Someone asked me why I had not written anything political lately. For starters, I am tired of all the political rhetoric and on another hand, so much of it just does not make a lot of sense and if I can’t find logic in it, then it is hard for me to expound on it.
Most of the news of what is happening elsewhere is also negative and I prefer to try and be more positive, even when everything seems to be trying to drag you down into the mire of self-pity. Not always easy to do, however.
Even as I write my column, the New York City Police Department has been put on high alert because of an ISIS threat. The threat named the U.S., France, Australia and Canada as targets. The FBI and U.S. Homeland Security issued a bulletin to law enforcement across the country.
The threat is probably heightened because of the horrifying incident in France where 17 were killed; 12 of those at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. It was not the first time the magazine had been targeted for its content either.
What strikes fear in my heart is that the attack on the magazine staff was a blow for freedom of the press and freedom of expression. It doesn’t matter that the magazine itself was satirical in nature and that they lampooned religious symbols of faith at every turn. Just because I don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t have the right to their opinion. And if freedom of the press dies, we all might as well throw in the towel.
Freedom of the press is being threatened in our country as well and even journalists aren’t reporting the truth or have gotten sidelined in their purpose. Still I stand up for freedom of the press as I believe there are those who still report the truth and don’t abuse the power that comes with being a journalist. Only the passionate, committed and possessors of integrity to the core can resist the urge to stay true to the calling when everyone else around you is falling and you are getting bombarded on every side to look the other way if you want to keep your job.
It was impressive to me that more than 40 world leaders could come together and march in a historic rally denouncing global terrorism. If we are to put a stop to terrorism on any level, there must be solidarity and a determination to halt it. I do not know why President Obama did not attend and it does look bad that he did not. It looks as if we do not care about terrorism. Did he have another engagement? Maybe so but he hasn’t said. Even if there was another engagement you have to prioritize and this should have been a top priority. At least send the vice president, not just a low ranking official. Britain and Israel had their prime ministers there; France’s president attended, as did Germany’s Chancellor.
The rally was intended to send a message of unity against terrorism. President Obama’s absence sent no message other than it wasn’t that important.
France has a very high Muslim population. The nation has fought hard for liberty and to keep it but France has been complacent in a stance on terrorism and perhaps even on liberty. We tend to take our freedoms for granted. When we do, it takes things like the attacks in France to nudge us back in the right direction and reminds us freedom should never be taken for granted and that if we become too complacent, we could pay a price.
Perhaps you missed the story of Raif Badawi who was flogged publicly in Saudi Arabia for activism. Another freedom of speech case. He was first arrested in 2012 when he set up ”Free Saudi Liberals” website. It is said he just wanted an open debate about religious, social and political subjects; all topics not open to debate in traditional media in Saudi Arabia. Actually prosecutors demanded he be tried for apostasy, which carried a death penalty, but a judge dismissed that charge.
He was originally sentenced, in 2013, to seven years in prison and 600 lashes but that penalty was increased to 10 years and 1000 lashes, along with a fine of $267,000 last year. He received his first 50 of the 1000 lashes in public Friday, after prayers in front of a mosque. The rest of the flogging lashes will be carried out over a 20-week period.
I am baffled as to how we can publicly flog someone for creating a public forum for discussion and exercising his right to freedom of expression. Perhaps if public flogging was an add on option for other acts of crime like robbery, it would deter some would be robbers. But then again, maybe not.
Fact is, freedom of expression is under attack in all countries, but it is a travesty to be under attack in our own country who fought a revolution to be able to speak freely, worship freely, have a free press and not doubled taxed. And no freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to slander or libel someone and freedom of expression and freedom of the press are two different animals. A debate which I do not have space to get into at this time. And if you think the ACLU protects your freedom of expression it depends on where you stand politically — far left or conservative. Conservatives lose out and so does religious freedom.
VICTORIA SIMMONS is a columnist, motivational speaker/ minister and publisher/gm of The Post/Byron Buzz.