We are not Charlie Hebdo

EDITOR'S BLOG: You do not counter this horror by setting fire to kebab shops but by carrying on writing, publishing and lampooning.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 27 Feb 2015

This is not intended to sound like special pleading for sympathy, but what happened in Paris yesterday has a specific resonance for us. We have editorial meetings where we decide what to cover. We express opinions for publication. We do cartoons. It’s highly unlikely, one would like to think, that anything we write is going to end up causing multiple murders. When we say things that annoy or upset people the worst that can happen is a spell with expensive libel lawyers.

MT tends to steer clear of politics where we can, except where it impinges directly on business, which it often does. But religion is a no no. We adopt that rather upper class English attitude of old that it’s somehow unseemly to discuss religion at the dinner table with guests. I have no idea whether my colleagues believe in God. I, for what it’s worth, do not but will not expend any effort trying to persuade you one way or the other. However, religion cannot be out of bounds for consideration when its direct manifestation leads to what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday.

One of the origins of our success here in Britain - as opposed to Yemen or Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, 2015 Russia - is democracy combined with its vital lifeblood, freedom of expression. The ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo’ campaign that immediately began is a laudable response to an intolerable event. Like the ‘I Am Spartacus’ scene it has power. It’s an important show of solidarity, a refusal to be cowed by vicious bigotry. Except that we aren’t Charlie Hebdo here in the UK. We need a US outfit like this one to put the covers online.

Last night I waited patiently on the 10 o’clock BBC news and then on Newsnight for the programme makers to show the cartoons that have caused this atrocity. They did not. And neither did any newspaper this morning on its front page. In Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, they did. For whatever reason this decision was made - safety or a misguided belief that one should not cause unnecessary offence to the devout  - this is very wrong. An act of moral cowardice. It is an entirely legitimate request that we be able to see these cartoons and consider them. Even more so after what their creation has led to.  

Whatever you think about Charlie Hebdo and its output - which is more purely absolutist and Robespierrean than its polite-by-comparison UK equivalent Private Eye - the Paris magazine did appear sometimes almost puerile in its muck-slinging crude provocation. Never mind. That isn’t the point. It must be allowed freely to express its opinion.

Why should it be that while Hebdo’s scribblers have lampooned Christians, Jews, Buddhists, politicians, the dead Michael Jackson, it is only the Islamists who see fit to respond with a Kalashnikov? What is it about these young men, with no ability to deal with duality, with irony, that puts them onto this hideous heaven-bound path of righteousness? What is it about their lack of regard for the sanctity of life, their ardour-filled embrace of the afterlife, that sets them apart from other religious zealots?

I don’t know but we need to work it out while countering them every inch of the way. Not just by force, if necessary but also by mercilessly laughing at their blind stupidity. We should mock, as David Aaronovitch writes in an excellent Times piece this morning, ‘the cretinous notion that a deity who supposedly made the Universe, the world and everything in it would give a fart in a gale about whether an insignificant speck of humanity drew a picture of a man in a turban and called it Muhammad?’

Meanwhile, this morning mosques and kebab shops are being attacked all over France. Another police officer and a street cleaner have been shot dead. This is a grimly predictable response, a trap set by Al Qaeda. It’s precisely what those two black clad horsemen of the apocalypse who arrived in a small Citroen would have wanted.

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