The victims of Wednesday’s attack are casualties of two wars, both undeclared. They are yet more innocent victims of Jihad, of the war being waged by Radical Muslims against civilization around the world, be it in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, or even in such domesticated and familiar places as Fort Hood, Texas or Ottawa, Canada. Civilization takes different forms; there is European civilization, there is Russian civilization, there is Chinese and Japanese and Korean civilization, Brazilian, Chilean, Indian, American, and yes even Islamic civilization. We all have different cultures, different customs, and different ways of living, but what unites us all under the banner of “the civilized peoples” is a belief in the supremacy of words and ideas over violence. We are civilized (among other reasons) because we sort out our differences peacefully, through debate, through satire, yes, even through distasteful mockery, and we do this without resorting to violence.
So when I heard the news that a satirical French magazine was attacked in Paris and a number of its writers were killed as a response to their “defamation” of the Prophet Mohammad, I was of course saddened by the loss of life. But I was also angered. I was angered because this was an attack against the very concept of free speech. It was in a way, an attack at the very heart of our civilization, an assault on our values, the value that words and ideas are superior to violence. It was one, (hopefully) small group of people using violence to enforce their values on the rest of us. They are the barbarians.
Against us, against civilization are the barbarians, and there can be no other word for these people. They are the people who believe that violence and cold blooded murder are an acceptable response to cartoons. Indeed, it is not just one of several acceptable responses, the barbarians who attacked Charlie Hebdo believe it is the only acceptable response, the required response. They seek to undermine our civilization and supplant it with something harking back to the Middle Ages, and they are quite willing to use violence to achieve this end. They do not tolerate dissent, they do not tolerate diversity, they do not tolerate. About the only thing they might tolerate is democracy, and that only until democracy enables them to seize power, at which point democracy will end. They are a gang of murderous barbarians, and they are on the march. The 12 who died on Wednesday are victims of this war against civilization, but I guarantee they will not be the last.
The Jihadists are quite open about the fact that they have declared war against us. Ask any of them, look up their countless propaganda videos; indeed, witness the be-headings of two journalists last year, an act explicitly meant as a message to “the west”. Sadly, this war is one which our leaders, so called, are not only not willing to fight, it is a war they are increasingly trying to pretend does not exist, to our detriment. Many of our leaders and the elites in our society want to discourage us from saying things like what I am saying now. They want to pretend that this latest attack in Paris and the dozens of other incidents like it in years past (be it the Mumbai Rampage, the London Underground Bombings, the Times Square Bombing, the Fort Hood Shooting, or the Ottawa Shooting just a few months ago, and even so brazen an act as 9/11) are just the product of a few, lone crazy people, misguided and misinterpreting the tenets of a peaceful religion; they want to pretend that this is anything but an ideological movement and one which is expanding. Too many people in our society denounce anyone who speaks as I do as “Islamophobic”—yet they never acknowledge that perhaps Jihadist Islam is something worth fearing, and it certainly would not be an irrational fear (the definition of a “phobia”). This is a war which will take decades, if not centuries, to play out, but no matter what happens, it is a war we must acknowledge if we are to have any chance of winning it.
The 12 people who died at Charlie Hebdo are just another 12 names to be added to the list of thousands who have already died—the vast majority of whom are Muslims, by the way—and while their deaths seem like a senseless tragedy stemming from senseless violence, their deaths need not be in vain.
It is a sad business to make martyrs out of anyone, and I’m sure the 12 victims from Charlie Hebdo would gladly echo Winston Churchill’s words that while prepared for martyrdom, they prefer it be postponed—that is, if they were with us here today. The sad truth of the matter is that they are already dead and there is nothing which can bring them back. We have now only their memory and the example of the life they led. If we wish to preserve their memory and ensure their deaths were not in vain, we would do well to follow their example.
Terrorists seek to terrorize; they seek to subjugate us through terror. Charlie Hebdo was not terrified. Their office was bombed in 2011; not only did they continue operating, they doubled down and released this cartoon, mocking the people who tried to kill them. Their bravery, their refusal to be cowed into submission is exactly why the terrorists believed they had to be killed. If we allow ourselves to be terrorized by this act, the terrorists have won, because it shows that terrorism works. If we allow this atrocity to terrorize us, the terrorists will have won because they killed everyone who was willing to be brave and take a stand against Jihadism. The only appropriate response is to do as Charlie Hebdo did: ignore the terrorists, be fearless in mocking them and their beliefs, and carry on life as normally as we can.
I said at the beginning of this that those who died at Charlie Hebdo were victims of two wars. I have spoken at length about the war of Jihadism against Civilization, but what is the other war? It is a war against freedom, and sadly it is one being waged not just by Jihadists but also by our own people. The 12 people who were killed on Wednesday died for freedom. They took full advantage of their Freedom of Speech—a right which has taken hundreds of years of struggle and hundreds of thousands if not millions of deaths to reach the point of being considered a basic right and a core value of our civilization—and they paid for it with their lives.
A few hundred years ago there was another French writer and satirist, one who courted controversy and pushed freedom of speech to the limit much like those who worked for Charlie Hebdo. His name was François-Marie Arouet. We remember him today by his nom-de-plume: Voltaire. And it was Voltaire who said “While I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Those are words we should all live by. The people who wrote for Charlie Hebdo lived by them, and sadly they were made to put the principle into practice. They died defending their right to be free to say what they wanted. And we owe it to their memory to continue defending the right of everyone to say what they like, no matter how disagreeable or repugnant. Indeed, even the very barbarians who are waging war against freedom of speech are entitled to use and abuse that freedom. They believe that the Prophet Mohammad should never be depicted. They are free to believe that, but now they are forcing us to abide by it as well (or trying to at least) through violence, and that is something which we should not tolerate. Yet too many of us are willing to accept this.
We should not be surprised that the barbarians are attacking free speech. The barbarians of our day, like so many tyrants and thugs that have come before them, correctly realize how dangerous free speech is to their cause. If we are free to speak against them, to mock their actions, to deride their beliefs, to disagree with everything they stand for, then we are free to resist them and their efforts to erode free speech, democracy, freedom of religion, social tolerance, and freedom of association. A system of beliefs which requires violence to be maintained and relies on violence to spread itself cannot withstand the kind of scrutiny it would be shown under the freedom we enjoy. In our civilization, we have a market place of ideas; the good ones prevail, the rest die off. The Jihadists want to stamp out freedom of speech both out of a dogmatic hatred for any speech with which they disagree but also as a pragmatic means of achieving domination. Freedom of speech cannot coexist with their religious fanaticism, so it should not surprise us that they do not tolerate our exercise of that right. No, we should be surprised that so many of our own people, including so many of our rulers, are so quick to agree with the barbarians.
I should not have to explain why freedom of speech is an important right; I shouldn’t have to extoll its value. Unfortunately, too many people in our society, and far too many of our rulers (that is to say, any of them) are still stuck in the outmoded idea that some censorship is necessary, that speech can somehow be “too free” and that the state must be an arbiter of what speech is “acceptable”. Free speech might be an enshrined right in much of Europe and elsewhere, but almost everywhere it comes with the caveat that speech is only “free” if it is approved by those in power. Currently, the ruling elite in most of Europe believe that anything they define as “hate speech” is unacceptable. For now “hate speech” is largely defined as anything Neo-Nazis say, but it is increasingly being used as a club to silence those who speak out against Islam. And who is to guarantee that while today these laws are only applied to neo-Nazis, they won’t tomorrow be applied to UKIP members, and then newspaper columnists and online bloggers, and finally all of us? First they came for the neo-Nazis…
I hate to use a slippery slope argument (some would say ‘fallacy’) but the reason why free speech is so important (and why it’s so important to defend even the worst of speech) is precisely because if we wait until ‘they’ are censoring ordinary speech or common dissent, it’s too late. By the time they come for you, there won’t be anyone left to speak out. Everyone, be they Radical Muslim preachers or neo-Nazis, should be free to say what they like, just as we are free to condemn and refute what they say.
I do not want this to be an extended screed on the value of Free Speech and why it is not only worth fighting for but also worth dying for. As I said, I shouldn’t have to explain why. But I think it is necessary to shout from the rooftops that any form of state directed censorship, no matter how slight and no matter its stated intent, is a threat to the entire concept of freedom of speech and to all of our freedoms (for how can we have any freedom if we cannot advocate for freedom?).
The 12 who died in the offices of Charlie Hebdo were killed by a gang of barbarians who could not tolerate how they used their right to free speech. If now we continue down the road of censorship by passing more laws censoring speech and enforcing them ever more strictly, we are in agreement with the Jihadists! In fact, we’ll be aiding them! The laws we pass on ourselves will silence far more people than the Jihadists ever will. They are trying to placate the Jihadists by punishing on their behalf those who disrespect the Prophet. The people in our governments who want to pass more laws undermining freedom of speech are our modern equivalents of Neville Chamberlain at best. At worst, they are Quislings.
If we want to ensure that those 12 people did not die in vain on Wednesday, then we must pick up where they left off. We must not be afraid to criticize Jihadism, but above all we must not be afraid to defend free speech. I have no doubt that the Jihadists will fail to defeat us from without. There is only one way in which we can be defeated, and it is if we defeat ourselves by undermining the values we are fighting for and which the Jihadists are trying to destroy. So with absolute glee I will conclude all my condemnation of Jihadism with a quote from the Bible:
“And a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”-Matt. 10:36
Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier
Killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, January 7, 2015.
Mort pour la liberté.
–Je suis Charlie.