Satire, it’s nothing new…
Today’s murder of French cartoonists, journalists and policemen in Paris has sent shock waves around the world as those who take freedom of speech for granted struggle to grasp the reason for the killings. Actually, we do know why they were murdered, they provoked a minority of religious extremists with cartoons poking fun at their prophet, a practice which has been aimed at other religions and political figures and published regularly for decades.
It is nothing new in that respect, one only has to read early copies of MAD magazine to see digs at Jews, Christians, homosexuals, white supremacists and of course, political figures to realise that most of us are, and I hope will always be, fair game for the satirist.
We may not always like it, our own personal levels of taste will dictate that, but the elephant in the room is the democratic right to freedom of expression. Orwell wrote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” But for Orwell to be true to his belief then he, you and I must accept that the right of expression is open to all. If we wish to live in a society which embraces free speech then are we to say that there are no rules in that regard? It seems to me to be the unanswerable question.
In decades past the Muslim faith was, for the most part, widely ignored by the satirists who had other religions to pull apart. It wasn’t until the rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Europe and Asia that the cartoonists turned their attention to them and that is a point we should all remember. Satirists feed off current events, they have to if anyone is to get the ‘joke’. Opposite is an extract from MAD Magazine in the 1960s, it reminds us of the many political and social protest groups of the era, many of whom were labelled ‘crack pots’ by opposing people. The editors of MAD were often criticised for their choice of subject bating but it did little to suppress their appetite. What the journalists at Charlie Hebdo did was nothing new in its broadest sense, the difference was the subject matter.
Most ‘events’ tend to have a relatively short shelf life in the attention span of the general public but today I could not help but feel that this will have reverberations for some time to come, it will have a legacy which will endure longer than many others and could well prove pivotal in the changing face of Europe in particular.
The final quote, as ever, goes to Christopher Hitchens who wrote in 2006: “There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient” I would agree with the sentiment but somebody needs to do something about that elephant in the room or we shall be seeing much more of what happened today.