Yesterday in Paris, religious extremists murdered twelve people and critically wounded several others at the offices of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, including the editor, cartoonists and writers, and police personnel. This morning a policewoman has died and a council road sweeper is wounded following another murderous attack in south Paris. The kalashnikov toting murderers in the first massacre shouted as they left that their god had been avenged.
The magazine has courted controversy over the years, with its deliberately provocative cartoons satirising and criticising politicians, nationalities, various religious faiths and boorish Frenchmen among others. Last night, many thousands including members of all faiths gathered in the Place de la Republique in a demonstration of solidarity and defence of free speech.
So why are we in the west so obstinate and determined to maintain our right to freedom of expression, and why do we hold those who use it provocatively but intelligently in such high regard?
The cartoonists who were killed yesterday—Wolinski, Cabu, Tignous, Charb—were some of the most beloved figures in modern French life. Contra some of the nonsense being spouted by fools on Twitter, these weren’t bigots looking for ever-more vulnerable minorities to kick; Cabu, for instance, is most famous for creating the provincial, typical-French character Mon Boeuf, who he mocks for being crude and bigoted toward minorities. It is this irreverance and self mocking that we appreciate the most. The Charlie Hebdo cover cartoon that made me laugh out loud when I saw it on twitter was this one, of an English couple, with the caption ‘But who wants the English in Europe?’.
The reason we defend satire and brutal mocking is it keeps us from submitting to tyranny. Who’s going to submit to a laughing stock? Whether it is a would be dictator, a religion with a totalitarian ideology, or a proto world-government trying to impose a carbon-standard tax arrangement backed by scientific dogma, we use humour and satire to puncture their pomposity, gravitas, and murderous threats.
Steve Bell drew a great cartoon yesterday that says it all:
The next edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine will be published on schedule next Wednesday, with contributions from cartoonists from around the world. As soon as I find out how I can order a copy, I’ll update this post with details.
For Stateside readers who’d like to support Charlie Hebdo with an annual subscription.
Or order from FNAC, select country and length of subscription.
A late bonus, since this post made reference to the imposition of a carbon tax: