Charlie Hebdo: Don’t Let the Terrorists Winon January 8, 2015 at 4:37 pm
The New Year has begun with a tragic headline from Paris. Men claiming links to an Islamic extremist group killed 12 people at the offices of the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo. The alleged reason for the attack? Charlie Hebdo’s publication of satirical content, particularly cartoons, poking fun at Islamic targets. (It should also be noted that Charlie Hebdo was fairly omni-denomination in it’s satire. Jews and Catholics were not spared).
The goal of terrorists since time immemorial has been to change the way people live and to spread their message as far and wide as possible. The death of innocent victims is always tragic, and the deaths of those in Charlie Hebdo’s offices are to be mourned. But those killed are not, and were not in this case, the only or even the main targets of their killers. To the terrorists they are collateral damage, necessary to the achievement of the the ultimate goal. As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin once wrote too glibly, eggs must be broken to make an omelet.
The goal of the terrorists in France was to put an end to what they perceived to be commentary disrespectful of Islam. They intended to make an example of Charlie Hebdo and to teach a lesson to perceived infidels. The cowardly attack certainly gained the notice of the world, and has undoubtedly changed the behavior of some. Are you going to Paris next week? The good news is that Charlie Hebdo has already indicated that publication will continue next week. They remain unbowed in the face of deep, personal tragedy. That is truly heroic behavior. And I don’t use “heroic” lightly in an age where the term has become cheapened by overuse.
What about the rest of us? I feel that there is a real risk that terrorists of all stripes are encouraged by their seeming success in attacking media in free and open societies. The North Koreans achieved success in the cyberattack on Sony’s communications infrastructure. The actual, physical impact was small, and, arguably, backfired. A movie likely to have disappeared from public view within weeks has now become an icon and will likely reap rewards when it is ultimately released. But what about the next time? Will future films critical of [fill in your controversial villain here] be produced?
Our society has been built on the foundation of a free and open exchange of views. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always, and frequently is not, respectful. But it is open and unfettered. If your cause is worthy of respect it should be strong enough to withstand criticism and even satire. That doesn’t mean that you have to like it.
It is telling that in the time capsule buried in Boston in 1795 and opened just yesterday, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, chose to include five newspapers. That is some indication of the value attached to the press by two of the founders of our nation. If you think our newspapers are not objective now, the newspapers of that period set a standard for scandalous coverage.
It is the duty of all of us not to cave to what terrorists want and to do what they expect. In this case, that does not mean that we should ridicule the Islamic faith gratuitously, but we have an obligation to show what the 12 men and women at Charlie Hebdo died for, so that their deaths will not have been in vain. Islam is strong enough to take it. In its 1000 plus years of existence it has withstood much greater existential threats. We now need to show that our tradition of creativity and expression is also strong enough to take it. In this case it is not a cliche to say, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”