“Today’s effort to silence criticism by murdering the artists and writers who voice it must be met with a far wider movement to defend the right to dissent, which forms the spine of free expression.”
PEN American Center
“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”
It was with a very heavy heart that I tried to explain to my middle son what happened in France at Charlie Hebdo. He doesn’t live with me and his other family keeps him very sheltered from what is going on in the world.
I told him some extremists wanted to silence the voices of writers who disagreed with what they believed in. He didn’t know what an extremist was, so I asked him to Google it. He couldn’t because his computer was off and it takes his old machine about 10 minutes to boot up.
I read the definition to him.
“Oh, it sounds like we are going to have another war again,” he said. “I haven’t known a time when we weren’t at war.”
“I know. That’s why I want you to know about these things. Maybe you can help make a difference in the way people treat each other by knowing about this.”
As we started to have a conversation about it, his mother came into the room and shut down the conversation. She wanted him to rest. All of us are sick with flu but I think she was more concerned that I was teaching him what was happening. I stopped talking about it and let him get some rest.
But we can’t rest from defending the right to satire and dissent. All ideas must be open to be debated and expressed or only those ideas with the biggest weapons behind them will get heard.
If I draw an unflattering caricature of someone you respect, how does killing me honor that person? The caricature is a reflection of what I see and feel about that person, not what that person actually is. (I’ve always hated those caricature artists at fairs. They always draw everyone with giant heads and twisty bodies. It freaked me out. But it did make me realize that not everyone sees me as I see me. An important lesson to learn.)
No matter how hard you try, you can’t kill all of the feelings that people might feel that might be different from yours. That is inhuman.
I’m no psychologist, but I think killing like this comes from a fear that what the person who is targeted is saying is a truth buried deeply in the psyche of the person doing the killing.
They could be unconsciously thinking, “If I kill this outside source of these thoughts I shouldn’t be having, I won’t have to have them again.”
That’s why it’s so important to protect the rights of people to express themselves. When writers and artists and performers engage in satire it makes most of us poke at our own thoughts and say, “I never thought about it that way before.”
We can laugh at our own thinking or we can decide the artist is wrong, but only a person who lives in fear that their way of thinking might actually be questionable and cannot live with that uncertainty decides they have to kill the artist to silence those questions.
What I write and say is my opinion and as a human being I have the right to say it. The problem is that that right has never been “free” and many people often have to pay, in one way or another, to have their voices heard. The people in Paris paid with their lives.
I stand with Charlie Hebdo and agree with Mr. Rushdie that we must defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.
Our stories must be told and should never be silenced with weapons or frightened out of existence. If you don’t like my story, tell yours better, don’t just shoot me to make me stop talking.