(After All, Why I Am Charlie)
In the aftermath of the murders of 12 members of the Charlie Hebdo staff, our now-instant world started instantly reacting. “#JeSuisCharlie” was Tweeted worldwide, followed very shortly by “#JeNePasCharlie.” Free speech!” insisted millions. “Free speech crosses the line when it tramples on sacred beliefs,” insisted millions of others.
No one outside the ranks of terrorist groups applauded the murders. But the other issues…troubling.
I have been a journalist since I was the editor of my high school newspaper. Even then, I stirred up trouble by publishing an article called “Chicks and Chucks,” explaining why I and my feminist friends were not “chicks” and never would be.
Throughout my career, I’ve offended people who are, in no particular order, sexists, racists, homophobes, animal abusers, the Koch Brothers and gun nuts. (Note to the NRA: Feel free to have your members nationwide attack me on the internet—again. It’s always worked so well as a technique to shut me up. That would be “sarcasm,” in case you don’t recognize it.)
I support free speech wholeheartedly. Yet I also feel that there are aspects of this terrible thing that have to be examined more carefully, because I do not support the far-right groups who are using this event to energize their followers, between whom and the terrorists I see little difference. Nor do I think that many Americans have a good grasp of the role of satire in French society, or, for that matter, of the root causes of terrorism itself.
Yet here are the reasons I am Charlie.
• French philosopher/satirist Voltaire apparently did not actually say, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” but it’s agreed that it is a fair summation of what he believed. I believe that, too, though as an editor I pursue a course that sometimes involves compromise, because unfortunately many readers do not recognize the difference between “this is what a columnist” is saying and “this is what The Pulse” is saying.
• Those who are criticizing Charlie Hebdo cartoons and covers as racist, etc., are not getting the Stephen Colbertness of them. These cartoons and covers are mocking the attitudes they may seem to endorse. That is satire, just as “The Colbert Report” was.
• With due respect to His Holiness the Pope, if I insult your mother, you do not have the right to punch me. You have the right to insult my mother. Violence cannot be an acceptable option. The murder of unarmed civilians, whether it is in Paris, Nigeria, Syria or anywhere in the world, whether by ISIS or the Klan, by Boko Haram or Timothy McVeigh, because you disagree with their words or beliefs is an act of barbarism against civilization.
If you would like to participate in conversation and actions that support a free and open world, consider joining the global avaaz.org organization, which includes millions of people. Far more than just submitting petitions, Avaaz tirelessly works for a better world for everyone—including examining and helping to solve the problems that breed terrorism in the first place.