What do you say about an unspeakable act of violence; an act that appears to have been one of senseless, vengeful terrorism?
As writers, as journalists, artists, makers of any kind of art, most of us seem to say: we will not be silenced. We will not cower in fear of a few extremists. We will continue to write, report the news, make comics, take images, make art the same way that we have always done.
When I heard about the assassination, for it was nothing else, of the staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, I cried. I was shocked and could not really fathom what had happened and why. I read everything about it that I could whilst travelling on a bus in Australia today. I read comments made by artists I admire. I looked at comics made by artists around the world in defiance of the terrorists who committed the heinous crime and in support of satirical comics and publications, including Charlie Hebdo.
I also read up about Charlie Hebdo. Yes, there have been controversies and they have been targeted before. It was no secret that they had made enemies in the extremist communities of Islam. They had been threatened to such an extent that they had been protected by the police and their editor Stephane Charbonnier had been his own police bodyguard.
But all that was to no avail yesterday.
The assassins had been well prepared, knowing when to strike and where. They were fast and ruthless and horribly efficient. In a manner of minutes ten staff members of Charlie Hebdo lay dead. Shortly after one police officer (who was, in fact, a Muslim himself) and the police bodyguard were also dead.
Yet as much as we are all in shock, we are also all defiant.
Clearly the terrorists wanted to set an example. But in that they failed. In a way, I believe, they have created martyrs. Today every creator and everyone who believes in the freedom of expression is Charlie Hebdo.
The pen is mightier. It has always been: such a small item, with such power, able to instil such fear in the hearts of those who would like to keep the rest of us in ignorance.
Just as they fear knowledge and what it might do to young children, especially girls. Extremists shooting well over a hundred children at a school in Pakistan were driven by the same fear that prompted the Taliban to shoot Malala Yousafzai, who survived, continued her fight for the right for education (especially that of her “sisters” everywhere) and was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is easy to lose faith in humanity on a daily basis. But there are enough of us who will not be defeated by the acts of a few. I will not sit in silence, shocked by what happened, afraid to speak my mind.
I will stand with Salman Rushdie on this one:
‘Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms.
‘This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.
‘I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.
‘”Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.”
‘Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.’
Remember John Lennon’s Imagine? One line says “And no religion too”. Because we will never be able to live in peace as long as we are divided by religion; especially when some adherents of some of those religions take extreme measures to impose their belief on everyone else. And no, none of the major religions (not even Buddhism) is innocent. Not a single one of them.