Letters: We’ve been weak in defence of free speech

These letters appear in the January 9 edition of The Independent

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As a French citizen and Charlie Hebdo frequent reader, I would like to congratulate M. Brown for his cartoon (front page, 8 January). It’s one of the few cartoons that succeeded in expressing all the horror of the situation while being faithful to the spirit of Charb, Cabu and the others. Man, you got it just right.

Thanks again, Dave!

Thomas Hautesserres
Massy, France


Four of France’s greatest living cartoonists, Cabu and Wolinski included, and their editor, have all been murdered in cold blood, for the purported crime of entertaining the people with satirical drawings. Unlike the gunmen, these cartoonists never hid their faces when they expressed their opinions, and this “bravery” means they are now dead. Should we really have to call it bravery, however? Should you have to be brave to publish a satirical drawing? Only,  it seems, when they are about religion.

Unfortunately, this is the inevitable consequence of our unwillingness to confront these attacks on freedom of speech. It entered the public eye with the kickback against Salman Rushdie, and continued with the scandal of the Danish cartoons, where many popular figures stood up and defended the violent protests against them because they attacked the so-called hallowed ground of religion.

For too long we have refused to condemn outrageous acts of attempted censorship, across a variety of countries, simply because their would-be censors claimed the right on religious grounds. It is time we ended that, which is why I call on the press to republish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons; stand up for Charlie, and show that we will not be silenced by fear.

Benedict Nicholson
London SW14


Mark Steel (“If the gunmen were Geordies, would we want an apology from Newcastle?”, 9 January) forgets all the criticism that Catholics, the Catholic church, and the Catholic hierarchy came in for during the height of the Troubles. In those days commentators like himself thought the church able to control extremism, just by condemning the atrocities carried out by the IRA.

Ron Bird
Pinner, Greater London


The cry of “Allahu Akbar!” that the killers raised as they stormed the building is the same cry that extremists have been shouting as they behead Christians and Yazidi in Iraq, bomb churches in Nigeria and separate out and kill those who can’t say a Muslim prayer in parts of Kenya. 

Of course extremism can be found in any religion, and Muslims can be on the receiving end of that too. But the stark reality is that in the report released yesterday by Open Doors, which tracks trends, scale and causes of persecution against Christians globally, 40 out of the worst 50 countries show Islamic extremism as the main driver of persecution – the vast majority of it going unnoticed by the media. 

Something closer to home, like the atrocity in Paris, is particularly shocking. But we can expect more of it unless we fight extremism as an international community much more intentionally than we are now doing. It’s rising fast and affects all of us – those of no faith, those with a different faith, and ordinary Muslims who are as appalled by the attacks as everyone else. Surely we must recognise we are in extraordinary days and act accordingly?

Lisa Pearce
CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland, Oxfordshire


Why is it that ridiculous religious extremists of all types believe that their own particular deity will be offended or perturbed by a little gentle (or not so gentle) mocking by journalists, cartoonists and others? Surely any deity worth believing in would have a sense of humour, in particular, a sense of humour about his, her  or its self?

Professor Brian S Everitt
Professor Emeritus
King’s College London


When Islamic migrants arrive we bend over backwards to make them feel at home but we also create a sense of entitlement which implies that they need not conform to our ways of life. Muslims insist we behave respectfully in their countries but do not reciprocate: in the West, for example, hiding one’s identity in a public place is not admirable – it is rude.

As a Christian cleric I believe the correct reaction to the Parisian outrage is for every Western newspaper to produce cartoons satirising all major religions, including Christianity and Islam.

Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews


Being afraid to cause offence makes our values toothless. Free speech is never frightened speech.

Collin Rossini
Dovercourt, Essex


There’s no way to avoid ‘booking fees’

I was pleased to see in Radar (3 January) that The Independent will continue its campaign against booking and other fees charged by performing arts venues.

Recently a band I follow performed in my town in a municipally run venue, but when I went to buy tickets, 10 per cent was added to the ticket price, even though I was at the box office tendering cash. When I asked if there was a way of not paying the surcharge I was told that that was possible by using a charge card I hadn’t heard of, which one preloads with money. Pointing out that my cash was preloaded with money didn’t help, and I walked away in anger.

Pretty well the whole of the retail trade manages to sell items at the marked price without adding a retail, handling or stocking fee, or a “voluntary” charitable donation. I know I would attend more live events if I did not have to traverse the surge of anger I experience on seeing added fees, and it is a shame that artists don’t do more to exercise pressure against this practice which is alienating their audiences.

Dennis Leachman


Woeful careers advice for the young

Given that young people are receiving inadequate careers advice, it is no surprise that we are seeing the number of people undertaking Government-backed apprenticeships fall (“MPs attack rise of ‘ill-equipped’ careers advisers in schools”, 8 January). The worrying evidence that has emerged of schools being forced to train receptionists as careers advisers is supported by research we commissioned from YouGov. It found that nearly two-thirds of 18-24-year olds at secondary school or college have not received careers advice on paid apprenticeships.

To reverse this worrying trend, we need a full commitment from the Government for schools to be required to build stronger links with businesses that can offer young people career advice.

It is logical that the future employers of teenagers have a role in signalling to young people where future opportunities might lie. Ultimately, offering the future workforce good careers advice is an essential component of a dynamic, successful economy.

Jackie Bedford
Chief Executive, Step Ahead
London EC1


In 1970 I was a 16-year-old in my last year of school and we had a half-hour lesson once a week entitled Careers. This was useful and explored various options and gave an outline of various jobs. We also had several visits to various workplaces to see at first-hand what work was like. Just after Easter we were interviewed individually by the careers master and someone from Youth Employment Services to try to ensure that we were placed in jobs in line with our abilities and preferences. Looking back, this was a good service.

However, the best piece of careers advice we received came from our English teacher who had been a bricklayer before becoming a teacher. He told us that life outside the school gates was hard and that we should be in no hurry to leave. I for one very quickly found out that he was right about that!

Jim Allen


Will Labour ditch tuition fees?

Sadiq Khan (5 January) is correct that young people are neglected by politicians and is right to want the voting age lowered to 16. But he does not go far enough. Politics needs to be a mandatory subject in secondary schools.

Furthermore, he needs to explain to those young people he so desperately wants to reach out to why his party introduced university tuition fees. He also needs to explain why, if Ed Miliband’s party is so different to Tony Blair’s (as he so claims), they don’t ditch the policy.

Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.

Ben Saunders
Mitcham, Surrey


Hard-working rhetoric

As you rightly say in your editorial of 6 January, all political parties tend to claim to be the true defenders of “hard-working families”.

However, I for one have already decided not to vote for any party that makes this claim, not because I’ve anything against families, even hard-working ones, but because I don’t believe that any party that trots out this tired, tiresome, self-serving cliché deserves support. Whether this will leave me anyone to vote for remains to be seen.

Duncan Howarth
Maidstone, Kent