‘Je suis Charlie’? No, You’re Not, or Else You Might Be Dead
One of the spontaneous social-media reactions to the Charlie Hebdo massacre today was the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie ("I am Charlie"). It's an admirable sentiment, resonant with the classic post-9/11 Le Monde cover "Nous sommes tous Americains." It's also totally inaccurate.
So no, we're all not Charlie—few of us are that good, and none of us are that brave. If more of us were brave, and refused to yield to the bomber's veto, and maybe reacted to these eternally recurring moments not by, say, deleting all your previously published Muhammad images, as the Associated Press is reportedly doing today, but rather by routinely posting newsworthy images in service both to readers and the commitment to a diverse and diffuse marketplace of speech, then just maybe Charlie Hebdo wouldn't have stuck out so much like a sore thumb. It's harder, and ultimately less rewarding to the fanatical mind, to hit a thousand small targets than one large one.
And it's not just those of us in the media business who have failed to be Charlie Hebdo. Every person in the broader West, whether it be a Financial Times editor or the president of the United States, who wrongly thinks that speech should not offend, and falsely believes that artistic commentary can somehow incite murderous violence, are also contributing to an ever-worsening cultural climate of speech, and therefore freedom.
Today is an awful day for the basic project of free inquiry. Do you really wanna be Charlie Hebdo? Then get on out there, live and speak bravely. And God help you.