Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Solidarity With Our French Friends

Last week in my Crawley Observer column, I wrote about the awful events in France and the reaction to them. There has been a lot of debate about freedom of expression. Naturally, I support freedom of speech, but I do not support personal abuse and trolling which I have seen defended under the 'freedom of speech' banner in the past. It is a debate that will run and run but I guess I see it like this: Do I have the right to offend? Yes. Should I set out to offend? No. As an elected representative, I should choose my words carefully and recognise I represent a very wide range of people, not all of whom will think like I do.

That said, I shouldn't be afraid of speaking the truth as I see it even if it is likely some people will not like what I say. Ultimately, differences of opinion and the right to disagree should be respected. I sometimes come across bullies who can't respect other opinions and who love to dish it out but can't take it back. I find they hate freedom of speech and having their behaviour exposed, including on this blog on occasion.

"Last week was truly terrible for France and for Paris in particular. We were all shocked and appalled at the very upsetting events. Unlike the UK and other European countries such as Spain and Norway, France had not been the victim of such vile atrocities for some decades.
Writing after watching coverage of the national unity march, this feels like a watershed moment and the implications for France and Europe feel profound. After this terrible week, it was very heartening to see French people of all backgrounds and religions marching together, putting their shared freedom, democracy and French national identity before any differences.

The unity march was the largest ever protest in French history, with an estimated 3.3 million people across the country. France and its people have taken a stand against those who seek to destroy its liberties and rights. The freedoms of expression and of faith are absolutely fundamental to our way of life in the free world. This is nowhere more precious than here in Europe which saw the end of World War II seventy years ago, where these freedoms were seriously at risk.         
It is easy to forget how close Paris is to us. Geographically, Paris is a similar distance from Crawley as Manchester is. Obviously, language is a barrier to many of us but I prefer to focus on what unites us than what divides us. People here have had great sympathy for France and have shown solidarity with our French cousins in the wake of the assault on their freedoms.
Last week was not a time for politics but this will return and it remains unknown how this will play out politically. Here in the UK, we are sometimes told to celebrate diversity but I prefer to respect diversity and to celebrate what unites us. I hope that going forward after the French attacks and unity rally, that people in all European countries from all backgrounds can have a greater sense of shared national identity and will look to celebrate their unity. Ultimately what unites us will always be greater than what divides us."

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