Je suis Charlie.
I am Charlie. Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine. I was attacked twice over the years by religious extremists for exercising my freedom of expression. A freedom that truly reflects the unique and indominable human spirit while ensuring all opinions are held valid and no ideas are censored. A freedom that gives a voice to citizens, opposers of tyranny and defenders of liberty. A freedom that must never be taken away and should always be carefully guarded.
Today I was attacked and more than ten of my employees were murdered along with a police officer who was executed in the streets. All because of a joke. But not just any joke, a joke about a particular religious prophet. A prophet people are currently killing others in the name of, which is a pattern we’ve seen repeated too many times throughout history.
I could have not made this joke and maybe the tragedy would have been avoided. But at what cost? To allow a group of people to command me into silence with the threat of physical violence? To be forced to conform to others’ subscribed beliefs and dogmas rather than my own? To give in to bully behavior and make this religious prophet the one thing I can’t joke about? Laughter is the greatest medicine and helps people unite in harmony. Laughter helps us take ourselves and life a little less seriously, it eases tensions, it reduces fears, it humbles us, it elevates us above our problems, it strips power from people and things so we are all equal and empowered, it makes boring topics easier to understand, it turns strangers into friends, it makes illuminating truths easier to swallow and it makes us feel good.
Most people are offended by something but making those subjects taboo to joke or talk about only keeps them offensive and leads to the banning of other subjects–in other words, censorship of expression. If you can’t laugh about it, you can’t heal or get over it and it will always have power over you. Either everything is okay to joke about or nothing is okay to joke about. This is how we maintain balance and remind ourselves that we are in fact human, we make mistakes, we don’t know half as much as we think we know, we think and do stupid things sometimes, we have transcendable fears, we have painful experiences that need healing and we like to be playful with each other. It also helps make difficult topics easier to talk about, which promotes responsible discussion and social change.
My jokes made extremists the subject of ridicule to empower free citizens everywhere and demonstrated why ideologies shouldn’t be followed blindly. Yes, many consider religion a sacred topic but just as many people consider it a fallible human creation…while we all have different beliefs and perspectives we all also like to laugh and have different senses of humor. Denying people the freedom to express their senses of humor denies them expression of themselves and their personalities–what makes them unique and authentic. If we don’t find something funny then we don’t laugh at it and we either move on or explain our position to seek understanding…rather than demand the censorship of that joke and shoot those who make it. This is how free society operates.
Today’s attack was a test of our collective will to defend our freedoms and stand up to those intent on taking them away. The pen is mightier than the sword and as humans we should seek to understand each other and discuss our issues peacefully rather than force each other into doing things our way and using violence or coercion as an incentive.
My thoughts are with the lives lost today along with all those who died due to violent extremists. I hope the victims’ families find peace and closure and that all who are affected by these individuals find shelter and sanctuary.
We are in the midst of volatile and trying times but don’t lose sight of peace and prosperity. Together we can make a difference for a better tomorrow, when we can all take a joke in stride and respect each other’s right to self-expression and critical inquiry through humor.
I am Charlie. You are Charlie. We are all Charlie. This was an attack on all of us and our freedoms by a group bent on domination and control. They don’t represent all Muslims but they do represent all people who let their beliefs run wild and use them to oppress other humans and disrespect the sanctity of our condition. Poking fun at people’s beliefs may not be the most classy move but we are allowed to think they are ridiculous or degrading and have the right to say so. Especially when the beliefs have led to thousands of years of bloodshed, disparagement of women, beheaded soldiers and journalists, citizens murdered in their homes, children shot by snipers or orphaned and seeking refuge in another country, terror attacks in Boston and New York, legitimizing torture to find terrorist leaders, several nations in shambles and the apparent need for increased government surveillance that invades privacy. All this because of a few beliefs. We can poke fun at them to make the monster easier to deal with or we can say nothing yet act sovereign and free. I choose the former. Because I am Charlie.