The Free Speech Komplex

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Last night I watched ‘Der Baader Meinhof Komplex’. I’ve been meaning to watch it since, roughly speaking, 2008 when the film was released. To every thing, so the aphorism goes, there is a season. Watching the film brought back a palimpsest of childhood memories of television news and of a world poorly understood. Years later, I’d like to think I know my world a little better. But if I have changed, how much has the world around me also changed? Greatly, or not very much, depending on what is being discussed. Contemporary music, certainly, is less good. It occurred to me, reading the English subtitles and struggling to understand half-remembered German, that the story of the Baader Meinhof, in a different idiom, remains a story of this time, and that understanding current events, filtered through a capacious morass of media, remains a challenge – for me at least – even as I approach my half-century.

How can one come to understand violence (let alone explain it to your children)? What is the value of a human life? And, in light of barely comprehensible events in Paris and Copenhagen, what of free speech; what are its limits? If the notion of free speech means that we can say what we like, does this mean that we should say all that we can, particularly when we can anticipate how others will feel and respond? Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, the probable target of the Copenhagen attack is, it is widely known, more right wing than right on. Does this matter? What is the point of satire and of art more generally? I could go on. I have so many questions.

I don’t, of course, pretend to have answers to such complex questions, but hope I have developed some sense as to how they may be approached and considered. Next week, after half-term break, I intend to take some of these questions into my Language and Literature class, aiming to stimulate vigorous, but respectful discussion. To do so is, I think, to make education relevant to younger minds – people not unlike our former selves – and to kindle critical engagement that may, in turn, provoke positive change in the world. I feel privileged.

Although hardly an original thought, it strikes me that in all the recent acts of apparently senseless violence I have vicariously appraised through media channels, it is young men who do almost all of the killing and maiming. So in my multiethnic international school, it isn’t the Christians or the Muslims I most want to engage; it’s the boys.



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