Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie.

Before today I have to admit that I had not heard of Charlie Hebdo. I had not read their satirical articles or seen their cartoons. Now, however, I do know about them and I will never forget them. I am not a journalist, but the horrific events in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris has made me realise and appreciate the courage of those journalists around the world who speak out against wrong, who speak out.

Today two gunmen walked into the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and murdered twelve people - 10 journalists and two policemen. They called by name for the cartoonists and executed them.

The journalists were in an editorial meeting and stood no chance against men armed with automatic rifles. They were armed only with pens, with their keyboards.Time will show that the pen is mightier than the sword or the automatic rifle, but today, and for those men and their families, the gun proved to be more brutal than satire.

What the gunmen did not foresee was the mass outpouring of grief and support for the team at Charlie Hebdo. All over the world people gathered in town squares and online to unite in solidarity with those journalists and the courage they showed in exercising their right to Free Speech. In Paris people stood silently holding pens aloft. Their gesture moves me to tears.

photo courtesy of Huffington Post

I hope that the courage of those journalists lights a fire amongst the people of the world. A flame of defiance that will burn in spite of threats from extremist organisations. Every human being has the right to Free Speech. No human being has the right to murder another. Other people's opinions may offend, may even insult, but that gives no one the right to kill. Yes, fight back with words. Argue for all you are worth, but violence such as that we have seen today is wrong. It is the option of the fundamentally weak.

The problem is that the violence we have witnessed today is frightening. The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, was already under police protection for his cartoons ridiculing Islam and both he and his body guards were killed today. I have noticed how very careful most people in the media are when discussing Islam and surely this is in no small part because of the fear of reprisals by fundamentalists. How many writers do not think hard before saying or writing something controversial or satirical?

Will this attack spur more people to write what they really think? Or will it frighten people into silence? Only time will tell, but I call to mind a short poem I read when I was young and by which I try to live my life. It was written by Martin Niemoller ...

First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me ...
And there was no one left to speak for me.

The journalists who risk their lives, and that is what they do, are there speaking for all of us. They are the ones who tell us, in our nice cosy houses, about what is really going on in the world. Those journalists who have the courage to write and who shine a spotlight on events we might not otherwise be aware of are brave. I might not always agree with what they write, but I will support their right to do so forever. Free Speech is essential in a free world and today has shown that the vast majority of people hold that to be true. The shock and outrage at these awful murders is deep felt. I hope that the tragic deaths of the journalists in Paris give people around the world the strength to say "Free Speech is our Right!" But there is a little part of me that is afraid that these murderers will achieve what they set out to do. When the outrage dies down and a writer wonders whether or not to write a piece or draw a cartoon, will a little voice in their head urge caution? Will they look at their son or daughter and choose another topic?

We shall see. Each writer will make their own choice. For those who choose Free Speech despite the risks I have nothing but total admiration and respect. Without them our world would be in darkness.

Je suis Charlie.


Peaceful Warrior said...

Thank you for such courage as to call them cowards for their senseless murders. Free speech is fundamental to true democracy and freedom and we should all join with Charlie Hebdo in sharing what we feel and without fear, lest we give power to the brutes who bully us. Whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Politicians, Bankers, Corporations or others, we rely on the voice of freedom or we die.

Huge respect to you.
And I loved the poem.

I just posted an article/poem of my own and then I spotted your post in my side bar. Keep up the good work and a very prosperous New Year to you. x

Sarah Pellew said...

Thank you and Happy New Year to you.