It is with the utmost sorrow and regret that my first commentary of the year is about the Paris attack on the cartoonist office. As with probably the majority of people who turned on their televisions or scanned the news sites online to hear the grievous news of the fate of the employees of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, I was in complete shock.
Such an act of violence against civilians for freedom of speech is unheard of in democracies. It is nothing new for satirists to upset people in all sects of life regarding race, religion, political stance, sexual preferences and the like. After all, it is their job. In return insults may be hurled, offences spoken, rebuttals written, nasty tweets circulated and other facets of social media employed to get a snowball effect.
As I was watching the news coverage, no one prepared me or forewarned me that I was about to view a police officer being shot dead point blank. To see his body collapse, lifeless, onto the sidewalk. This was no video game, no Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto before my eyes.
This was real life.
This footage also showed the cold blooded killers escape. And so easily.
A plethora of thoughts rushed through my mind. I could hardly process them. And I feel it is my duty as a journalist to not let this moment to express myself pass by me. It isn’t just outrage I feel.
In this day and age, how can killers in broad daylight make such a clean getaway? How did witnesses manage to take such good footage of the attack? Did the police and the staff at the office really think a few police officers and a keypad security entrance would protect them and keep attackers at bay?
Did they really have such scant knowledge of how ISIS and radical Islamists operate? More importantly, were their lives worth risking for a stance to promote freedom of speech? I am torn on this question.
To back down is to admit defeat, in a sense, and to be silenced. To speak out was to make a statement, but a costly one. Should they have given themselves boundaries? What happens now?
I will surmise that in weeks to come, when the news coverage is overtaken by something bigger and fresh, the ashes will settle and ISIS will have won. This is the death of not just people, but of the press. Who will brave publishing such satires again? For what?
As I watched the coverage, statement after statement was made from government officials and heads of state to condemn the Paris attack. All said we stand side by side with the people of Paris and of France against what happened. While it is good to verbally give France support and to speak out against such terror, the end result is nothing.
Even the pope condemning their act of violence means nothing to the perpetrators. They don’t care. They don’t give a toss who condemns them. It will never stop them.
Yet that fact did not stop the masses from gathering in Republic Square. The images were gripping with thousands holding up pens and pencils. This is the voice of the people. I pray they continue to cry out their support. Even the English are rallying tonight in Trafalgar Square.
“Very little seems funny today,” the BBC quoted from England’s own satirist, Ian Hislop as he made a statement about what transpired in Paris over Charlie Hebdo.
“We’ve got to stand up for the right to take the piss out of these monsters, these idiots, these fools, these posturing maniacs who strut around in their black gear as a kind of death cult trying to frighten us all,” says British cartoonist from the Guardian.
Perhaps even more moving is that the Al Masry Al Youm, the daily newspaper in Egypt, has showed support by posting a piece of work from the French satirical magazine poking fun at the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
I am no head of state and no person of importance; even so, I send my prayers and my condolences to the families of the victims. Especially to those of the police officer gunned down who will have to carry the image of his death forever as aired by the news and social media. Horrific. Is there a stronger word I could have used?
While I have never generally been entertained by deep satire, I do appreciate the pulse it gives a city, a nation. I agree with the politicians who call the act cowardly and barbaric. Wouldn’t a strong support for this dying publication and freedom of speech have been for all free nations to have published some of these offensive cartoons online and on the television? They can’t kill all of them. I commend the editor of the Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier and his staff for their brevity, I pray they are never forgotten, and I pray they were ready to meet their Maker.
I am thankful for my freedom of speech. That I can write and publish a blog or article about anything I choose. I am enough under the radar that I don’t have to fear for my life or the lives of my loved ones. In respect to others, I do give myself boundaries, though. So I am striving to find a way to stand side by side with other journalists to support and carry on freedom of speech so those in the Paris attack did not die in vain. Truth be told, however, I think this incident is the grim truth that there really has never been total freedom of speech. Just ask your local government. They already know it.
By Jori Sams