Charlie is the wor(l)d

JE SUIS CHARLIE.

Just as after 9/11, when civilized people around the globe proclaimed they are all American, today we proclaim we are all French.

Because what happened last week was an attack on the most fundamental of principles embraced by every democracy on earth.

The world stands united against the scourge of barbarism and terrorism that seeks to silence values democracies hold most sacred: freedom of speech and a free press.

Democracy without freedom of speech and a free press cannot be.

Je Suis Charlie.

The murderous rampage in Paris has shown that the vile intolerance that defines radical Islamic fundamentalism goes well beyond ridding the world of Israel and so-called American imperialism.

This is not a war against Americans or Jews; this is a war waged against democracy. This is a war against the basic needs every human longs for and deserves — freedom to worship peacefully as one pleases, to speak freely, to gather together in nonviolent assembly, to be granted equal rights and equal opportunity, to live free from the chains of oppression under an open, secular government.

Je Suis Charlie.

The Paris massacres (both of them) have mobilized millions around the world who stand unafraid in the face of such cold-blooded atrocity. Instead of scaring people, the killers have created strength and unity of purpose and fortified resistance to such evil.

Those who, in the name of religion, slaughtered innocent journalists and cartoonists (cartoonists!) will pay a heavy price for their intolerance. They have changed world opinion and united nations, peoples and ideals. We fight as one now, against this malignant extremist ideology.

This must be a seismic shift, a tipping point when outrage over religious fanaticism at last becomes personal.

These are global issues with massive implications for the world’s democracies. And yet, these universal principles filter down to every corner of the world — including ours.

Although it is hubris to suggest that community newspapers have the same influence as national magazines, the ramifications are chilling nonetheless.

What happens to us if people are not permitted to speak out at community planning board or school board meetings? What happens to the person who braves the authorities and asks how public money is being spent? What happens if someone is not allowed to question school district policies, voting regulations or local ordinances?

What happens to all of us if each person must think carefully about whether they are willing to subject themselves to punishment should their words at a public meeting or in a letter to the editor cause them personal harm?

Our democratic values mean nothing if journalists are not permitted to cover the news, hold governments accountable, and probe into laws, policies and trends that may offend the powerful.

If fear of retribution for exercising our right to free speech becomes real, the Paris horror touches each of us deeply. That’s why so many have awakened to the threat before us.

I have wished many times that my editor (bless her heart) would have censored critics of mine over the years who submitted letters to this newspaper with outrageous accusations against me, for expressing opinions they objected to.

But if I start down that road, where does it lead? If I have the right to express my opinions freely, aren’t others also allowed that right?

Je Suis Charlie.

Charlie Brown

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo took its name from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip character “Charlie Brown.” The goal was to poke fun, to laugh at extremists, to mock repressive ideologies.

Today, Lucy would hold that football steady for Charlie Brown and he would kick it a mile.

Instead of destroying Charlie Hebdo, the terrorists made it stronger. They may have killed people, but they can never kill righteous ideals.

After the carnage at Charlie Hebdo, the murderers reportedly yelled, “The prophet is avenged.”

So the Muslim prophet cannot tolerate cartoon drawings, but mass murder is OK?

Sidetracking a bit here, the mainstream media could be more judicious in the terminology they use to report these stories.

So often “the Prophet Muhammad” is written without quotes. Is it not more objective to say “Islam’s prophet, Muhammad”? Or “the Muslim prophet, Muhammad”?

When a reporter on network television said that Al Qaeda had “taken credit” for the massacre, it was a poor choice of words.

Taken credit? How about “taken the blame”? Or at least “taken responsibility.”

Being politically correct can sometimes go too far.

Voltaire

The 18th-century French Enlightenment philosopher and writer Voltaire is remembered for his satire, wit and fierce advocacy of freedom of expression and separation of church and state.

Voltaire was famously, and somewhat inaccurately, credited (in this case, “credit” is the appropriate word) with saying, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Although it’s now accepted that the sentence was written by Voltaire’s biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, she said at the time that it exemplified Voltaire’s strongest beliefs.

Je Suis Charlie.

After the murders at Charlie Hebdo, a number of prominent writers issued a statement, according to TIME online, which read in part, “We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.”

Je Suis Charlie — the rallying cry of all individuals across the globe who denounce religious fanaticism, declare they are not afraid, and pronounce their determination to stand up and defend humanity’s basic right to freedom of speech and self-expression.

For what are we without that?

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. We are all French today.

Je Suis Charlie.

Are you?

Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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