Tag Archives: Charlie Hebdo

Testing the meaning of tolerance


Irony is, after all, its stock in trade.

How surprising is it, then, to learn that, just before the fatal attacks on 12 of its staffers last week, the French satirical organ, Charlie Hebdo, was well on its way to organ failure – the victim of falling sales and dwindling readership?

Now, it will live forever, not so much as a worthy compendium of political commentary and provocative humour, but as a symbol of French resistance to tyranny. (Not exactly what the gang of murderous thugs, brandishing kalashnikovs and invocations to the prophet Muhammad, was hoping to achieve).

Then, of course, around the world there were organized marches in memoriam for the dead and in solidarity for the principles of free speech. In the City of Lights, alone, gathered a throng of 1.5 million comprising people from all walks of life – some deserving to attend; some, in the opinion of many, not so much.

According to a piece in the Guardian online, “Press freedom campaigners condemned the presence of world leaders attending the unity rally in Paris on Sunday who have poor records on human rights and the free press in their home countries. Reporters without Borders singled out leaders from Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as being responsible for particularly harsh environments for journalists. These countries rank respectively 159th, 154th, 148th, 121st and 118th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom in a league table compiled by the group.

“‘We should show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting the world’s other Charlies,’ said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the campaign group. ‘It would be intolerable [if] representatives from countries that reduce their journalists to silence profit from this emotional outpouring to. . .improve their international image. . .We should not allow the predators of the press to spit on the graves of Charlie Hebdo.’”

Naturally, this said nothing about the quality of the publication’s satire, itself – a topic that has, understandably, garnered little attention ever since Paris conferred honorary citizenship on the magazine, the national government announced a bail-out fund of one million euros so it can, in the words of French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin, “continue next week and the week after that and the week after that.”

Indeed, reported Reuters, “Albert Uderzo, the 87-year-old who created the famed French comic character Asterix, announced he would come out of retirement to help illustrate the irreverent weekly, which plans to print a million copies of its next edition next Wednesday.”

All of which may have irked Atlantic magazine writer Scott Sayare into penning a rare online screed. “Charlie’s hope, according to its editors, is to show believers the folly of their faith,” he writes. “This can hardly be called an undertaking of tolerance, that other virtue of liberal democracy.”

In fact, he jabs, “the impulse to consecrate Charlie Hebdo in a moment of horror and anger – an impulse felt far beyond France – is eminently comprehensible. But one may mourn the dead and condemn their senseless slaughter, and hail their courage in carrying out a mission in which they deeply believed, without celebrating the magazine for virtues it did not espouse.”

Frankly, he notes, “until the killings, Charlie Hebdo was not much celebrated or even particularly valued – publicly, at any rate – by the French, though the many slander cases brought against it came with a certain amount of publicity; as of 2012, its weekly print run was about 60,000 copies, about a tenth of what the country’s most popular news weeklies sell. . .Charlie Hebdo is not a racist publication. . . The magazine is, however, intolerant of religion and believers of all sorts, and smug in those anticlerical convictions. Dialogue with its opponents was never of much interest, and it has repeatedly chosen to target some of France’s most vulnerable inhabitants for provocation. . .It is a publication that champions its speech rights with all the crude prurience and vitriol and rhetorical excess the law permits.”

And yet, one could argue persuasively, that it is precisely such coarseness – once, not very long ago, dismissed and derided by the French establishment – that has galvanized, through tragedy, a nation and much of the western world.

How brutally ironic, indeed.

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Tragic lessons from the desks of Charlie Hebdo


If the barbarians who slaughtered 12 people at France’s satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, last week thought they were killing free speech at the point of their automatic rifles, they were sorely, absurdly mistaken.

Nothing ignites the fire of democracy in the belly of open – too often, casually complacent – societies than the massacre of innocents.

And, make no mistake, despite their habitual, even offensive, run at the world’s religions, the editors, writers and political cartoonists who died at the hands of a cadre of Islamic fundamentalists were, by any reasonable comparison with their assailants, utterly guiltless.

The wits and wags of Charlie Hebdo used their minds and pens to poke holes in the dangerous dogmas and priggish pomposities of their targets of derision. They didn’t grab guns and blow away their ideological nemeses like so many deer caught in the headlights of fanatical blood-lust.

As the still-civilized world mourns the obscene events in Paris, it also stands firm and united in its determination to, again, enshrine the principles of a free press as a requisite condition of an unfettered and enlightened society.

Canadian editorial cartoonists – marking the passing of four of their French peers – have come forward, joining their voices with hundreds of others around the world.

As CTV reported on Thursday, “In Halifax, Michael De Adder and Bruce MacKinnon both drew poignant pieces for the murdered. De Adder’s cartoon showed a hand writing out the words, ‘freedom of speech,’ with extremists trying to stop the hand from completing the words. . .MacKinnon’s showed a tattered French flag flying at half-mast, with a pencil serving as a flagpole.”

Said Bruce: “As negative and traumatic as this is, it has the opposite effect because it proves our relevance. It shows that what we do has an effect and does matter.”

Added Mike: “I’m actually more jazzed to continue what I’m doing.”

Their colleague, Edmonton Journal cartoonist Malcolm Mayes, praised his fallen, overseas comrades for their courage in the face of numerous threats over the past several years from would-be – now confirmed – Islamic terrorists.

To CTV, he said, “They weren’t cowed, they weren’t afraid. They stood their ground and that’s what people have to do in the face of threats like this. . .I’m not going to change the way I draw or change my opinion because someone threatens me.”

Opined Terry Mosher (a.k.a. Aislin), who made his professional bones afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted on the editorial pages of the Montreal Gazette: “Satire is poking fun and questioning hopefully all of our institutions and our attitudes. Nothing is ever 100 per cent right. So the whole purpose of satire is to test your system and see if we can poke fun at these things and question them – obviously, I believe in that very strongly.”

Sadly, too many young, radicalized thugs around the world simply do not share similar values. Even more lamentable is that some of them possess the means and the opportunity to wreak havoc – on the societies that have accepted them without much compunction – at will.

We can, of course, react with force – hunting down likely perpetrators George W. Bush-style, throwing them into internment camps, subjecting them to state-sanctioned torture, and conveniently forgetting where we left the keys to their locked cages.

We can, naturally, launch drones to blow up their enclaves and, in the process, a few thousand innocent bystanders and call that “collateral damage”.

Or we could take to the generally safe streets we call home – as millions have over the past few days since the Charlie Hebdo tragedy – and declare that freedom is a universally accessible commodity; that speech is the mechanism of democracy; that live ammo is the last resort of a peaceful, productive civilization just as it is the first of an authoritarian, paranoid one.

We could take a breath and remember to get back to the hard, sometimes perillous, work of promulgating the worthy, essential notion that the free expression of ideas defines us as thinking humans, not killers or murderers or vile barbarians.

Those who died at the offices of Charlie Hebdo understood this. They weren’t martyrs. But they were heroes of democracy, and our memories of them will live longer than those we now revile of the savages who ended their lives.

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