists” need to be applauded and espoused as the national minimum in our legal armoury.
For their part, British Islamic institutions are still woefully complacent, offering at best no more than rhetoric and well-rehearsed bouts of condemnation. They need to do much better in countering the pernicious ideology of radical Islamism, reinforcing on young impressionable Muslim minds that the security of this country is paramount – and instilling unmitigated pride in our British values and national institutions.
Dr Lu’ayy Minwer Al Rimawi
Charlie Hebdo took the hit because others in Europe were too cowed to satirise Islam. France took the hit because others in Europe were too craven to ban the burka. Now is the time for an emphatic display of solidarity to ensure our freedoms are upheld and no quarter is given to the evildoers.
The “Unity March” of one million people in Paris on Sunday reminded me of the Iraq anti-war march of two million in London and 15 million around the world in 2003. I wonder if the march in Paris would have been necessary if the 15 million had been listened to.
The meaning of Auschwitz
Simmy Richman’s account of his trip to Auschwitz (8 January) reminds me of my own. In 1995, I boarded a bus at Victoria bus station and went overland (with some sea) to Krakow. Armed with a photocopy of the scrappily drawn map in Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, I wanted to trace the Schindler story and did so before it became the tourist trail it is now.
I found traces of the ghetto wall in side streets, gardens and even a school playground. A local travel office offered a trip to Auschwitz, or Oswiecim, and yes, feeling uncomfortable in case I should be considered a ghoul, I booked it.
At the camp I met my guide, who explained that many guides had been Holocaust survivors, but as they were becoming too old, we in my group would have to put up with him, the mere child of a Holocaust survivor. The guide told us how important it was that people visited Auschwitz because the world must never forget what happened there in that period of history.
I think that Auschwitz stands as a symbol not of oppression, but of freedom. This camp symbolises what our world would have looked like if our forefathers had not given their all to defeat an evil, totalitarian ideology. It is a reminder of evil defeated.
Perhaps it might also encourage us to stand up against totalitarianism in all its forms whether political or claiming to be religious.
NHS: Listen to the accountants
During my time in the NHS, both as a surgeon and a trust chairman, the idea that privatising the service would bring the rigour and clarity to the NHS which its public service ethos lacked was popular with politicians
After two years managing Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Circle has backed out because of insufficient funding, an unprecedented clinical load, insufficient places to look after the elderly when they are ready to leave the acute wards, and the possibility of an unfavourable report from the Care Quality Commission.
Hundreds of hospital trusts throughout the UK face these problems but do not have the luxury of passing the buck to someone else.
Please let us have no more talk of privatising the NHS, but do let us listen to those Circle accountants who very succinctly state the reasons that the NHS is in trouble, and let us make the necessary changes to save the best and most cost-effective healthcare system in the world.
Andrew Johnson FRCS
Great Bourton, Oxfordshire
I live within the area served by Hinchingbrooke Hospital. I work with people who attend the hospital and my husband drives patients to attend clinics there.
Based on what people who use the hospital say to us, there is a general level of satisfaction and the most noticeable improvement since it moved from NHS management in 2012. We are therefore amazed at the recent news that Circle is withdrawing from its contract to run the hospital.
Prior to the Circle takeover, Hinchingbrooke was due to be closed and local people were desperately concerned that they would have to travel to Peterborough to receive care. My fear now is that the NHS will not take the hospital back into its management and we will be left with no local hospital. This will not only affect local residents but will affect the wider public because the hospital also provides accident and emergency services for frequent traffic accidents on the notorious A14, which passes nearby.
It’s incredibly sad and extremely frustrating that politics and electioneering cause situations in which we, the public, lose an excellent service, accessible care and committed staff. It’s happening in schools, colleges and councils, and is intended, I believe, to undermine the value of public services across the country. Hinchingbrooke Hospital is just the start. Where will it end?
Scotland’s very own ichthyosaur
Dr Steve Brusatte comments that the new type of ichthyosaur identified this week from a fossil found on the Isle of Skye means that “we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish” (“First remains of new ‘shark-like reptile’ found on the Isle of Skye”, 12 January).
As the fossil dates from 170 million years ago I do think this is taking nationalism a step too far.
Fish sauce for vegans
Mark Hix (10 January) offers a vegan recipe that includes fish sauce. As fish is apparently a vegetable, can he provide me with some seeds in order that I can grow my own?