Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Post-mortem: a few words about the Paris murders

Sharing the immediate horror of the first attack, I soon tweeted a "JeSuisCharlie" to register my solidarity with the murdered editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo, with the freedom of expression they pushed to the limit, and with all of us, who deserve to live our lives without fear of being gunned down by thugs with different beliefs. Hours later I read a short interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who claimed a longstanding friendship with the murdered cartoonist Cabu, and suggested that the destruction of Charlie Hebdo was something like the death of May'68, or what was left of it. I felt a similar sense of loss, as though their irreverence, their reckless insolence, their challenge to every piety had been an artifact of another time, now irrevocably gone.

As I read more about the magazine and its staff (I had never read Charlie Hebdo, though I knew its cartoonists' work), I stand by that solidarity, and extend it to the police officers who were killed and the Jewish hostages also killed in the kosher supermarket--victims all of a brutality that has no place in civil society. But I'm not so sure about my ready sympathy for Charlie Hebdo itself and its promiscuous mission. I looked back at the infamous caricatures of Mohamed, with exaggerated semitic features and exposed genitals, and thought: how different is this from the cartooning style of the propaganda ministry of the Third Reich? I read an interview with some kids at a collège in the neuf-trois: asked how they felt about the minute of silence that had just been observed for the Charlie Hebdo staff (this was before the supermarket murders), one said he was willing to show respect for the murder victims but not for the magazine. After all, he said, it insulted my religion. Why should I respect it when it showed no respect for me or my culture?

Finally, I feel that the millions of French citizens, marching for their republican values of secularity and free speech, carrying aloft their symbolic pencils, are not wrong, but a bit myopic. Free speech is a value, arguably not as absolute as some would claim, but so is tolerance. Looking at the rising levels of support for the FN, I fear the worst. Liberté is a fine republican value, but fraternité will take you further in the long run.

That said, I intend to return in subsequent posts to the Climate Change issue, which threatens us with civil breakdown on a wholly other scale ...

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