Yesterday I recalled a passage in a mediocre enough novel where a woman tells her husband she’s pregnant. It is to be their first child, a cause for unbridled optimism and joy. However, the Second World War is about to arrive on doorsteps. Both can see shadows encroaching. One of the parents to be describes their future children as ‘hostages to fortune’.
When I heard about the terrorist attack against a satirical French magazine office yesterday in reaction to cartoons they published lampooning Islam, the phrase rebounded. Charlie Hebdo is publication that wasn’t familiar to me. Now it’s name will not be forgotten for a very long time.
Charlie Hebdo had been subject to threats in recent years for it’s skewering of Muhammad. The prophet even ‘edited’ one edition. In 2012 cartoons in the magazine led to the temporary closure of French embassies in over twenty countries. Despite this atmosphere of fear, and a firebomb attack in 2011, Charlie Hebdo continued with it’s mission to mock most aspects of French society. Its constant attacks on Islam led to court cases and public expressions of support from some leading names in French politics, who felt liberty of speech was a founding tenet of the Republic. Charlie Hebdo refused to be beholden to anyone. It was no one’s hostage.
This determination to always speak was what brought the founders together. Now twelve people are dead, including the editor ‘Charb’, journalists, two police officers, and a maintenance worker in the building where the Charlie Hebdo’s offices were located.
The pages of Charlie Hebdo I’ve seen reproduced across social media fail to strike me as funny. Which is beyond the point. People have been murdered over jokes. As that quote often misattributed to that famous French writer Voltaire goes, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” The Guardian’s powerful editorial yesterday responed in the same vein, “Any society that’s serious about liberty has to defend the free flow of ugly words, even ugly sentiments.”
Last night The Onion, one of the leading satirical websites in the world, published a sober article about yesterday’s massacre. The piece concluded with the following paragraph,
“At press time, although the consequences of this article are reportedly still unclear and actual human lives may hang in the balance, sources confirmed that the best thing to do—really the only thing to do—is to simply put it out there and just hope that it does some good.”
At the same time thousands gathered at the the Place de la Republique in Paris holding signs that said ‘Je Suis Charlie’ – the same as the images the spread across Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Writers and illustrators responded the only way they could – with words and images driving home the point that freedom of speech is tantamount, and terrorisim indefensible.
The killers who entered the building, hooded, brandishing Kalashnikovs, have yet to be caught. The support for Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of speech it represented looks to be growing and growing. Next week’s issue plans on going to press as per usual.
— David Pope (@davpope) January 7, 2015
Check out charliehebdo.fr where the publication has made available signs proclaiming ‘Je Suis Charlie’ in various languages.
Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun