Helen Razer has an interesting piece here today on why we are not all Charlie, in which she argues quite rightly, that ridiculing terrorists and murderers does absolutely nothing to stop their hideous activities. Jokes, she observes, do not prevent wars, and personally I can find nothing in the least amusing about the actions of murderous ideologues of any persuasion. The recommendation that I laugh at terrorists seems to have its origins in a thousand sentimental Disney movies in which evil doers crumble into dust in the face of hearty laughter from their potential doe-eyed victims. This crackpot notion has always irritated the shit out of me.
Satire, though, has its place and god forbid we should ever be without it, but in and of itself it cannot and does not prevent anything, though it obviously can cause terrible, unthinkable consequences for its purveyors.
If the slaughter of the French cartoonists tells us anything, it is that we are at war with those who would silence us. This war is waged on a continuum. At its extreme, as in Paris yesterday, it robs those who would speak of their lives. No matter how objectionable or unaesthetic their cartoons may have seemed to some people, they did not deserve to die for expressing their opinions.
At another place on the continuum legal threats are employed by those who can afford it, to silence those whose speech is in some way perceived as a threat. Governments use their power to refuse to allow the accurate recording of our history. The voices of Australia’s Indigenous first peoples have been scandalously omitted from the narratives of our country. The voices of women have frequently suffered a similar fate. Silencing is a tool as powerful for the orthodoxy as it is for extremists.
In my experience, if you have a public voice there is always some fucker who wants to shut you up. When they don’t murder you, they threaten you with ruin. There are people in this world who cannot bear to hear,and cannot bear to listen, and cannot bear to sit across a table from you and sort it out. These people are cowards and liars, and sometimes they are literally murderers.
In this sense, Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes tous Charlie, or potentially Charlie.
“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” said Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, quoting the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. He did die standing. Whether you admired their work or not, Charbonnier and his colleagues died standing and this matters, this counts, this is why they must be honoured, and this is why we are all Charlie, because any one of us at any time could find ourselves at risk for speaking our truth, and sometimes, some of us who refuse to live on our knees will, one way or another, die for it.