Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie: In the wake of tragedy

rafaelmantesso / Instagram
It seems to me that when we as a society are at our most vulnerable, we are also at our best.

Yesterday, people all around the world gathered as one to commemorate the innocents who lost their lives to a terrifying act that would be far better off as a work of fiction. Those who died in the wake of the shooting at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, did not deserve the fate they met.

Many honored in their own fashion, and I'd like to share some thoughts as well. While I may not have the artistic talent to create such poignant and beautiful creations as the cartoonists and artists who paid tribute to the victims of January 7, 2015, I hope to do the topic some justice.

This has been a terrifying day not only for those directly affected or for the Parisian people, but for anyone who believes in the public's right to a free press and the personal right to free speech.

In America, these freedoms are points of immense pride. But this is an emotion held throughout the world as a principle of humanity. If we are to live fulfilled lives, we deserve certain rights - chief among them the right to expression.

Today, our universal right of free speech was challenged. Extremists have suggested that no matter what our laws or our civil society guarantee us, our safety is not guaranteed. It's a haunting thought.

Even those who take issue against the editorial choices of Charlie Hebdo cannot deny humanity's innate right to expression. As controversial as the publication may be, no one should be put in the literal line of fire for doing their job. These were not soldiers who died today, they were civilians. They never chose to sacrifice themselves. They made daring choices as writers and artists, but with no intention of becoming martyrs.

They had no choice to speak for themselves in the end, but we do.

As we all come together, in-person and in widespread digital communities, we should translate our mourning into something greater. This attack was one on both our fellow man and ourselves. It's a reminder that as safe as we may feel, we are never quite safe enough.

By saying "Je Suis Charlie" (or "I am Charlie"), we acknowledge that like the writers, editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, we too maintain the right to freedom of expression. And no matter who threatens us, there is power in numbers, and we will not be silenced.