Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Soyons tous caricaturistes: let us all be cartoonists

Today’s massacre in Paris has sent shockwaves around the world. Eight journalists, a visiting economist, a maintenance worker and two policemen were killed simply for doing their jobs.

For the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, that job was poking fun at whatever they considered needed it.

They sailed closed to the wind of taste on more than one occasion – and on more than one subject – but offending taste is not a crime and never should be.

There had been threats and an arson attack on the magazine previously. And all apparently because some people don’t like you to question their beliefs – particularly not when there’s a big god geezer involved somewhere.

Already, one or two commentators have suggested that the journalists brought it on themselves.

In other words, that they shouldn’t poke fun at certain things. Well, probably not religion in general and certainly not Islam, which has a minority of followers who get very, very offended if they feel that their particular version of a spiritual comfort blanket has been insulted.

Some have suggested that you can critique religious belief and attitudes in a way that is rational and calm and that Charlie Hebdo didn’t do that.

Indeed it didn’t. But that is to forget that satire is a long-standing part of European culture as a whole – possibly even more so in the UK.

And if satire is a valid form of literature/art/debate, then no subject should be exempt from its reach.

A very simple truth remains: no matter how savage a cartoonist is in ink, it’s ink – not blood.

Our thoughts should be with the loved ones of those who were murdered in Paris today, including the two policemen in the street outside the Charlie Hebdo offices, and with those who were critically injured.

To suggest those journalists were to blame is to utterly miss the point: nothing should be sacred.

There should never, ever be a right to not be offended.

Yes, any and all have the right to believe what they wish: but they have no right to force their beliefs on anyone else and they have no right to demand that everyone else adhere to their particular interpretation of whatever cult they happen to link themselves to.

And let us ensure that the terrorists do not win: in other words, let us never be cowed into refusing to moderate our criticisms through fear, because that would mean that the terrorists would have triumphed.

So let us all be cartoonists.

* Edited on 8 January to clarify the positions of those killed.

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