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Lessons of the Charlie Hebdo attack

January 12th, 2015

Commentators across the political spectrum try to assess the long-term consequences of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Among other issues, they dispute whether free speech can or should ever be constrained in order to protect religious sensibilities and avert fundamentalist violence.

Népszabadság in a front page editorial warns against blaming “Muslims” for religious fundamentalist violence. The leading left-wing daily fears that grief may soon be replaced by anger in which case a Huntingtonian “clash of civilisations” may become reality. The leading left-wing daily hopes that Europeans will not follow the example of the US which after the 2001 terrorist attacks took revenge by starting a war.

Writing in the same daily, András Dési finds it elevating that people throughout the world expressed solidarity with the victims. The left-wing columnist believes that through the demonstrations of the past few days, Europeans expressed their faith in the core principles of European liberal democracy, most importantly, press freedom and the freedom of opinion.

After the terrorist attack, anti-immigrant sentiments will rise, Zsuzsanna Körmendy predicts in Magyar Nemzet. The main lesson of the terrorist attack is that immigrants do not easily adapt to the cultures of their new countries, the conservative columnist thinks. Liberals like to downplay the importance of national belonging, but migrants retain their cultural sensibilities and ties to the cultures of their homelands, Körmendy maintains. These identities and feelings may then prove the source of violent conflicts, she writes. As for the victims, Körmendy suspects that some of them must have been active in the 1968 student revolts, and considered it important in the spirit to publish the highly provocative cartoons, despite the death threats they received.

444’s Gábor Vajda wonders if in Hungary it would be possible to launch a satirical weekly akin to Charlie Hebdo. His guess is that such a magazine would not last longer than its first issue. “Hungary is not France, it is not a country based on Voltaire’s anti-religious ideas,” Vajda notes. Untrammelled press freedom is essential to democracy, he claims, but in Hungary, offensive talk is not tolerated. He recalls that it is against the law to insult national symbols, including the holy crown, which he believes is an indication of the lack of freedom.

Not respecting religious sensibilities is the main pillar of European civilisation and democracy, László Szily alleges in Cink. The liberal pundit calls on Europeans to fiercely protect freedom of expression, and insist that Muslims in Europe should accept that any views including religious ones can be insulted, even in a rude manner. According to Szily the “secular state, capitalism and democracy” all rest on the freedom of not respecting anyone’s sensibilities. “This is the only guarantee against constraints on our freedom by any religion or ideology,” Szily continues, not without warning however that one does not have always to practice one’s freedom of expression by insulting others. In an aside, he notes that in Hungary, although hatred is widespread, no one would consider threatening to kill their opponent for their blasphemous opinions.

If freedom of speech is an absolute right, why did liberals harshly criticise a Hungarian humorist who tastelessly joked that young women invite rape?, Csaba Lukács wonders in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist considers the massacre a horrible and barbarian act, but suggests at the same time that the right to offend others for their religious sentiments may not be worth risking one’s life for. Lukács concludes by noting that the re-publication of Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons by international media outlets in a defiant defence of free speech may further worsen the situation.

On Index, Péter Bohus claims that liberals should not compromise their right to criticize religious concepts even if such criticism is highly offensive, while at the same time it should not be tolerated that a humorist jokes about actual rape victims.

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