I've been listening to various commentaries this morning about the Charlie Hebdo shootings and about the cartoonists themselves. Some are praising them as martyrs while others, based on the nature of their work, aren't so sure. So are they or are they not?
Charlie Hebdo is (was?) a satirical publication that poked fun, even to the point of being vile, at Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists - any religious group or leader being fair game. They also satirized political figures and celebrities. Their cartoons were meant to be offensive, controversial and to draw a reaction. They got one.
Charlie Hebdo itself, and Stephan Charbonnier, a cartoonist and the publisher of the magazine, were both under police protection due to threats leveled by Muslims angry at their publication of satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Police protection failed in this instance and two police officers, who were unarmed, were killed in the attack two days ago. One would think that threats which warranted police protection would also warrant armed police officers. Or maybe that's just me.
Charlie Hebdo has been irritating and agitating people worldwide for 50 years. Nothing is sacred or protected from their satire. Their stated editorial viewpoint is "all components of left wing pluralism, and even abstainers." They knew what they were doing when they published their cartoons. They knew they were offensive. They had been threatened for doing it and had police protection. Yet they continued. Did they doubt the threat or were they standing brave in the face of danger? Only they know now.
So back to the hero question. Are they heroes? They stood for free speech in despite opposition, even threats against them. So in that sense I would say yes, they are heroes. One does not have to agree with something someone says in order to defend and respect their right to say it.
I'm reminded of our own Charlie Hebdo in this country - Bill Mahar. Bill Mahar is a vile liberal who insults every religion of the world, including Islam, calling all religions "stupid and dangerous." I personally think he is a waste of a human life but I don't advocate for him to be killed. Quite the contrary, I defend his right to say what he says because that's what freedom of speech is truly about. I don't like much of what he says but it is his absolute right to say it. As I have said of Bill Mahar on other occasions - "I may not like his stupidity but I will always defend his right to be stupid."
Likewise, I may not agree with everything you say but will defend your right to say it.
"Freedom of speech" in the First Amendment protects speech that may be unpopular or may be offensive to others. In this country and many others, insulting Mohammed, while it may be offensive to Muslims, is not only legal but it is a right. Only Islam makes it illegal. The difference is that while many people worldwide aren't willing to die to maintain free speech, Islam is willing to kill to prevent it. They proved it once again on Wednesday.
I am not a follower of Charlie Hebdo and would guess, from what little I've seen, that I would not be a fan of their cartoons. But in this world in 2014, people and publications should have the right to express themselves without the fear of being killed for it. At the same time, in this world in 2014, if you poke the hornets' nest with a stick you should be fully aware that the hornets may get angry and come after you. It seems they did know that since they had police protection.
So is it possible to be dirtbags on one hand and heroes on the other? In this case I would say yes. When you make your living insulting people and their beliefs that's not heroic in my book. But when you stand up to hatred and threats of violence and ultimately pay for it with your life simply for exercising your God-given rights, for me that elevates you to hero status.
As I said in my post yesterday, it is time to form a world coalition to fight against Islamic terrorism that would limit the rights of people worldwide - even to the point of murdering them. They must be met and overwhelmed with force. Otherwise incidents like the one in Paris are only going to increase.
No one should be killed, particularly en mass, for speaking their minds. In the name of freedom of speech worldwide, today I join with others in saying "Ju suis, Charlie."