by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 15, 2015
THE PEN IS STILL MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Je Suis Charlie (I Am Charlie) has become the new battle cry of freedom of speech, thought and expression in the face of barbarism.
The armed gunmen who burst into the offices of the satirical French weekly paper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 and massacred its staffers, including the editor and several of its cartoonists and a columnist, are nothing more than barbarians who believe in censorship by gunfire.
This happened in France, the birthplace of the Enlightenment and the ideas that have roiled the world for the last four centuries or so. It was a reminder that we are still dealing with people who use religious grounds and the cry of "blasphemy" to silence voices and ideas they don't like.
And the irony of the massacre that left 12 people dead and many more injured is that the terrorists who thought they could bully the world into silence have given the cartoons that they deemed offensive more exposure than ever before.
The sight of the vigils and marches around France and elsewhere standing up for free speech were inspiring to this journalist on this side of the Atlantic. For all of us who push words and images around for a living, Nous Sommes Tous Charlie. We are all Charlie.
As journalists, we deal every day with people trying to shut us up. Bullying and stonewalling are routine, as are legal threats.
Occasionally, some of us get death threats. And sometimes, people act upon those threats.
Journalism is a deadly business, as evidenced by the rising death toll each year kept by Reporters Without Borders. In 2014, they tallied 66 journalists, 11 media assistants, and 19 netizens and citizen journalists killed.
But for all of us in this profession, we take seriously the right to report upon, the right to criticize, and the right to mock the people who push other people around.
We take seriously the right to hold nothing sacred except this right, and take on any person or institution that abuses its power with the most powerful weapons of all - satire, ridicule, and humor.
Like much of the world, I never heard of Charlie Hebdo before the attack. By all accounts, the paper was an equal opportunity offender - fundamentalist Christians and Jews were satirized as vigorously as fundamentalist Islamists - and it didn't pull punches.
The surviving staffers of Charlie Hebdo published this week's issue on schedule. Instead of the normal 60,000-copy press run, they printed 3 million copies to be distributed in 25 countries, and they quickly sold out. Given how our tribe rises to the occasion in times of crisis and tragedy, it would have been a shock if they didn't publish.
But their work, and the work of the people around the world who support them, is just getting started. Now an additional 2 million copies are being printed and also will be distributed worldwide. The terrorists have managed to make the published image of their prophet almost ubiquitous,
Already, we're seeing the backlash from the politically correct who claim that the "Je Suis Charlie" slogan promotes racism and bigotry. Many U.S. media outlets have refused to show the offending cartoons (to their credit, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post did). Others claim that what Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists were engaged in was not free speech, but the abuse of free speech.
Yes, a lot of what Charlie Hebdo published pushed the boundaries of decorum and taste. But no matter how "nuanced" and "principled" one may claim to be, the test of free speech is whether you extend that privilege to the blasphemers and the disturbers of the peace, even if it make you wince or feel uncomfortable.
As someone who believes the principles of our First Amendment are more important than your right not to be offended, I say that if you truly believe in freedom of speech, you can't pick and choose which speech you wish to allow.
That is why I will say, without ambiguity, that I Am Charlie.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.