In Unity with Charlie Hebdo

Cartoonists make us laugh. Cartoonists point out our foibles and shortcomings and make us feel OK to be the frail humans that we are. Sometimes they make us think, or tell a story that fascinates us.

Artwork ©  Loïc Sécheresse, 2014.

Artwork © Loïc Sécheresse, 2014.

So it is shocking, painful, and enraging when terrorists attacked the French office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shot 10 journalist-artists  who worked there and two police officers who came to the Paris magazine offices.

Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Mohammend in an issue called “Sharia Hebdo,”  and the office was firebombed in 2011. Today, two men with guns entered the magazine offices and shot down people whose “crime” was free speech. The shooters didn’t like what the magazine did, so in their heads, it was just fine to take revenge by shooting people as they worked.

It’s easy to hate these criminals. It’s easy to want them dead. It is also easy to know that the murderers were Islamic, and to fume, “I’ve been patient long enough, but Islam has to be stopped.” And that’s exactly what we can’t do. Terrorists, murderers, and extremists are not the sole representatives of a religion. They do damage, yes, but the rest of Islam and the people who practice it, are not villains, evil or dangerous. As so often happens, the extremists damage the reputation of the innocent.

The extremists make us angry and we want someone to suffer for the damage they do. You’ve often heard me say, “Look where you want to go.” Looking to make people suffer is not a good direction for us to travel. Making others suffer will create an endless loop of anger, hate, and violence.

What can we do? We can draw, we can write, we can use our creative strength to improve the small part of the world we inhabit. And we can work to reduce our own biases. The judgement we pass to people not like us. The groups we throw together–older people, fat people, handicapped people, people who are not your religion, immigrants, the mentally ill, people who have ideas that are different from yours–are people. Not particularly different from you. Biases start small and grow when fed with anger and hatred. Stop feeding yours.

Your emotions may not be in your control, but your actions are. Just for today, we can move away from thinking small and choose the bigger view of freedom.

You can see other reactions from cartoonists here.

And you can read a great reply from Betsy Phillips writing in her blog, Pith in the Wind. Here’s an excerpt: “A lot of us — women, minorities, GLBT people — are already well-aware of how the totalitarians in our midst use terror tactics to shut us up. Radical Muslims aren’t the problem. They’re A problem. And as terrible as the Charlie Hedbo attack is, I’m less afraid of being killed by radical Muslims than I am that we will find it easier to make ourselves smaller and less controversial in order to feel safer, not just from radical Muslims, but from whoever is willing to make themselves terrifying.”

Quinn McDonald worked at a newspaper and learned to value freedom of speech.