Je Suis Charlieon January 13, 2015 at 11:01 am
It seems like every other week, we’re reading about another terrorist bombing. But I’ve gotta say this most recent one really hit home for me. For those who don’t know, last Tuesday, the offices of the humor publication Charlie Hebdo were attacked by three gunmen. They killed 12 people, including several cartoonists, and wounded 11 more, in retaliation for blasphemous comics that were being printed there. I know a lot of my readers here are cartoonists or publishers themselves or have close friends in the industry. I’ve never visited the Charlie Hebdo offices myself but a lot of us have walked into newspaper or comic book offices to drop off work, meet with editors or just have lunch with a friend. This is the world we live in. This most recent news story is just as bad as a lot of the terrorist massacres we read about but this one just seems so much more personal.
I was going to tweet “Je suis Charlie” the other day as a show of solidarity. But everything I’ve read about this magazine really puts into sharp relief the ways in which I am not Charlie. I like to do a lot of bragging in this blog about how depraved Demon is, and how brave I am for sticking to my guns and self publishing rather than change one panel. But the truth is, the folks at Charlie Hebdo were a completely different breed of cartoonist. It wasn’t just fringe radicals that were trying to shut them down. At one point the French government actually stepped in and told them that they needed to obey the terrorists and stop printing their comics. And they weren’t just dealing with threats either. They dealt with actual attacks. In 2011, their offices were bombed due to a blasphemous cartoon they had printed. Instead of fleeing for their lives like normal people, the next week, they doubled doubled down and printed up a special issue with a cartoon on the cover featuring Charlie Hebdo making out with Mohammad and a caption that read “Make Love, Not War”.
Not exactly a knee slapper in my opinion. Maybe something was lost in the translation. But what the hell!? These guys are on another level. I’m not Charlie. I wouldn’t ever draw a cartoon of Mohammad and it’s not because I have a deep respect for all the religions of the world. I’m not Charlie because I’m freakin’ scaredy cat. I don’t know if there was some dude in Paris who heard the gunshots, peed in his pants and started running for his life? If so, je suis that guy.
Another guy I’m not is Ahmed Merabet. I was reading that when this dude heard the gunfire, he actually ran towards the massacre to help. Ahmed Merabet was one of the two policemen who was shot and killed, a french Muslim man who literally died defending cartoonists right to satirize his religion. This dude has been conspicuously absent from a lot of the media coverage, I’m guessing because he doesn’t fit cleanly into the standard West vs. Islam narrative that people are making this to be about. For me, it’s hard for me to think of a human who so embodies Voltaire’s famous quote, “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Although often quoted, few actually put this into practice, not even Voltaire himself who probably died from syphilis or something.
It’s an inspiring standard of free speech so freakin’ high in the stratosphere, it’s almost incomprehensible to me. But in the end, I do believe that freedom of speech means freedom of all speech, not just the speech I like. We don’t get to pick and choose our first amendment test cases so of course it’s going to be end up being something weird like Larry Flynt and not something mainstream like Prairie Home Companion. But I’m happy to live in a world where they can both exist side by side in the marketplace of ideas even though one’s a nauseating stain on humanity and the other is Hustler. So when I hear criticisms that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were tasteless and not funny, it just seems like a bit of a non sequitur. Also if you’re that much against stupid tasteless cartoons that aren’t funny, where were you when Family Guy got renewed for a 20th season!? Spray tans offend my aesthetic sensibility, but if the entire cast of Jersey shore was killed by a tragic bridge collapse I’d have to be kind’ve a douche bag to shout, “That’s really sad folks but it’s also wrong to get spray tanned.”
Ultimately though, I can’t even get too worked up over this issue. I’d want the freedom to criticize Charlie Hebdo defended as well. My overwhelming emotion this week has been sadness. It’s hard enough trying to make it in this world as a cartoonist without the fear that what we draw could get us killed. But seeing the reaction, the marches and the support from cartoonists and non-cartoonists alike has also made me hopeful. I like to imagine a day in the future when my son, Kazuo tells his granddaughter about this attack and she just looks at him incredulously and, after asking what a comic is, just sits dumbfounded, imagining how completely the world has transformed within her grandfather’s lifetime.