Ian McEwan at Eurozine:
In the cities of the West, richly layered in race and religion, the only guarantor of freedom of religious worship and tolerance for all is the secular state. It respects all religions within the rule of law, and believes all – or none. The difference is negligible, since not all religions can be true. The principle of free speech is crucial. The cost is occasional offence. The lawful demand is that offence must not lead to violence or threats of violence. The reward is freedom for all to go about their business in lawful pursuit of their beliefs.
The freedom that allows the editors and journalists of Charlie Hebdo their satire is exactly the same freedom that allows Muslims in France to worship and express their views openly. The devout cannot have it both ways. Free speech is hard, it's noisy and bruising sometimes, but the only alternative when so many world-views must cohabit is intimidation, violence and bitter conflict between communities.
The importance of free speech can't be overstated. It is emphatically not just the luxury of journalists and novelists. Nor is it an absolute. Where it is constrained (for example, to limit the on-line reach of paedophiles) it must be so through laws within democratic institutions. But without free speech, democracy is a sham.