In an interview with Le Monde in 2012, Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, said in response to threats from extremists: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” On Wednesday, Charbonnier, along with 11 others, were murdered in a rampage perpetrated by masked religious extremists.
I’m certainly not here to give sympathy, nor do I think Charbo nor any of the other staff killed would have wanted any. As the late, great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” and they definitely bought the ticket that took them on this ride, and proudly, I might add.
The events of the day weren’t totally out of the blue. Charlie has a long history of running satirical pieces regarding religion and other general absurdities, leaving practically nobody sacred. Over the years, they’ve poked fun of virtually every group, not only just Muslims, but everyone from Christians to Jews to politicians and atheists. Truly equal-opportunity offenders.
Nor was this their first rodeo regarding Islam. The offices were firebombed in 2011 after running a post-Tunisian election issue that declared the Prophet Mohammad its “editor-in-chief,” and Charbonnier himself was on an al-Qaeda hit list for “crimes against Islam.”
The dangerous part in this whole deadly game isn’t the attack itself, or the provocative journalism; it’s the potential reaction. Clearly this attack is a bigger issue than a newspaper publishing satire. The event is an assault on personal freedom and the freedom of expression. The biggest enemy in all of this might end up being our own fear.
Though wild-eyed, masked savages intoxicated on extremism are no doubt a health hazard for a number of reasons, fear is an even greater potential enemy. Even if you disagree with the tactics and stances published by Charlie, the publication still had to be commended for doing so even in the face of increasing violent behavior. The group refused to “play nice” and muzzle their own freedom, which led to some of the most prominent staff’s demise.
This brings about a crucial crossroads in our time. Do we give in to the evil of the world? Instead of reporting on or making fun of the downright insanity often espoused by extremist elements of organized religion, do we instead cup our hands over our ears and scream loudly to pretend it isn’t there?
Or do we stand firmly in the face of these assorted freaks and continue to mock them and their general dumbassery?
To do anything otherwise would be a colossal mistake. A backlash against these sorts of extremists is needed, not a backlash against free expression or personal freedom. The example of post-9/11 America comes to mind. Instead of taking out our frustrations on the actual perpetrators (financiers like Saudi Arabia), the brunt of the clampdown was felt by ordinary citizens and institutions. These include, but certainly aren’t limited to, the NSA running amok, a foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia that resembled an acid-soaked delusion only Dr. Strangelove could embrace, molestations at the airport, a gross suspension of the rights of U.S. citizens, and a growing militarization of the police.
Make no mistake. The danger of religious extremism most definitely remains a real issue in this day and age, but giving in to the fear of a few illiterates raised on YouTube videos and brainwashed by deranged preachers is a much more prevalent and potentially dangerous issue than the extremists themselves. We can’t kowtow to cowards.
Stéphane Charbonnier died a hero. He stood against the tyrants of the world until it finally cost him his life on a cold, bloody afternoon in the City of Love. His message and death should not be in vain. Because, after all, it is definitely preferable to die standing, than to live on one’s knees.
Je Suis Charlie.