The letter comes after the recent murder of Professor Samuel Paty, and the subsequent killing of three people at a church in Nice. French products have faced a coordinated campaign of boycotts, as states such as Kuwait and Qatar remove French exports in response to the French President’s defence of free speech.
In the letter they say:
Honouring Professor Paty’s legacy means not letting those who are responsible for our education be threatened and intimidated into silence. It means standing by the imperative that no religion or belief can or should be immunised from criticism, satire or mockery. And it means being bold and clear in condemning any victim-blaming narratives. Such narratives are not only antithetical to the secular values we hold dear, but open the door to other acts of violence committed in the name of religious offence. (Read the full text at the end of the article).
In a post written for Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International said:
“Feelings of offence can never justify violence just as, on their own, they can never justify censorship. Attempts to draw any kind of moral equivalence between drawing cartoons or defending artistic freedom on the one hand, and violent murder and decapitation on the other, are disgusting.
“The path to outlawing ‘offence’ is a path to even greater bloodshed and misery, accompanied by the erosion of our freedom to speak truth to power and a diminishing of the colour and diversity of human culture and human life.”
Gary McLelland, Chief Executive of Humanists International added:
“We wish to express our deep sympathy with the people of France. Freedom of thought and expression are fundamental and paramount values in a democratic society. There is no justification of these acts of senseless violence and murder. They hurt us all, and demean our common humanity.
“As we stated in the 2014 Oxford Declaration, ‘The best response to the expression of a view we disagree with is to reply to it. Violence and censorship are never legitimate responses.'”
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The full text of the letter reads:
30 October 2020
Dear President Macron,
I write to you in the wake of Professor Samuel Paty’s horrific murder and the killings inside the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice, to convey our deepest sympathy to their families and their loved ones, and to stand in solidairity with you and the citizens of France, of all faiths and none, who have been affected by his murder.
The values of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, religion and belief in France are being tested today, as they were in 2015. It is one of the hallmarks of democracy and secularism to be able to freely criticize all religions, without fear of violence or censure, in public or private, amongst friends or enemies, in schools or in the media.
While Professor Paty’s murder was an act of blind violence and religious fanatacism, his life will remain a symbolic example of the importance of fostering open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity in young minds. It is this spirit of free inquiry that the late Professor Paty, a history teacher firmly committed to the principle of laïcité and critical thinking, sought to impart to his students in his class on freedom of expression.
To criticise beliefs, including through satire and ridicule, does not contravene others’ freedom of belief. Rather, criticism is essential to freedom of expression, to questioning accepted dogma and those with power. Murder on the other hand is the ultimate nullification of all a person’s freedoms and being.
Honouring Professor Paty’s legacy means not letting those who are responsible for our education be threatened and intimidated into silence. It means standing by the imperative that no religion or belief can or should be immunised from criticism, satire or mockery. And it means being bold and clear in condemning any victim-blaming narratives. Such narratives are not only antithetical to the secular values we hold dear, but open the door to other acts of violence committed in the name of religious offence.
We condemn Turkey and Pakistan for their opportunist attempts to whip up public sentiment in favour of crimes of “blasphemy” following his death.
At the same time of course, we cannot allow the actions of extremists to define our treatment of an entire community. Racist attacks that stigmatize Muslims and migrants on the basis of their religious identity are unacceptable, and equally the voices and experiences of French citizens who are Muslim deserve to be heard if we are to cultivate a society founded on mutual tolerance and understanding.
We stand with you.
Andrew Copson, President and Gary McLelland, Chief Executive