When humourists are killed in France you cannot remain any longer blissfully oblivious and ignore the attack on the freedom of expression. In an age of religious intolerance this second major attack on Charlie Hebdo, who has been unequivocally anti-religious and battered extreme Catholicism and Islam with equal jest and a certain leftist lineage, is by no means a surprise. News sources confirm that nine members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff are killed in the attack, as well as two police officers. The three masked attackers who had opened fire with assault rifles, exclaimed before escaping by car, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!”
We live in an extraordinary historic moment, where we are expected not to pray to a God we believe in, but to pray to a deity who is politically approved and backed by powerful terrorist organisations and intolerant extremists; we live in a world where writers are censored and banned, painters are banished and chased to other countries, and now it has become so serious a business that even cartoonists had to be slaughtered.
However, Charlie Hebdo’s humour, satire to be more precise, is not just mere fun; it is hard-hitting and extremely serious in its wit. Most of us looking at their magazine covers see in them the kind of images that surface in our dreams, visuals that are strictly private – the kind sometimes we deliberately try to forget. In these images, pressing concerns and unsettling realizations appear in exaggerated avatars— the way graphic dreams are coloured by our uncensored fears, secret lust and hatred. In 2011, following the firebombing at their office in retaliation for the publication of a caricature of the prophet, Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stéphane Charbonnier, who lost his life in this attack, had reassured Der Spiegel that “a drawing has never killed anyone” and that “the right to protest needs to be protected, so long as one abides by the law and refrains from violence.” Within six days of the 2011 bombing, Charlie Hebdo had come up with an issue that depicted a Muslim man being kissed by a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist along with the message “Love is stronger than hate.” The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) can only be symbolic, since an individual cannot dare to act as Charlie Hebdo or challenge fanatics who come with arms and ammunitions, and a solid brick for head.
There are organizations—NGOs, some government bodies, some journals, some news agencies—who continue to emphatically put forward the unacceptability of this act where creative minds are physically executed. But it is also important to see how individuals, like you and me, respond to such bloody acts. Yesterday as I scrolled down, my Facebook wall was inundated with the reactions of people who found the violence insanely inhuman, and indefensible. But occasionally I bumped into a comment or two that approved this act of ‘revenge’. I was even more startled when I started reading some of the comments on the Facebook pages of newspapers.