Adieu Charlie! – they meant, while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’

Before the monsters fled

Having committed their ‘righteous’ crime

For words and deeds spoken and done out of line…

 

Or at least that is how this piece was going to start and continue until I realised that verse won’t do full justice in this case.

By now, I’m sure most readers have heard of the tragic killings in Paris, France on Wednesday the 7th of January and then on Friday the 9th which resulted in the deaths of 17 people. Amongst the victims were notably 10 staff members, including prominent cartoonists, from the controversial weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo who were specifically targeted by disgruntled Islamic extremists for their humorously acerbic images of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam. The dead also included 2 policemen and 4 hostages with a further 11 more wounded.

Now in the aftermath, the people of France and citizens worldwide are dealing with this in their own way. The most recent response has been from the underground cyber group, Anonymous, who have released a video declaring war on all terrorists who attempt to stifle freedom of expression by promising to identify and close all social network accounts of those engaged in terrorist activities, ending ominously with: ‘we do not forgive, be afraid of us, Islamic State and Al-Qaida you will get our vengeance’.

In a cruelish sort of irony, a measure of vengeance has already been exacted by what will undoubtedly be a boost to the paper’s circulation. This Wednesday’s issue will be the first time that Charlie will go international, with an expected one million copies printed compared to their usual, 45,000. On top of that, generous sums of donation money from the public and official organs reaching over a million euros, as well as an influx of subscription requests, have been flooding the newspaper – the same newspaper that this time last week was making appeals for donations and thinking of closing. Now what could be sweeter? Even if it is a dark victory.

Charlie Hebdo is now a word on the lips and in the minds of at least three million people judging by the marches across France on Sunday, with the Paris march seeing world leaders walking in quiet dignity alongside President François Hollande and the rest of the public. Their message was clear, ‘not afraid’, ‘la paix’ (peace) and of course, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ a declaration now synonymous with the word freedom.

Is this overwhelming response justified? After all, it is easy to get carried away by sentiment and lose that vital sense of objectivity that lets us form an unbiased, measured judgement of the situation. Given the circumstances though, I would suggest that public reaction has been proportional to the deed. What is most horrifying perhaps, precisely because it seems so silly is that, as one person during Charlie’s editorial meeting put it: ‘They killed people who drew little cartoon men’. That’s it.

If you, like me have never read Charlie Hebdo and never really thought much of satirical depictions, or even much about satire until now, that’s probably because you see it for what it is – a humorous way to push a few buttons by revealing an aspect of reality in an exaggerated form, to make us think. Can sensibilities be offended in the process? Sure. Does this cause irreparable harm? Very unlikely. To do that it would need to be shown, (at least from a legal stance) that something was done to permanently violate the freedom of another and prevent the wronged party from continuing to exercise their rights.

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 together with John Stuart Mill’s famous ‘harm principle’ which defends the idea of liberty so long as it does not infringe (cause harm to) the liberty of others, are the historic models absolving the actions of the murdered cartoonists. Nothing in those actions prevented any offended person or group from continuing to exercise their freedom, in this particular case, following the precepts of the Muslim faith. More simply; you may ridicule, but I am free to ignore you and continue with what I was doing.

The savage perpetrations of a few irrational men, who are likely pawns in a more subtle ideological game, usually have multiple causes. And this latest run of violence arguably affirms something worth pondering, namely, that stupidity and aggression may be the true enemies of freedom and that it is this we must try to conquer.

Salut Charlie!