I spent most of the month wrestling with this issue. I’ve been shocked and moved by atrocities before, of course, but this hit hard because I felt included. That’s why people say “Je suis Charlie” because the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on all of us who believe in the right of free speech or self-expression. This despicable, cowardly, sickening act by a twisted, unrepresentative few who feel threatened by debate, who, through desperation and inadequacy, cannot countenance difference, cannot tolerate dissent, was met by a dignified but defiant response from the French, people of all walks of life, young and old. Freedom of speech, of self-expression, is a vital right. If we are less than unequivocal about this, there will be a slide towards an obsequious tiptoeing around for fear of treading on toes or, worse, reprisals. Terrorism will have had some success. You can be respectful without compromising your truth. I’ve been shocked by some articles by seemingly intelligent writers who felt the need to announce that, no, in fact they were indeed NOT Charlie because one ought not to be rudely offensive about the ways and views of others. I’ve heard people say Charlie Hebdo wasn’t justified because they weren’t funny! That is not the point. It doesn’t matter how unfunny, puerile or offensive they were. The fact is they had the right to express an idea without fear of anything more than counter argument, argument as derisive, scathing and vitriolic as you like but counter argument, the life-blood of a healthy society open to new and evolving ideas… not a death sentence.
So I’ve wrestled, not because I’m unsure but because I never wanted to use music or art to preach. I like the song, the words probably do a better job than this rant. It just came out, as all songs do, as a response to life and the world at the time, not forced into being as part of some personal or political agenda or to jump on a bandwagon. This one is too important for that.
Polly Toynbee: “Yes, free speech has always had its limits – but verbal provocation is never an excuse for violence.”
On Charlie Hebdo, Pope Francis is using the wife-beater’s defence.
Look after each other.