There can be no justification for what happened on the morning of 7 January in Paris. Killing people who you claim have offended you has never been and never will be acceptable.
One could argue that the eight journalists who were killed were victims of a fight – comparing the might of pens and swords suggests a fight. But four other people, innocent people as far as the ongoing fight was concerned, were also killed.
Is it correct to say that the journalists were in a fight? A close look at what they did strongly suggests that they were.
The cartoons depicting Mohammad would be regarded by most people as disgusting, even without any religious connection. Are they funny? No. Are they satirical? No. And Charlie Hebdo didn’t publish just one. They published many over a period of eight years.
Since 7 January there have been a multitude of comments about protection of ‘freedom of the press’. How many people making these comments have taken the trouble to look at the cartoons? Would they be happy with replacing the head of Mohammad with Jesus Christ or their own spiritual leader? Freedom of the press is a principal that most people would agree with, in principle. But there are already restrictions on what can be said and printed. In the USA (and I suspect in France also) defamation of character (libel), obscenity, and inciting violence are not allowed – could the Charlie Hebdo cartoons be classified under any or all of these categories?
With freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility to show respect, especially to other people’s feelings and sensitivities, and even more especially to religious sensitivities – this is the reason given by most of the world’s press for not publishing the cartoons. “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire” as the French foreign minister told the editor of Charlie Hebdo after the magazine published cartoons of Mohammad in 2011.
Journalism should inform, entertain, change opinions. What was Charlie Hebdo trying to do by repeating these cartoons? It was unintelligent to do so. If they wanted to castigate Islam, which they are perfectly entitled to do, they should have used their skills as journalists with words, not printed crude cartoons. If they had done this they would still be alive: it was the cartoons that Muslims found deeply offensive (as would the vast majority of non-Muslims).
So, it seems to me that the journalists of Charlie Hebdo were intent on ‘fighting’ Islam. Sadly they died for their cause, and again I stress that the killings cannot ever be justified. They should not be held up as martyrs for freedom of the press. Their selfish actions caused the deaths of innocent people, and that is unforgivable.
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