Today, two or three gunmen stormed into the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed at least 12 people, among them the most well-known cartoonists of the publication. This was not the first attack on Charlie Hebdo (see 2011), but it was the most violent and deadly so far. Okay, you say, but this is in France. What does this have to do with me? Nothing. Everything.
Charlie Hebdo has been making fun of anything and everything along the political spectrum since 1969, but its cartoons with depictions of Mohammed have created by far the biggest outrage. This is because in Islam, images of Allah and the prophet Mohammed are forbidden. Then again, Charlie Hebdo’s writers and cartoonists have done a pretty good job of making fun of / insulting just about every major religion, nation, and political party out there. They define themselves through political satire. It’s all they do.
You could say that their ‘offensive’ cartoons cost 12 people their lives. Or you could say that the closed-mindedness of two or three men costs 12 people their lives. Where do you stand?
Of all the images that have been circulated in the wake of the violence in Paris, this one (above) is my favorite. Why? Because it does not quite literally call us to arms, like that image with the drawing utensils arranged in the shape of a semi-automatic gun, and because it does not just communicate sadness, like the Charlie Brown image.
Freedom of Expression is a vital element of any democracy. Humor and satire are important aspects of free speech, and yes, sometimes it may rub us the wrong way or be in bad taste, but I’d rather live in a place where there is more satire than I can laugh about than in a place where nobody dares speak for fear of offending someone and getting killed.
What makes me sad is that some people not only cannot laugh about satire, but cannot tolerate the mere existence of it. What also makes me sad is the certainty that the political right, and in particular the Pegida movement, will without doubt use this incident as “evidence” of how dangerous Muslims are. Let’s face facts here. Muslims are no more dangerous than Christians or Hindus or Atheists.
A handful of terrorists cannot and must not represent a community of millions of men, women and children in France alone. Islam is not dangerous. Extremism is dangerous, no matter what form it takes or what creed it claims to defend. And that’s that. Over and out.
Post-script: Since this posting this, I’ve come across another image / visual response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, and I like this even more (see below). Let’s make it true.