Sticks and Stones
There are many ways to kill a man.
It is undoubtedly tragic, those 12 lives lost when gunmen barged into the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Murders affect more than those who die - it destroys families, forever altering timelines; nullifying the possibility of memories that have yet to be made; moments of love and laughter, now never to be realised.
As millions gather in Paris to mourn the deaths of the papers’ editors and cartoonists (I find it hard to type “journalist”), the topic becomes one of how free speech is being attacked.
I believe in free speech. And I believe it in because it is powerful.
Looking at the body of work that came out of Charlie Hebdo, it is impossible to ignore how they recklessly, even maliciously wielded their pens and pencils. Bullets might not have flown, and no deaths were directly caused, but the things that they said were deliberately offensive. It is old-school oppression and bullying, where the person who owned the printing press had power over those who didn’t. My personal opinion is that Charlie Hebdo was guilty of this.
Words are powerful and can be used for good and also for evil. We may think lightly of the cartoons and that they are only good for a laugh, but this sort of laughing soon becomes derision; derision, scorn; and then alienation and hatred. An entire community was subject to the impact of their words. No physical deaths resulted, but attempts to kill the dignity and pride of a people were continuously made.
I can never excuse the blatant murder committed by the gunmen, but neither can I look away from why they did it. The realm of words and public opinion, while now more democratic with social media, has never been a fair battlefield. How could the tears of a young Arab boy ridiculed in school go up against a virally distributed cartoon being passed around as political opinion?
We need to be more vigilant and active to ensure that expressions of hate and oppression are met with equal verve and force. No one should ever have to resort to violence as an alternative language.
Je ne suis pas Charlie.