The most positive thing to come out of the recent atrocities in Paris is an almost global (or perhaps more accurately western) awakening to the reality of free expression, and the need to express it and stand up for it, even fight for it, although not through the type of violence that spilled out into the streets of Paris, outside the offices of controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The negative aspect, however, has been a tendency to become blinkered to the truth about freedom of expression, that often used phrase which in reality covers almost everything. This becomes particularly uncomfortable and confusing when we consider discussion about these freedoms being focused on France, a country that banned the burqa. It is very easy to stick up for a form of personal expression when we agree with it, not so much when it stands opposed to our own core beliefs and practices. As for Charlie Hebdo, they had been deliberately provoking people for years. As many have pointed out recently, yes, they were satire, they just were not very good satire. What they were very good at is launching a written and illustrated offensive against anyone they didn’t like, which they’d done for decades. Occasionally they could be quite amusing with it, but it’s fair to say they’d made as many enemies as friends. But absolutely nobody deserves to be shot in a bloody massacre, no matter what type of offensive cartoon they have published.
It could be said that if you poke around in a wasps’ nest you’re going to get stung, but we’re not wasps, we’re human beings, and we apparently know better. There is no conceivable excuse for what those assassins did; no matter how much poking the staff of Charlie Hebdo indulged in. It may well be that the Muslim faith views it as sacrilegious to physically depict Muhammad, but what if you’re not a Muslim? It’d be disrespectful for sure, but why would anyone else necessarily care or know this was unacceptable, and would it truly deserve death as a punishment, if any punishment was deserved? This is the point where extremists, like angry playground bullies, just want all to pander to their whim otherwise they’ll beat you up. In the adult world, however, the bullies have guns and twisted dogma to fuel their vitriol. They can’t laugh off satire or ignore it. People have to die, you see, to reclaim the illusion of power. Irrational? Almost certainly, but that’s the dangerous mentality we have to deal with. I, like millions of others (and most Muslims I expect), will stand with Charlie Hebdo in defiance, not because of any support of what they published, but in support of the idea that any opinion is entitled to be heard, no matter how abhorrent. As Voltaire might have said, I may not like what Charlie Hebdo were saying, but I will defend their right to have said it and continue saying it.