"Je suis Charlie.”
That is the sign du jour in Paris in the wake of the murder of 12 journalists with the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo by masked men shouting Alahu Akbar.
Maybe this is a start in recognizing that the West has vicious and implacable enemies who seek to destroy all societies that allow exercises of free speech that allow satire and replace them with monolithic societies that impose sharia law.
Maybe. But it’s going to take more than a flurry of signs in Paris to convince me. I wonder if the signs aren’t merely latest exercises in self-flattering self-expression for a West that is today half in love with easeful victimhood. The kidnapped girls of Boko Haram become “our” girls and we participated—ever how briefly—in their victimhood.
Do the signs in Paris mean that the French and indeed we in the United States are ready to face and name the threats arrayed against us? Perhaps we just needed a booster wake-up call, 9/11 having been oh so long ago and all? Do the signs mean that the West is at least willing to be brave again? Or do the signs indicate that we believe cliches are good weapons in the battle against terrorism?
I wish I thought these signs signaled a turning point, but I agree with the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger: it is going to take more than a sign with a slogan and sentiments to defeat terrorism. Henninger writes this morning:
Terrorist attacks like Charlie Hebdo come and go. Mostly they go.
For all the grief, pain and outrage of the past 24 hours—from as always President Barack Obama down to the streets of Paris—does any serious person doubt that by this time next week life in the West will be back to normal? Life, which is to say daily existence defined by staring at apps on smartphone screens, will resume.
Is this too cynical for the Charlie-Hebdo moment? We live in times defined by the comedienne Lily Tomlin: “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”
The title of this column could have been, “We Are All Peshawar Now.” Peshawar, Pakistan, is about 4,800 miles from Paris, and about 6,800 miles to New York City. On Dec. 16, seven heavily armed men from the Pakistan Taliban entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, a city with a half-million more people than Chicago. Once inside, the gunmen killed 132 school children by shooting them in the head or chest.
Terrorist acts come and go.
I struggled to write an item yesterday saying that it was apt that the terrorists attacked a satire magazine. Satire from classical times until the present has flourished in a western civilization that gives us the freedom to engage in mockery. I am not sure I quite managed to say what I wanted to about the West and the lighter side of our civilization that is so essential to our freedoms and that so offends Islamic terrorists. But Max Boot said what I wanted to say–and more.
In a post headlined, “We Must Stand with the Satirists,” Boot wrote:
One thing that unites totalitarians, and would-be totalitarians, it seems, is a lack of a sense of humor. Hitler hated The Great Dictator. Kim Jong-un hates The Interview. And Islamist fanatics hate Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper known for making light of ISIS and others of their ilk. By contrast great democratic leaders such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan have been renowned for their humor.
Boot, who is not as judgmental about the Je suis signs as Mr. Henninger and I are, goes on:
The right to offend is the very essence of free speech–and as long as a publication doesn’t incite violence (which neither Charlie Hebdo nor The Interview did) its right to say whatever it likes must be defended to the last inch. That is, after all, the very bedrock of freedom upon which Western democracies rest–and the very opposite of the kind of totalitarian state that Islamists have created in Iran and a large chunk of Syria/Iraq.
At a time like this there is not much more to say than “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie)–the lone message carried today on Charlie Hebdo‘s website. We must all stand with the satirists, however tasteless, lest we find “serious” political commentary becomes the next target of the haters and killers.
If we lose to Islam—and we might, if we think placards saying “Je suis Charlie” are enough in the way of arms—it’s the little things we’ll miss about western civ—you know the freedom and the humor.
But we'll miss the big things, too. If you are a woman, you'll lose even more rights than the other half of the population if slogans alone turn out to be an insufficient weapon against our adversaries. Are we even allowed to call them adversaries in polite society?
I urge you to read Boot’s entire article.