I had hoped that on the front pages I was to see the day after Islamist fundamentalists murdered ten staff members (and two policemen), which included some prominent Parisian cartoonists, for their work in the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper, that that work would be reproduced on every cover of every paper. There could have been no higher salute to their sacrifice, nor any greater validation of it, greater even than the droves of protesters in Reims congregating in solidarity, and the token condemnation from heads of state worldwide.

Walking past one cartoon-free shopfront after another (I must say I do understand the pragmatic reason for the non-print; it’s important, in these situations, not to get carried away on symbolism), I began to think then of the next best thing: that the deceased be honoured in the Pantheon, an idea that Stéphane Charbonnier’s companion, French former minister Jeannette Bougrab, has herself come out in favour of.

The late editor, affectionately known as Charb, and his fellow members of the Hebdo staff did indeed die (or survive) as the ‘fruit’ of the French Republic’s ideal. Were they to be interred in the Pantheon, they would find themselves resting alongside Voltaire, whose spirit they defended, Louis Braille, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideals they inherited, and Marie Curie. The secular nature of the mausoleum, formerly Paris’ church of St. Genevieve, would no doubt be important to Charb in particular who, like Bougrab, could be described as a ‘hard secularist’. And yet there would be more to a decision to inter the late cartoonists in the Pantheon, something closer to their essential mission, the one they died in the cause of.

Appropriately for the building’s nature, ‘pantheon’ (from the Greek) means ‘all gods’. The deceased would be sharing marble with other cause-célèbres in the history of secularism like the agnostic Curie, but also with Rousseau, a Calvinist of sorts; Braille, a Catholic; and Voltaire himself, a deist. The freedom of individualism that would be shared in death by the cartoonists and those others in the Pantheon is the sort they might all have envisioned humans one day sharing in life. One could suggest that there are perhaps more nuanced ways than caustic cartoonery by which to criticise organised religion, but satire reveals as much in the reaction it provokes as in the action it makes a farce of, and what has been revealed this week is as awful as can be. It makes the case that freedom, the love of it and the lack of it is something that can be shared by all, those who believe and those who don’t. At present, the religious and the non-religious are being oppressed together; the protesters of Reims are making their own case that this commonality is something we should all be walking together for. To lay the murdered to rest in the Pantheon would be to immortalise that belief for all time.

It has been said that Bougrab and Charb, the former leaning to the centre-right and the latter a communist, were united in part by their disdain for what they saw as a common threat to ideals of liberty. Having passed repeatedly the point at which religious grievance is satisfied with murder, it might bode well for us as citizens, whether believers or non-, to follow their example and their ideal that someday, together, all and one might share a walk without conflict, shudder at memories such as this, and giggle together at the cartoons of satirists. They’ll still be here.

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