Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

Most of us here in the U.S. were shocked and outraged that 12 people who worked at a magazine of satire and cartoons would be the targets of a brutal and deadly assault. It’s an act that seemed vicious, detestable and completely absurd. But to many in Paris who knew Charlie Hebdo and its downright ballsy editorial stance concerning Muslim intolerance of Mohammedan cartoons, this mass murder was no surprise. Stunning, yes. A surprise, no.

Here's a metaphor that we western Americans may more easily understand. Let's say you arrive at a bar on a Friday night, and parked in front is a Harley belonging to a member of the Hell's Angels. As one familiar with this motorcycle club, you know one thing right away—you're not going to mess with that bike in any way, not no-how. Why? Because you know if you do, the owner might very well commence to put a stompin' on you.

The men who were murdered in the offices of Charlie Hebdo made a habit out of pouring beer on Harleys, the Harleys owned by radical Islamists. They regularly ridiculed Mohammed in cartoons to the point where it appeared as though they were actively daring some Muslim somewhere to do something about it. I'm sure more than a few Parisians wondered if Charlie had some kind of death wish. The editor of the magazine, the cartoonist Charb, taunted Muslims about this very topic in his last drawing, the one showing an Al Qaida-type, complete with AK-47, with the caption Still No Attacks in France, and the Jihadist saying, “We have until the end of January to present our wishes.” The prescience of that remark is obviously quite spooky.

We can applaud the courage of those late cartoonists and their willingness to taunt those whom they considered ridiculous in their fundamental intolerance. But in the end, what was achieved by that proud bravery? What was really accomplished?

Well, we were reminded that there are a number of Islamists who take their religion and its prophet very seriously indeed. And that one ridicules that prophet at one's own peril. We who love our freedom of expression might find such a situation horrible and hateful, sure, but that won't change the fact that it exists. It won't change the reality of which editors and publishers have once again been dramatically reminded. As Jim Croce once sang, “You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit in the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with—.”

Charb once said, “It may be a bit pompous for me to say this, but I prefer dying on my feet to living on my knees.” Yes, of course. Right on. Sounds good. But in hindsight, would refraining from snarky Mohammedan cartoons truly constitute living on one's knees?