“Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie” – we could read on many Facebook and Twitter profiles after the attack on the French satirical newspaper. That was cheap and maybe a bit presumptuous, even though it was of course intended as a show of support.
But three words on Twitter are not enough for the surviving cartoonists and writers to carry on producing the paper. I don’t stop at empty words, instead I actually buy Charlie Hebdo, even if the price of 29 Romanian Lei = 6,50 Euro is more than twice the cover price in France.
The pen may be mightier than the sword in the long term, but in the meantime those of us who have swords would do well to protect our pen-wielding comrades. In societies where the state has a monopoly on the use of force, this task must also be borne by the state. This doesn’t mean that every journalist or artist should have a bodyguard at their side, but it would be nice if our politicians would at least refrain from committing the stupidities that they demonstrated in the weeks after the attack:
- In Paris the representatives of free European democracies marched arm in arm with emissaries of states that persecute, imprison, torture and execute journalists and artists. Over dinner, there were probably negotiations about sales of more tanks or warships to dictatorships.
- The coffins of those murdered were not yet in the ground, when the call for “precautionary data retention” was heard again. This wouldn’t necessarily be of any use (France had such a law in place), but it would be too bad if twelve people had died for nothing.
- The party who hadn’t understood anything was the CSU, one of the governing parties in Germany. The day after the attack, they demanded that blasphemy be punished more severely in the future. This “Christian social” party thus adopted demands by Al-Qaida and ISIS. I have never understood why the belief in something which doesn’t exist, but which is allegedly as almighty as it is benevolent and forgiving, must be protected by criminal law. Under any concept of God that I know of, this doesn’t make sense.
- Pope Francis, who until then had positively surprised even many atheists, showed his true face as the head of an illiberal theocracy by expressing understanding for the killers: “If someone provoked me, I would punch him as well.” Maybe that will earn him a Nobel Peace Prize.
It must be pointed out that Charlie Hebdo is not an “anti-Islamist” newspaper as has been wrongfully reported so many times. The satirical magazine pokes fun at everything and everybody, from current and former French presidents to actors, the Front National, all possible religions, the IMF, the military, corporations, other journalists and even themselves.
At times the discussion seemed to be dominated by the most this-skinned cry-baby that could be found. Let’s look for example at the cover of the magazine which was published the week after the attack, depicting a weeping Prophet Mohammed holding up a “Je suis Charlie” sign under the headline “Everything is forgiven”.
It is mighty impressive that a newspaper could be put together at all after such a bloodbath. (Most of us would take a few days off even if only the parrot or the hamster had died.) And then the cover hits exactly the right tone: Mourning and reconciliation.
Still, people around the world protested against the cover which they alleged to be offensive, insulting and hurtful. What is insulting about a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed which shows compassion and humanity? What image of the Prophet and of religion lies behind such protests? It definitely shows a total lack of understanding of the newspaper, its cartoons or of art or freedom of the press in general.
I was even more surprised by the many “Je suis Mohamed” posts which then sprung up suddenly (mainly on my Muslim friends’ profiles). To present oneself as the Prophet and the son of God (or am I mixing up some of the religions which all copied from each other?) looks to me like the ultimate level of blasphemy.
This is only one example which shows that “offensiveness” is no useful guideline for limiting any kind of expressive freedoms. All day long I see things which I find “offensive”: more than half of what is on TV, the display in a butchery shop, foozled grammar, carnival, contempt of logic, baby photos on the internet, some of the comments on this blog, and so on. I can get worked up about these things as much as I want, but never would I even think of banning any of them.
It seems a banality, but apparently I have to remind some people that nobody is forced to buy, read or laugh at Charlie Hebdo.