I think, like many others, I find it difficult to put into words my reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo which took place this Wednesday. I think, like many others, I find the fact that this actually happened completely incomprehendable.
This, as many media outlets have reported, is an attack on the concept of freedom of speech that we in the West hold so dear to us, but I think the actual loss of human life is equally as important. It is not only an idea that has been damaged, but people’s lives and relations. For me, what made this so tragically chilling is the killers’ decision to ask for the paper’s editor by name. Stephane Charbonnier (or Charb) accounted for his identity and was instantly shot and killed. As well as an attack on liberty and freedom it was an attack on someone personally.
People are angry and they have the right to be, although I believe a reaction of simple sadness is more appropriate. They have not won. The freedom of the press will continue. Charlie Hedbo intend to partake in a one million print run, against its usual sixty-thousand, next week with donations being given from Google and The Guardian amongst other high-profile organisations. Martin Rowson, writing in the Guardian, called upon his fellow cartoonists to join him and donate free work to the paper in order that publishing next week may be a possibility. The day after the attack saw every front page newspaper in the UK and many across the world run the story as its main headline, with a particular emphasis on the press never being silenced; freedom of speech will always reign on.
Across Paris, France and the world on Wednesday night (which continued into Thursday) vigils were held for the cartoonists, maintenance worker and policemen killed in Wednesday’s attack, demonstrating that there is always solidarity in pain. These demonstrations showed a collective sadness at a loss of human life, human lives that had been with many French people for most of theirs. Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski and Phillipe Honore were over seventy and this form of satire had dominated their careers and continually infultrated the French public; many probably felt that they had lost a friend.
Satire is a genre that has existed for a very, very long time. Through literature, drama, music, poetry and the media people have continually made people laugh at the expense of others. Charlie Hebdo was no different to other publications such as the British, Private Eye, anyone and everyone was up for ridicule, there was no exclusivity. Catholicism, Judaism, the British and more recently Islam were equally mocked and satarised. There is every chance within this area that people will become offended. But, so what? Be offended. Nothing becomes of it. Senseless violence is not a response. This and a disregard for human life is something that seems all too common nowadays and this is something everyone should be deeply troubled by. No one should die for producing a drawing or a publication, there is no scrap of an act of violence in this and I think that’s partly what makes it so sad; these people did the opposite and in fact regularly brought joy to others’ lives.
Freedom of speech did not die this Wednesday, freedom of speech became stronger. The pen will always, always, always be mightier than the sword.