We are all Charlie
There was a spell when I was in high school that I was into dystopian fiction – “1984,” “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and the like.
During this phase, my father convinced my I should read Voltaire’s “Candide.” Now, this is not a story of some bleak, post-apocalyptic society, but it does take a jab at optimism.
It is the tale of a young, sheltered and naive Candide who believes this is the best of all possible worlds. Through his travels, he encounters war, natural disasters and events that show man’s inhumanity. All the while, he maintains his warm, fuzzy, unicorn and rainbow outlook.
I bring this up for two reasons.
First, it was written by a Frenchman, François-Marie Arouet who wrote under the nom de plume Voltaire.
Second, it is satire.
These are both relevant in light of the horrific attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris Wednesday. The assault, perpetrated by two brothers that are some whacked out religious extremists, left two police officers and 10 cartoonists dead.
We may never really know why these gunmen burst into that office and started spraying bullets. Ostensively, it was done in retaliation for cartoons that mocked Islam.
This is nothing new.
Back in his day, Voltaire used his wit to mock the 18th Century Catholic establishment while advocating for freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the separation of church and state. He was an outspoken proponent of these rights, despite the risk this placed him in under the strict censorship laws of the time.
He was well ahead of his time. Good friends of Benjamin Franklin, perhaps some of his views on civil liberties helped plant those same seeds in fledgling America.
Voltaire was not killed in a hail of gunfire, but died of natural causes in 1778. He was, however, denied in death a Christian burial because of his attacks on the church.
So, you see, satire and, by extension the newspaper Charlie, are more than passing fancies for the French. They are a deeply root part of their culture, a part that they exported to the United States and the rest of the free world.
France doesn’t have a First Amendment-like document to enshrine their beliefs, just this long-standing tradition.
For God’s sake, these were cartoonists – not the Charles Schutlz or Bill Keene sort of cartoonists, but cartoonists none the less. If one is so insecure in their faith that they feel threatened by hand-drawn caricatures, then in whomever or whatever they believe must not be all that strong.
What these murderers did was attempt to crush free speech and free expression by stabbing at it heart. They woefully missed the mark.
The rampage only emboldened cartoonists, satirists and journalists around the world. All have shown unity behind those at Charlie.
In fact, so has all of France. There are chants of “we are Charlie” reverberating in cities across the country.
Sadly, those who track attacks on writers and journalists around the globe tell us that such assaults are on the rise. There is a growing, concerted effort in many regions of the world to quell the voices of decent.
We only have to look back a few weeks to the hacking of Sony done purportedly by the North Koreans to block the film “The Interview,” a satire about two Americans out to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
At first, Sony chickened out, backed down and pulled the movie. Then, following an uproar against this decision, they recanted and released it.
Again, this motion picture was only comedy, not a call for war.
Heck, in some forgotten corner of some desert, this very column may make me a target. Oh well.
So, in essence, we all are Charlie. We all have a stake in maintaining a free and open discourse on politics and religion.
Is “The Interview” in poor taste? Maybe. Are some of the cartoons and articles published in Charlie offensive? Probably.
Sometimes it takes pushing the limits to make a point.
Perhaps Voltaire himself summed it up best: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
As witnessed by the groundswell of support for Charlie and the ideals it championed, there is hope that the forces of evil will be out shouted.
Is this overly optimistic? Perhaps. Just call me Candide.
Dale Hogg is the managing editor of the Great Bend Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.