Is It a Brave New World?

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thousands of people gather at Republique square.

Thousands of people gather at Republique square, 11 January 2015.Photo: Associated Press

Is it a brave new world since the attack on Charlie Hebdo? The short answer is Yes and No. As the Jan. 11 Paris anti-terrorism rallies made clear, people choose not to live in fear. No, we will not live in fear. That is the universal gut reaction and what inspired such a massive outpouring of expression.

Then you add world leaders getting involved, taking a prominent spot at the rallies, and things get very calculated. Still, it was what it was: a moment. The deadly Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo inspired the biggest march in France’s history with at least 3.7 million people participating.

Then you add a multitude of talking heads and assorted pundits and you sift through that for a while. Some comments were fueled by unchecked outrage. Some comments were motivated by an ax to grind. Some comments were made by perhaps the unheroic wishing to be part of something that seemed heroic. And so on down the line. Pretty tiresome but also human.

But have we entered into something new? Yes, in the sense that Charlie Hebdo is now part of the hive mind. For now, for a very long time to come, we will consider and discuss what happened at Charlie Hebdo and its fallout.

There can be no universal consensus, no universal support, for the content in Charlie Hebdo. That is part of its appeal. It’s regular print run of 60,000 has risen to, at last count, 7 million. It is freedom of expression that inspires many of its supporters, many who are totally new readers to the paper. Jump in, feet first, when it comes to freedom of expression, they say. The fact remains that Charlie Hebdo is more than willing to cross a line into questionable and volatile terrain. It is out of any significant frame of reference for many of these new readers. It is only fair, and decent, to stop and think, no matter what the paper’s intentions, who is ultimately being hurt, offended, marginalized, targeted, turned into an Other, for the sake of some alignment with freedom of expression. Things, even seemingly innocent jokes, have ways of taking on lives of their own.

Ultimately, freedom of expression must win out. South Park must exist. Charlie Hebdo must exist. Any paper, any website, any street corner prophet, has a right to expression. But it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to feel obligated to join in and legitimize any and all content. In the spirit of attempting to make sense of events, there is a new site focused on dissecting Charlie Hebdo which may prove helpful. You can find it here. Learning more about Charlie Hebdo is good, in and of itself, whether or not you agree with its content.


Filed under Charlie Hebdo, Editorial Cartoons, France, Newspapers

10 responses to “Is It a Brave New World?

  1. Will definitely have to revisit that website that explains the cartoons. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was, by The Pope’s comment that the magazine had it coming. They sued the magazine twice and while I hadn’t known of Charlie Hebdo prior to the attack, I’ve been very intrigued at their message. As you, I don’t feel we should buckle. I don’t think Mad Magazine really comes close to pushing limits in this way.

    You are aware of the artist from your. area, Molly I think?still in hiding for her call for submissions of artists to portray Muhammad? What’s your take on that?

  2. I often get into trouble when I try to see more than one side of an issue, which is why I liked your article. I simply loved the way you worked your way through the various takes on the situation and some hypocrisies. I hadn’t heard of Charlie Hebdo before this, but understand when it came to satire he really pushed the envelope and that no one person, issue or religion was safe or exempt from his bite. Is it true, do you know, that when previously threatened he refused to knuckle under?

    Your header asks, ‘is it a brave new world? i don’t think it is. I suspect things will revert to what it they were I sometimes wonder if it ever was, but that’s my cynical old age kicking in. I followed totsymae’s link to the article about Molly Norris. A Muslim cleric has issued an edict against Ms Norris. The best the FBI can do to protect her rights is to suggest she go into hiding. An old memory surfaces. It’s the parents of the victim of a school yard bully being told that the best way to handle their child’s situation was to transfer her to another school. Brave new world? Bah, humbug.

    PS. Thanks for following. Fervently hope you don’t unfollow but I’ve made it my New Year’s resolution to ask why when people do it without ‘liking’ something I have written. Or commented.

  3. Thanks for the link Henry.

  4. Well said, Henry. As human beings with all the failings that go with the territory, we will sometimes offend and we will sometimes be offended. And it’s true, some of us will set out to offend. It’s true to that we should, when we feel offended, have a right to retaliate and defend our position. But to use a gun to retaliate, well that’s just wrong. Aside from all the perceived freedoms and grievances that the Paris shootings brought into focus, and of course they’re important and complex and need to be discussed, none of it justifies murder. I hope the human race remembers and adopts the maxims of the ‘pen being mightier than the sword’ and ‘jaw-jaw being better than war-war.’ But we seem to have moved a long way from either.

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