The pen is mightier than the sword?
Je condamne le terrorisme mais je ne suis pas Charlie
Yesterday’s terrorist attack in Paris left the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris (and the bodies of its victims) riddled with bullet holes. It also left Western society riddled with disturbing questions about how to respond to what President Hollande justifiably called “an attack on free speech”. Having paid the ultimate price for lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, Charlie Hebdo has brought into sharp focus the tightening web of problems arising from the divergence between secularist and Islamic sensibilities. Never has it become clearer that one person’s joke is another person’s blasphemy. We may believe that the pen is mightier than the sword, but no one wants the proverb put to the ultimate test.
There is a substantial risk that calls for more anti-terrorist security measures may spill over into a propaganda campaign against Islam itself. The Pegida anti-Islamic demonstrations in Germany have hinted at this troubling development. If the clamour for ‘something to be done’ about Islam in Europe gathers momentum, the potential consequences are unthinkable.
I do not mean to suggest that we should appease terrorists. After all, no one can be expected to negotiate while Kalashnikovs are pointed at them. But we should beware of ascribing guilt by association and it will soon become more and more imperative that we engage with the overwhelming majority of Muslims who consider their religion has been hijacked by militant extremists pursuing a warped agenda through violence and terrorism. Ultimately, global dialogue is the only way to establish foundations for a more peaceful world. And just as the criminality of terrorists must be exposed and punished without equivocation, and just as Islam must learn to tolerate scrutiny, journalists in the West should think twice before exercising the right to free speech. Just because freedom of expression is a legal right does not mean it is always morally defensible; it should not therefore be used as a license to be offensive. Those who have the freedom to insult people should develop the good grace not to do so gratuitously.
When the dust has settled, we will all have to move on from here and it would be better if we all journeyed together towards the light. As for those fanatics who prefer to remain in the dark ages, who live amongst us refusing to be reconciled to secular, democratic values and who set out to destroy us, they must be confronted and defeated.