I just can't leave it alone.
I really have tried. It's not like I don't have other things to do. I have a novel draft to finish and a short story to retool and resubmit, a second short story to draft, a second novel to start, and two blog posts to write. I don't have time for this shit.
But I just can't leave it alone.
Just under two weeks ago, two gunmen armed with automatic weapons murdered ten members of staff of a French satirical magazine in their place of work, as well as two police officers who were unfortunate enough to be nearby. Victims included economists and caretakers as well as cartoonists. One of the murdered police officers was a Muslim.
Cartoonists. They were the target – the others presumably acceptable collateral damage. Targeted for having produced images of the Prophet Mohammed deemed sacrilegious by many (though not all) within the Muslim faith.
Murdered for drawing something they thought funny. Murdered for refusing to allow fear to prevent them persuing their own artistic visions. Gunned down for exercising their freedom of expression.
I work with words. Most days, I spend time voluntarily trying to put them together in a manner pleasing to me. I'm trying to tell a story, or advocate a position, or share my love or hatred for a book or a movie or a political movement or an ideology. The notion that freedom of speech should be curtailed by any means other than my own rigorous internal editorial standards or by breaking existing laws regarding libel is repugnant to me.
I took this one personally. I take it personally. So when the hashtag crossed my screen, I grabbed it eagerly and appropriated it immediately.
Freedom of speech is the nearest I come to a religious conviction, to any sense of the sacred. It is the foundational value, the necessary (if not sufficient) precondition to any attempt to create a fair, free, democratic society. If you want rigorous academic enquiry, a vibrant democracy, a thriving and rich artistic culture, or for that matter the right to worship any gods or none, you need freedom of speech.
This attack was a direct, full frontal attack on that value – a clear statement of fascistic intent – 'say things we don't like, and the sentence is death'. An assault with several purposes, all of them vile: murdering critics of religions, sure, but also making it clear to other would-be critics that to criticise this religion is to risk your life; an effort to recast a clash of ideologies as a 'war', an existential threat (one thing that always astonishes me about the responses to these events is that, faced with an enemy whose stated aim is a 'war with western values', we seem hell bent on giving them what they want, instead of treating them and their actions as the criminal activities they really are).
So I'm going to say this clearly, here, in the hopes that saying it will help me get past this fucking rage and get on with trying to create things, because life is short, and none of us know how much time we have.
Je Suis Charlie.
Not just that, but if you work with words, if you are a creative type, if you're trying to produce any kind of art, in any kind of medium, that might somehow, somewhere, raise somebodies blood pressure, whether or not you like, agree with the politics of, or had even heard of the magazine before the attacks, YOU ARE CHARLIE TOO.
I hope you understand that. I really do.
Good luck out there, all of you.
PS – Religion is not race. Criticism of religion should not be treated the same way as criticism of race – rather it should be treated the same way as criticism of politics is – which is to say, not censored in any way. After all, most of us come by our political and religious beliefs the same way, and in both cases they are a choice. I will always defend freedom of religion – it's a necessary part of freedom of expression. But freedom of also means freedom from, freedom to criticise, disagree, and yes, definitely, mock.
If you ever want to know who the biggest prick in the room is, look for the guy who never, ever laughs. If you want to know who has the weakest argument, it's the person demanding those who disagree shut the fuck up under pain of death.
We have a word for such people. The word is bully.