Woke up the other day to news of yet another terrorist attack. This time terrorists targeted Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine based in Paris. Gunmen burst in killing editorial staff and a number of the cartoonists whose satirical cartoons have caused such offence. Outside in the street they killed a couple of French police officers and sped off. As I write this one of the gunmen, the driver, had handed himself in, and the other two look like they have died in a shoot-out with the gendarmerie.
There was predictable shock and outrage in the immediate aftermath of the attack, in France, and in every corner of the world. Shock became anger and defiance. This was a human tragedy, but also see as an attack upon free speech and democratic values. In Paris crowds rallied in a show of resistance. “Je suis Charlie” became the rallying call in Paris and in a show of solidarity in social media across the world. In Paris placards pronounced that We are not afraid.
It was a heartening response, and pitch perfect. Men and women had lost their lives, but rather than be cowed by yet another display of outrageous brutality the everyday man and woman, in the street and in social media, had again and again stood firm by the values we too often take for granted. Rather than running scared and being terrorised, the act instead galvanised the western community into an overt display of the democratic values terrorists such as these seek to subvert.
I was reassured by this, and fully on board with it. It’s true what they say, you can’t let them change the way we live. In the west we tend to be more passive supporters of the system we live in. It’s not in our nature to be demonstrative, as so many who oppose us are. Many of those who oppose our world see that as a weakness, a sign of corruption and decadence. That’s not so, but when they only see in black and white it’s not surprising they miss the shades of grey. Now though the people had spoken, and rejected terror. In my mind at least it seemed a blow to the terrorists cause, and in a sense, mocked it.
Naturally there was much comment after the attack. Charlie Hebdo was a controversial magazine that had lampooned the extremities of Islam (as well as other religions). Some believed they got what they had coming. Others, of course, stood up for their right to free speech. And predictably there were many more who took this as another example of the evils of Islam.
I’m atheist, and have no allegiance to any religion. In general I believe religion is more trouble than it’s worth, and there’s little in recent times to change my mind on that. All the same, I believe in being respectful of other peoples views. That’s one of the things that makes us civilised. There must limits and constraints.
I don’t believe in an unfettered, entirely uncensored society, but I’m pretty liberal. It’s clear that Charlie Hebdo operated in the red zone, and may well have gone out of their way occasionally to provoke. I’m not an expert on them, but what I have seen was pointed, but clever. You don’t need to agree with every point they made, but the sign of a healthy society, a healthy democracy, is that dissenting, and sometimes controversial views are given a voice. It’s probably the single biggest thing that separates democratic from totalitarian societies.
The terrorists belong to an extreme arm of Islam. Many commentators took the opportunity to pronounce that liberals must finally realise that Islam is fundamentally evil. It was almost as if they finally had their excuse to say, see, we told you so. Much was rabid commentary, but there were also cogent pieces I read through, but ultimately was left unconvinced by. People are mistaking their ‘isms’. Islamism per se is not the problem, it’s extremism.
Fucks sake there are millions of Muslims out there saying look, it’s not us. To me it’s lazy and convenient logic to equate the acts of the few to the religion as a whole. If we are to be consistent then Christianity should be judged on the crusades and the Spanish inquisition, not to mention the Holocaust. A sensible person knows that in fact religions become perverted when they have practitioners who go too far, when they convince themselves they have a mission and God on their side, in other words, when a few rabid individuals get it the wrong way around and prey on human nature, and fear, to make it a movement.
This era of Muslim terrorism is exactly that phenomena. A few dumb Muslims with guns in their hands, some silly ideas, and dreams of paradise take it upon themselves to change the world. Sure, it’s a thing, and a serious thing, but it’s more about society and psychology than it is religion. It’s about time we started seeing it that way, because then we can start dealing with it properly. Instead we have dumb-arses like Tony Abbott who can’t speak of these things without saying ‘death cult’. We need to start responding with a bit more intelligence.
I think one of the things that provoked such a response this time was that the targets were cartoonists. Cartoonists, I think, are a typical product of flourishing democracy. They prick and prod. They ridicule and expose. They’re a necessary part of society because they’re our irreverent alter-ego. Those who get too big for their boots are brought down to earth with a few strokes of the pen. Rank hypocrisy is revealed in pithy cartoons in the middle pages. Corruption and greed is depicted by bloated caricatures. It’s no wonder that enemies of democracy and tyrants alike so hate them. They’re the antithesis of everything they uphold, and dangerous to their status – which is why as democracies we felt this attack most personally. This was aimed at what we believe in.
I make mention of this because on the other side of the world, at roughly the same time, a man was arrested in Queensland for wearing a t-shirt saying “I’m with stupid”, and with an arrow pointing to the left. The state election campaign has begun up there, and this man had infiltrated some blue clad LNP campaigners while wearing this t-shirt. I still don’t know what law it broke, but eight Queensland coppers turned up and put him in the back of a paddy wagon just in case.
I’m tempted to say only in Queensland, the most undemocratic of our states. It’s worse than that though, and ironic that on the day we rally to democratic values on one side of the world, in another corner of it we are quietly subverting similar values with barely a murmur.