I’m not really Charlie, nor am I Ahmed, the murdered Muslim gendarme. I paint flowers and teapots, write about granddaughters and good books. I don’t offend, but I could. I’m among the privileged few in this world who take freedom of expression completely for granted.
The brave journalists at Charlie Hebdo died for exercising their right to picture rudely a pope or a president or Muhammad, for presenting outrageous depictions of power, for pointing out the emperor has no clothes.
After the Charlie Hebdo offices were firebombed three years ago, the editor known as Charb said that he couldn’t imagine a world where it wasn’t OK to laugh at dogma and authority, that he respected the laws of France, not religious laws. French law, like our law, protects free speech, a right defended many times over.
Now he is dead. This photo posted on Instagram by the cartoonist Wolinski’s daughter undid me. I know that drawing board and those bookshelves and the jar of pens – the forlorn chair waiting for Wolinski to come back to work.
I think about intolerance closer to home. I know how infuriated I felt when confronted by the hirelings who stood in front of the post office presenting pictures of President Obama with a Hitler moustache. I told one of them he should be ashamed of himself. He laughed and told me to have a good day. He could make the poster, and I could say my piece. Both safe.
In England we saw “Charles III” – a satire about what might happen when Prince Charles becomes the King of England. It was very funny and irreverent, and performed not far from Buckingham Palace without threat or danger from royal guards or royalists. “The Book of Mormon” is even more outrageous and insulting – and funny – and plays on Broadway and the West End.
A YouTube exists of people yelling at John McCain and calling him a traitor. John McCain and I would probably agree on little – but calling him a traitor? The heckler can speak.
Freedom of speech isn’t pretty. A much more conservative friend than I once made an amazing statement referring to the problem she perceived of “civil rights rearing their ugly heads.”
Ah yes, the inconveniently ugly heads of freedoms. Freedoms that allow things we don’t like – protestors outside abortion clinics with scary tactics, offensive New Yorker covers, or lord knows, political cartoons from the other side. But believing in freedom of expression, we just sigh and groan and allow.
In these days after the murders, I watch people express their belief in the freedom to create – they attend vigils, leave pens and flowers, and post to #jesuischarlie on Instagram and Twitter. I plant hearts on posts of strangers who are illustrators and artists. I’m with you, I try to say with my “likes.”
I’m full of sorrow and admiration for those who died, those who tried to protect them, and for those who will continue to make funny, rude pictures and write confrontational words. Because they can, and because it’s right.