“You can kill a man, but you cannot kill an idea.” This statement, originally attributed to Sophocles and latterly to Ben Shahn during the rise of Fascism and to the murdered black leader Medgar Evers, is perfectly appropriate to the murders by Islamic terrorists of the journalists and cartoonists of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris. They are dead, but their ideas and the need to be able to subject every idea and concept to satirical treatment is a basic tenet of secular society. I well remember hearing Tom Lehrer’s “The Vatican Rag” with a Catholic friend. He was quite shocked, but the Vatican did not collapse, hordes of Catholics did not leave the Church and the news about priests molesting children was far more damaging.
France has a very famous tradition of satire, from Moliere and Voltaire, to Honore Daumier and thence to “Charlie Hebdo.” Satirical cartoons are common in the history of western Europe, such as the Victorian magazine “Punch” and the comic operas of Gilbert & Sullivan that went as far as satirizing the military and the monarchy (in “The Mikado“) and then up to the political satirical magazine “Private Eye.” There were also famous literary satirists, such as Jonathan Swift and his “A Modest proposal,” and George Orwell with “Animal Farm.” And on TV, “That was the week that was” with David Frost and many others. In the USA there have been many famous satirists, H.L. Mencken, Charlie Chaplin (viz. “The Great Dictator“), The Marx brothers, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Joseph Heller (viz. “Catch-22“), and on TV “Saturday night live” and all the late night shows (Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart).
We must recognize that there is a fundamental difference between western culture and Islamic culture. We want freedom of expression. Voltaire said “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.” This is the basis of French secularism. Muslims think that this is unnecessary because Islam provides all the answers, just accept, believe and do Allah’s will and that’s all that is needed. Many are talking about the fact that Muslims are alienated in France and are not integrated. They miss the point, the Muslims mostly don’t want to be integrated, they want to take over and enforce sharia law on an Islamic Republic of France. Wake up and face the reality!
It is not hard to say that if democracy continues to live so will satire, it is an integral part of the idea of freedom of expression and freedom to criticize and even ridicule the powers that be, without using guns and violence to make the point. Every newspaper has its political cartoonist and long may they prosper. Unfortunately there are societies where satire is unknown, and the Muslims who object to the use of satire against their sacred cows will have to learn the lesson that killing satire and satirists and freedom of expression is unacceptable.