Thoughts about murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo

Thoughts about murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo

I have been thinking about the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the response around the world to those murders. People are expressing shock and outrage. I am expressing wonder about their shock and outrage.

People are expressing shock and outrage about the murder of 12 people. I hold all human life as sacred, including the lives of people who do things that I find abhorrent. I fight for a society and a world that holds human life as sacred.  No one, including the State (or the police in cities in the United States), has a right to take a human life (I oppose capital punishment).  I hold human life as sacred, including the lives of those who have themselves taken a life, and alas, must also include people who say things that I don’t like.

People are using the idea of freedom as the basis for their expressions of shock and outrage. Freedom is a precious thing, worth fighting for.  Freedom is well worth the wrestle in our own minds and between our varied minds to determine what freedom means. Most of us are in agreement that there are limits inherent in the exercise of freedom.  I have a right to swing my fist and your nose has a right to not be hit.  There are limits attached to both sets of rights.

This brings me to the questions with which I want to wrestle:

  1. Does our freedom of speech include the right to hate speech?  Or only hate speech spoken, or written, by members of specific groups?
  2. Does freedom of the press include the right to publish hatred toward any group?
  3. All human life is sacred.  Are artists (cartoonists) lives more sacred than other lives?  The Islamic militant group Boko Haram killed upwards of 2000 people in Nigeria during the week of the 12 murders in Paris. 2000 children, women and men were murdered.  Are those lives less important than the 12 cartoonist whose lives were taken (not lost) in Paris?  Are their lives less significant and deserve less attention, mourning, outrage, commentary, because they are in Nigeria, not in Paris, and not in a magazine office, and might not be artists (cartoonists)?
  4. We assume that everybody makes decisions with an understanding of the probable and potential consequences of those decisions.  Who shares responsibility for the decision made by the editors to publish cartoons that had the possibility – even the probability- to end in violence?  We often make decisions to do what we consider the right thing, even when the potential outcomes can be terrifying. Are we then responsible for those terrifying outcomes because we made the decision that triggered those outcomes? Specifically, do the decision-making editors at Charlie Hebdo share any responsibility for the murder of their colleagues?

My mind keeps going to the many parallels that could be drawn from the response to the murders at the Hebdo magazine office.  The French Prime Minister has declared: “We are at War Against Radical Islam”.  Can you imagine the President of the United States, after the Oklahoma City bombing where 168 people were killed, or after the killings at Sandy Hook where 20 children and six adults were murdered, declaring, “We are at war against “angry white men”?  Or should such a declaration have been made after Columbine, or after …any one of many mass murders, including the shooting of Kent Sate students by National Guardsmen. 13 people were shot and killed at the University of Texas by a former Marine.  Should we declare war on former Marines?

I mourn for lives taken; for the lives taken at Charlie Hebdo and also for women killed by Islamic fundamentalists because they decide to drive a car, or get an education, or divorce their husbands.  I mourn for lives lost, because of poverty and disease and because western governments ignore and fail to respond to perceived and real threats to those outside the western world.

I gag at the racialized, hypocritical, hyperbole following the murders at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, by world leaders and other people who have seized this event as a way to push their own narrow, oppression based agenda.  I am wearied by the responses of people who consider the murders at Charlie Hebdo in a pitifully narrow frame,  and without the larger global context in which they occurred.

I remind others and myself that this is a good time to listen.  All sorts of people want and need to be listened to, as they share their fears, their trauma, (indeed their impulse to gag), and their grief, along with their hopes for a better world.