Je suis Saneeya

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is a quote often misattributed to Voltaire. It was actually used by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (who, in 1906, wrote ‘The Friends of Voltaire’ under the nom de plume of S. G. Tallentyre) to illustrate Voltaire’s attitude towards censorship laws at the time.

I find it timely to refer to these words alluding to the principles behind freedom of expression, particularly in wake of the current tumultuous state of global affairs. Now, I consider myself ill-informed when it comes to commentary on politics. As much as I would like to write about current affairs, my concern about not knowing all sides of the coin, so to speak, prevents  me from voicing my views. However, I would like to think that I possess a basic concept of what is right and what is wrong. And when a person or group of people cannot be open to others having views, opinions or beliefs different to their own, and take subsequent action which results in loss of life, fear, terror and destruction, there is categorically no conceivable justification.

I cannot even begin to imagine the ripple effects of global terrorist events of the past weeks: from the massacre of school children in Pakistan, to the most recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France. The “Je suis Charlie” campaign caught my interest because at its heart, it enables even those of us far-removed to identify with the universal outpouring of empathy. (Presuming of course, that Je suis Charlie is read as the mostly-intended defiant solidarity claim: “I am Charlie too, and any attack on Charlie, is an attack on me”, and not the alternative “I follow Charlie”)

I think it pertinent to point out, what whilst we are all ‘Charlies’ in our respective ways, the bottom line is that we are also all unique individuals. We have our preferences, our opinions, our likes and dislikes. And it is this very individuality that makes up the myriad facets of diverse global cultures. I am grateful for knowing friends and foes strangers alike, who do not always see eye-to-eye with me. It is from them that I learn more than I ever can from those who always share the same views as myself. So I shall end with this, Oui, je suis Charlie, mais par-dessus tout, je suis Saneeya. 

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

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4 thoughts on “Je suis Saneeya

  1. Hi Saneeya,
    The mis-attribution of a famous expression to Voltaire has been a source of frustration for many of us for a long time. Voltaire was a great thinker who was also quite contradictory in some of his ideas, however, an expression that he certainly did use in his great novel Candide, was ‘IL faut cultiver le jardin’. This can be translated as we must all cutivate the garden. There has been some debate about how we may interpret this, but I think it fair to say that Voltaire believed that we all have a responsibility to work together if we intend to ensure that this wonderful garden in which we exist is to survive. This means being collaborative and creative and appreciating diversity, including that associated with opinion. However, Voltaire also recognised that there are some individuals who would oppose free speech and try to silence others who were critical of their opinions.
    I think the scenes in Paris yesterday upheld the principles espoused by Voltaire and gave a clear message, that those who try to deny freedom of thought and expression are bound to fail in their efforts to silent others who love free speech and democracy.
    For this reason I can see that not everyone may wish to be “Charlie”, and I hope that they may have an opportunity to debate with those us us who are sympathetic to the notion that yesterday’s gathering was to uphold a principle. However, those who chose to express themselves through violence have already lost the argument and are bound to fail.

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    • Hi Richard, I hadn’t realised that Voltaire had contradictory ideas with regard to freedom of expression and how it can be manifest. I will certainly look more into that. I wholeheartedly agree with you – it is important to be tolerant of others’ views, regardless of how provocative one may find them to be. I just read this interesting piece, titled ‘The Blasphemy We Need’ by Ross Douthat. http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/the-blasphemy-we-need/?_r=1
      In this article, Douthat argues that whilst it is not incumbent upon everyone to positively acknowledge inflammatory commentaries, we all still have a collective responsibility as rational and civilised beings, to permit and indeed, uphold the right of those who choose to make such statements.

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