I had my blog all written and posted by Tuesday, and then, on Wednesday, the Charlie Hebdo attacks happened, and I knew I had to write about it.
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine in a country well known for its biting satire. No subject is untouchable – and that’s how it should be. Magazines and newspapers and books, all writing, should be free to question and reveal and talk about anything.
People say what they said was offensive. Well, there’s a newspaper here that publishes a lot that I think is offensive. My answer is not to kill them, but to write a rebuttal. Words should be answered with words, not bullets.
Free speech means free thought, which we all need if we are not to stagnate.
I recently went to St Bride’s church, the journalist’s church in Fleet Street. There is a memorial there to journalists killed whilst doing their job. It’s constantly being added to. I hadn’t realised how many journalists had been killed this year, some deliberately, to try and shut them up.
If the gunmen hoped to shut up Charlie Hebdo, they failed miserably. The cartoons have been republished all over the world this morning. There have been vigils all over, including in Trafalgar Square. The vigils were calm, and sad. There has been nothing violent about the response, just a still, fixed determination that writers and cartoonists will not be silenced. The people attending held up pens and notepads and signs saying ‘Je Suis Charlie’. It wasn’t a violent response. They were making the point that words are stronger than guns, in the end.
The cartoonists responded immediately. Cartoons expressing sorrow, determination, defiance, and yes, humour too, appeared everywhere. Charlie Hebdo used to run Charlie Brown cartoons, and there was a touching picture of Charlie Brown crying. Most of the cartoons showed pencils against guns. No-one was silenced, quite the opposite.
I believe it was Voltaire, master of French satire, who said ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.
Writing should be free. It should not be banned. It should not be afraid. It should be prepared to defend itself, but only against other writers. Words should not be met with bullets.