This is an attack on independent journalism, on the freedom to inform and to comment – the challenge now is to defend the right to offend
Wednesday 7 January 2015
If there is one thing that will never be taken away from Charlie Hebdo, it is its courage. The courage to stand up for freedom of expression in the face of many pressures and dangers. Seeing the images of a Paris street locked down by police, and sirens wailing, in the aftermath of the devastating attack that has targeted the most emblematic French satirical newspaper and killed several of its journalists and cartoonists, the overpowering feeling is that of horror. A media platform has been targeted with the intention of it being destroyed.
They liked pushing the limits of what is generally deemed acceptable in public discourse, they weren’t shy about vulgarity, and could be accused of bad taste. But through their relentless creativity they offered up a mirror to many of France’s woes and traits, with always a generous laugh to be had.
For France as for the outside world, the dreadful violence that has come down on Charlie Hebdo can only be seen as an attack on independent journalism, on the freedom to inform and to comment, whether through writing, drawing or pictures. This has happened not in a far-flung war zone, nor in an autocratic country where liberty of the press is crushed, but indeed in the heart of a European capital.
As I write there has been no public identification of the hooded gunmen who stormed into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire against its team as it met for its weekly meeting – clearly knowing this was the time they could cause the most casualties. But some details are an indication of how the debate will unfold in France, and possibly beyond in the wake of this event.
Because of the courage shown by Charlie Hebdo in producing its many provocative editions, with covers poking fun at religions – in particular, it must be said, at Islam – and because of the many intimidations it had suffered from in the past, what happened on Wednesday can only be seen as an attempt to terrorise, and to silence free thought.