I am not Charlie. Charlie Hebdo is Charlie. It is a claim that belongs to those cartoonists who died in the line of action. Thanks to the global outpouring of support, the meme “Je suis Charlie” now symbolizes Charlie Hebdo’s battle for freedom of expression. It will be more known now than any of his cartoons or caricatures. And that may be a good thing, because while there are differences of opinion about the use of offensive images in political cartoons, there must be zero tolerance for violence and terrorization of the free press and their exercise of our fundamental right of free speech. You don’t have to be Charlie to agree with that.
As the world stands up for Charlie, we must also think beyond the headlines and memes of the day. As powerful as the internet can be in rallying support for a good cause, it is also quick to spread evil. Today, it is more difficult than ever to distinguish between fact and fiction in the (social) media, between serious, responsible news and propaganda. No one knows this better than the PR savvy terrorists, whose own use of offensive imagery intends to shock and awe the civilized world while corralling sympathizers.
The power of satire is the ability to ridicule and shame us into re-thinking our own prejudices and behavior. Magazines like The Onion, Titanic and Charlie Hebdo are only funny and poignant to those who have the knowledge and openness of mind to understand the context. To everyone else, they are simply ridiculous and perhaps offensive. It is not enough to proclaim “Je suis Charlie” and move on. Charlie Hebdo and other satirists have more courage than that. As much as their freedom of expression, it is the willingness to consider different points of view, think critically and learn from past experience that should be their lasting legacy.
N.B. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. The artist who made the illustration above is not Banksy, but @LucilleClerc.