Yesterday was a dark day for the most accessible form of art: the cartoon and for free speech. For yesterday was the day when 3 gunmen broke into the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and murdered various members of staff and later, police officers (one of them Muslim himself). As stated in The New Yorker yesterday the dead are:
” Stéphane Charbonnier, who used the pen name Charb and was the very brave editor of Charlie Hebdo; the cartoonists Jean Cabut (who signed his work Cabu), Bernard Verlhac (Tignous), Georges Wolinski, and Philippe Honoré; Moustapha Ourrad, a copy editor; the columnists Bernard Maris and Elsa Cayat; Frederic Boisseau, described as a building maintenance worker. Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro were police officers. Michel Renaud was visiting the office when he was shot dead. (Vox has a list.) They were assassinated. ” http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/attack-charlie-hebdo?intcid=mod-most-popular
In the afternoon followed a flurry of cartoonists images from around the world, most of them lampooning the perceived pain felt by the extremist gunmen juxtaposing it next to the pain of murder. Many drew (no pun intended) images featuring pencils, and pens, the most basic of artistic tools and the tools of expression. The tools that those who seek to oppress and condemn seek to destroy.
The image is mightier than the sword. The outpouring of grief and support for those journalists and men/women of images that lost their lives for nothing, more vibrant than the mutterings of those who support the executioners. We as artistic practitioners need to rise up against the tyranny of oppression and to show the hypocrisy of this planet we call home.
We cannot, as Mr Thomas would say “…. go gentle into that good night”. What those lunatics, because let’s face it that is what they are, it is unfair to call them “islamisists” as that is a loaded term and carriers with it further connotations of hate and misrepresents what the majority of those of the Muslim faith believe (we don’t call Christian extremists, Christianists). What they fail to understand is that drawing and artistic expression, and outpouring of ideas are as old as humans (and probably pre homo erectus), they were around before religious prophets and idolatry, they are at the centre of what makes us human and that through hatred and murder you cannot silence an idea, you cannot stop something you dislike just by killing some people (some innocent people).
Satire is an essential part of life, without the ability to lampoon world leaders, companies, religions, celebrities, etc we would be soulless. That these people chose to confront us all with the idiocies and hypocrisies of the world should not make them targets for terror, but held up as bastions of free speech and admired more than scantily clad starlets, or millionaire comedians raging about not voting. Yes their work was provocative, yes it was offensive to some and yes it trod a thin line on occasion. But you can choose not to look at an image, you can decide to not be offended. After all offence is fleeting, death is forever. That you are offended or your beliefs are wounded is not the same as physical pain. We are all here for such a short time anyway, does it not make sense to accept that we sometimes have vastly different beliefs and value systems and respect each others right to our opinion. If we truly believe in something then how can we be really, painfully offended by someone who does not share our opinion, surely if you feel anything in this case it should be pity.
Art not hate, pen not sword, tolerance not reaction.
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, Rage, against the dying of the light”
image from Chaire Hebdo http://www.charliehebdo.fr/index.html