The horrendous attack on Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday has shocked the world. This is beyond humanity, and all reactions, also from the Muslim communities, is one of deep anger and clear condemnation. Everywhere this murderous spree is seen as an attack on a core value in modern free society, the freedom of the press. Whoever attacks the free press, attacks democracy and free society, so whoever attacks a free press in fact attacks us, all of us, none excluded. Throughout Europe, people flocked to the large squares, expressing their revulsion for this brutal massacre, voicing their conviction that this is not to be tolerated. Thus, the ever so divided Europe unites in one voice, that we are all Charlie.
The target, Charlie Hebdo, is a satirical magazine which by definition is iconoclast. It choses provocation, not dialogue, trying to shock, not to gloss over. Their humor is not mine, and their policy is not the one I advocate to bridge the deep divisions in our society, but it is an option that is open in our society. And it should be open, in a free democracy. What you can do, does not necessarily dictate what you want to do or should do, but the principle of free expression has to stand inviolate.
Any comparison of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo with other attempts to muzzle the press is slightly insulting, as this terrorist act is of an unheard-of brutality. But this strike at our free society carries two challenges. The first is to unite against any terrorism, especially its religious version. That is relatively easy, for these days we are all Charlie: ‘Je suis Charlie, nous tous sommes Charlie’. We waive our pencils and poise our pen, for ultimately these will conquer the assault rifles. The second is to look inwards, where we stand for a free press. As bloggers we are part of a free exchange of ideas and opinions; in our dialogue we set our own limits of decency, so we have to be aware of those self-defined borders, in order not to go into self-censure. But also we have to be alert on the slightest infraction on the freedom of press and opinion, in our community and in our church. Any organization worth its salt influences its internal discourse, which may lead to muzzling dissenters and muting voices of dissent. Also the LDS church. I am not going into details here, as that would be an insult in a blog about this horrible piece of terrorism, but when I declare that ‘I am Charlie’ this sets an agenda for the future. We are all Charlie.
Walter van Beek