We must learn to distinguish the difference between living in fear and being prudent
The tone of reconciliation in the new cover of Charlie Hebdo points to what seemed lost after last week’s murderous attack: recognition of the essential distinction between fear and prudence.
Until the satirical newspaper’s image conflating Muhammad and forgiveness, we’d been floating – floundering? – on waves of feel-good support for freedom of expression and group solidarity for the journalists slain in the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices.
Millions marched in Paris and other cities, of course, declaring “I am Charlie” as a means of making common cause with the dead. The outpouring of symbolic cartoonist pencils being held aloft has already prompted a riposte of sorts from those who question its authenticity, never mind its effectiveness.
For example, The American Conservative magazine’s Rod Dreher blogged last week that such proclamations are mere kitsch, easy sentimentalizing on par with crying for starving children a world away.
The Calgary Herald’s Licia Corbella has argued Canadians can’t rightly lay claim to Charliehood because we’ve been too cowardly to publish cartoons that have been forced into the very heart of international news stories as a result of violence by Islamists.
(The French National Front’s former leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, declared he’s not Charlie, either; his rationale was so convoluted, even for a French politician, that most Parisians simply ignored him.)
Concern for identifying authentically with the victims of such ghastly killings is entirely understandable. What’s being crowded out is serious debate around the far more critical matter: What are we to do next?
For whether we’re all Charlies or chuckleheads, the reality is, we’re prime targets of a wicked, violent, ubiquitous ideology. Ideology. Not religion. Huge difference.
My son, who lives in Paris, cancelled an appointment the day of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Had he gone, he would have been walking down the street outside the magazine just as the gunfire began.
Meanwhile, I was headed out the door of my Ottawa apartment on the day when Parliament Hill was assaulted last October.
I was, in fact, headed to Parliament Hill. A phone call delayed me or I, too, would have been there when the shooting began.
Here we are, father and son, separately going about our daily business in very different places at very different times, yet both missing, by sheer chance, straying into the line of fire.
Our near-misses were, in actuality, trivialities compared to the risks and realities that have faced thousands upon thousands across the western world since so-called radicalized distorters of Islam declared open season on our citizens and cities.
What’s not trivial at all is the emergent realization that the states we rely on for protection are helpless to protect us.
As effective as our intelligence services might otherwise be, they clearly haven’t a clue how to stop the threat from random Islamists. How could they when the perpetrators are just like any other Charlie on the block?
The true question emerging out of the Paris shootings then (or more correctly, being avoided in their aftermath) is this: Why knowingly provoke psychotically enraged young men bereft of hope who are actively being cultivated by our enemies as mobile weapons against us?
That, in essence, is what the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo did. Repeatedly. For years. It’s not blaming the victims to say so. Of course, they didn’t deserve to be murdered for being provocateurs. No one deserves to die for a drawing.
But they did draw fate toward themselves by failing to distinguish between being silenced by fear or made circumspect through prudence. Their prudence in reaching out a hand to Muslims won’t make them – or us – bulletproof. Still, it can only help us renew a vital distinction too long lost.
By Peter Stockland
Peter Stockland is the publisher of Convivium magazine for the think tank Cardus.