Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Am Charlie

    If you haven't heard, ten journalists and two police officers were murdered today in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper. (For the New York Times coverage, click here.)

     The people who were killed left behind families, friends, and colleagues who have had their lives torn apart because there are some in this world of woe who think committing murder is an acceptable response to having been offended. By cartoons.

     Hate is not an emotion I find useful, so I will say only this about the murderers: If you have to kill someone who draws pictures because those pictures offend you, you are admitting that the pictures won. You are admitting that your beliefs are so fragile that they cannot withstand the force of even a halfhearted snicker. You are telling the world that you are so weak that the existence of a few pen lines on paper will break you.

     Today, people were killed for drawing cartoons. This story is old enough now that I have read various statements along the lines of, "Well, yes, it's terrible to kill people, but Charlie Hebdo was tasteless and provocative and offensive." The implied conclusion is that if your work is tasteless and provocative and offensive, perhaps you deserve to be killed.

     Here's my problem with that reasoning: I draw things, too. I write essays that sometimes make fun of things in the name of providing some small entertainment to my readers. I don't believe my work is tasteless, provocative, or offensive—but where is that line to be drawn? Does the cat fancier who objects to my simplified depiction of felines get to open fire on me because my drawings are not photo-realistic? Does TSA, of whom I adore to make fun because they engage in satire-worthy behavior every single time I have the distinct displeasure of standing in an airport security line, get to pull me out of said security line and execute me merely because I have pointed out that banning pocket knives in the wake of a bombing is faulty logic?

     Let's establish a ground rule here, kids: We don't kill people who offend us.

     It is rude and uncivilized.

     It is also ineffective. How many people had heard of Charlie Hebdo yesterday? Its circulation is about 45,000, I assume mostly in France. Numbers of demonstrators are hard to come by, but demonstrations in support of Charlie Hebdo have been held in France, Europe, North and South America—even Egypt. (Click here for a map of demonstrations worldwide). I'd say that thousands more people know about Charlie Hebdo today, showing that the people who committed murder in cold blood because some cartoons offended them actually spread those "offensive" cartoons farther and wider than Charlie Hebdo ever could have. Well done, terrorist dudes!

     Today, Je suis Charlie. I am Charlie. Tomorrow I will be Charlie. And the day after, and the day after that. I will continue to make the art that I make without stopping to worry that someone somewhere, will be offended by it. I will continue to notice humor where it is, even though it might be tasteless to say so. I will continue to believe that being provocative should not be a death sentence.

     I will also be offended by many things as I go along, because there are oh so many things in the world to be offended by. But here is the important bit: I will not murder anybody about it.

     Charlie Hebdo published a cover a couple of years ago in another context. Typically, it is a bit crude. It pushes the envelope. It also says the single most important thing I can think of to say now, or any time. "Love: Stronger Than Hate."