Je Suis Charlie

Nous Sommes Tous Charlie, that is to say ‘we are all Charlie’ – a headline featured on the front page of the French newspaper Libération on the 8th of January 2015.

On the previous day, a number of heavily armed religious fundamentalists had attacked the Parisian headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a critical, liberal and outspokenly atheist French magazine, which had recently printed satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad; twelve people were killed in the attack.

And with those twelve funerals, liberal society witnessed, unfortunately not for the first time, a breathtaking manifestation of deadly violence – the only way in which fundamentalism is capable of expressing itself.

Without making light of the subject, it could well be argued that the following quotation by Jerry Seinfeld accurately satirises this deeply self-righteous, intellectually deficient, ’empathy free zone’ kind of individual out of which such immoral behaviour could have sprung “People with guns don’t understand! That’s why they get guns, too many misunderstandings.”

Before we go any further, the definition of a fundamentalist should be settled. Fortunately, it turns out to be quite a simple one; a fundamentalist is a person who does not just believe in something – be it simply a tedious political conviction, or a curious thought only relevant to the metaphysical realm – he believes that everyone else should believe exactly the same as himself, and in the knowledge that this eventuality is not likely to occur, this person is willing to act furiously and even violently in order to try to realise this against all the odds.

Fundamentalists, of whatever denomination, do not necessarily hate the freedom of secular Western societies, they hate the fact the inhabitants of liberal societies do not believe what they believe, and do as they do, and think (if that is indeed the correct verb here) what they think.

It was Henry Louis Mencken who so aptly phrased this very thought of sheer intolerance when he wrote “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” – and of course, it is obvious that the term ‘Puritanism’ could easily be swapped with ‘Fundamentalism’ or similar epithets of equal hideousness.

“You can’t kill art if you kill the artist.” – Predrag Srbljanin

On the 8th of January, a day after the attacks, an interesting divide became apparent in the French media; it was the left-wing newspaper Libération that printed the headline Nous Sommes Tous Charlie (We Are All Charlie), whereas the rather more right-wing newspaper Le Figaro printed La Liberté Assassinée (Liberty Has Been Assassinated) on its front page. From the start, inclusivity opposed exclusivity.

This interpretative squabble is more important than one might realise at first glance. It seems that the headline shouting “Freedom died today” is not only apt but it also formulates the proper amount of urgency needed in one of the most desperate hours in the battle for the freedom of expression.

As far as expressing urgency is concerned, that’s all very well and good, but the pessimism-fuelled cries of horror akin to nothing better than a deranged old town crier shouting “The end is nigh” are merely counter-productive.

Now, it may seem counter-intuitive, but the seemingly soppy liberal bleeding heart headline declaring “We are all Charlie” is the far more aggressive political stand.

Consider the following, left-wing politicians across Western society have never made apologies for their thoughts that all organised religion is childishly unnecessary at best, and a vicious cancer on the morality of civilised society at worst.

People who despise one religion but are curiously mild towards another, if not a supporter of another faith are suspiciously absent on the political left. There are no hate-mongering religious apologists that have much love for the colour red.

This is what the headline Nous Sommes Tous Charlie comes down to; indeed, “We are all Charlie”. We are all human beings with an indivisible right to the freedom to express our thoughts and feelings. And if that freedom should lead to lampooning the devoutly held beliefs of people stating they can eat the body of a dead person, or that any odd number of female virgins await those that die heroically, or that taking a knife to the clitoris or foreskin of a prepubescent child is defensible behaviour in a post-desert society, so be it.

“We are all Charlie”, in such an inclusive thought there can be no place for party politics or the petty quarrels of religious obsessives. And in this heated debate, there can be no doubt that the left-wing adeist stance, which promotes reason instead of providing the poor confused and above all angry masses with another Lyotardian grand story, is the most moral course of action. Not ‘us versus them’, but ‘us versus mythology’ – inclusivity instead of exclusivity.

“There really is no society in human history that has ever suffered because its population became too reasonable.” – Sam Harris

The twelve editorial cartoons that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005 were on the whole more heavily criticised by religious, journalistic and political organisations than the boycotts, riots and violent demonstrations that were organised in response to the drawings.

Almost ten years later, history will teach us whether the lamented deaths of the twelve French journalists who were violently murdered on the 7th of January 2015 will change the way people treat fledgling fundamentalism, racism, and organised religion in general.

One day after the attacks, all the lights of the Eiffel Tower were dimmed as the City of Light mourned its dead. And at the centre of it all someone wrote Ils ne tuerons pas la liberté, ‘they shall not diminish our freedom’.

Christopher Hitchens said it best with his poetic eloquence when he was asked why he could not keep his atheism to himself, he replied “Because the religious won’t allow me to. Because every time I open up the paper there’s another instance of theocratic encroachment on free society which I won’t put up with – up with which, I will not put!”

Je suis Charlie
Tu es Charlie
Nous sommes tous Charlie
Vive la liberté