Wednesday, 7 January 2015

On The Charlie Hebdo Massacre

It's going to be a day of multiple sadness but the foremost sadness is already the loss of life at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. It's too early to construct a well thought out commentary about what's happened this morning and is still continuing as I write this at 1pm. As I sit here, Sky News are showing video footage of two armed terrorists killing a policeman on a deserted Paris street. They also report that the magazine's editor and lead cartoonist might be dead along with nine others.

My perspective is that of somebody who lives for cartoons and satire and my immediate response is to say that I hope the French government does everything it can to ensure that the magazine continues and continues to do what it's been doing. Satire is the ultimate expression of our freedom and Charlie Hebdo was the most liberated voice we had. This morning's attack on their offices and staff was an attempt to censor all of us who believe in a free press and the right for enlightened people to live their lives without fearing the slobbering dog-eyed enforcers of a medieval morality.

However, I'm not sure that point of view is either reasonable, rational, or popular. Around the TV this morning, my family had varying points of view but a common theme was that the magazine had made itself a target. I was the only person who tried to make the case for the magazine's defiance.

'But would you be brave enough to draw a cartoon if you knew your life was in danger?'

It was a good question but, perhaps, a question for another day. Today I know there were people who were brave enough to draw and publish those cartoons and it unfortunately looks like they've paid the ultimate price. Questions must now be asked. If they were such an obvious target, then why wasn't more done to protect them?

The problem is that satire has to be an ugly business. For satire to function well, it must be at the apex of bad taste and taboo. The very best satirists will always make enemies, even among the people meant to protect them. Politicians might not like to admit so much but it's the satirists who keep them honest. It is the satirists who keep us all honest.

So it's too easy to simply say: they shouldn't have published those cartoons. Everybody who writes a gag, from the highest paid TV comedian, to those of us who pen lousy gags on Twitter or through a blog, do so because we have certain freedoms. Those freedoms exist because previous generations fought for our freedom to think, say, or draw whatever we wish. The moment we accept the first taboo, we begin to accept them all.

None of us live outside the context of history and history has, for a very long time, been a struggle for the rights of the individual against the forces of oppression. It was the very cornerstone of the French Revolution, so perhaps it's not surprising that the fight continues in the country that gave the world the modern conception of liberty.

Today we mourn the loss of life at Charlie Hebdo. Tomorrow we should remind the world that Charlie Hebdo is an ideal that we'll never relinquish.