Here is a true story: I learned about the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, from my wife's Twitter feed. This means that what I was getting was reaction from others about a news event that had taken place half a world away. Not polite reactions, mind you. I was getting the raw, uncensored one hundred forty characters that people across the globe had to unleash on the matter.
In case you haven't already caught the news yourself, on Wednesday morning, three gunmen burst in to the Paris offices of the weekly newspaper, shouting "we have avenged the Prophet Muhammed," killing twelve and critically wounding several others. What were they avenging? The cartoons. Death to the unbelievers, especially the cartoonists. The pen, in this case, may have been mightier than the sword, but not quite up to deflecting bullets from an AK-47. It was a Charlie Hebdo cover some months ago that made a somewhat brutal joke about the Koran. They suggested that the Koran was not as good at stopping bullets as other holy books. Something like that. One might suggest that a holy book or two might have helped this situation.
Now, it's time for me to be snarky. Which is unfortunate because on a certain level I feel nothing but sorrow for the victims of this shooting. As someone who has drawn his share of cartoons, many of them in questionable taste and some which might have been considered blasphemous, I can only imagine how terrifying those last moments must have been. There truly is a line between bomb threats and masked gunmen showing up and killing anyone in front of them. Or there ought to be.
What is the response? Should the surviving members of the Charlie Hebdo staff have to go into seclusion for decades the way Salman Rushdie did? If any of them ever do bother to take pen in hand again, will they be willing to take a stand and thumb their noses in the same way that they did before the attack?
I would like to think so. Not because I am an American and have all that Free Speech and Press hoo-ha to stand behind, and not because I want to support my fellow satirists, but I would like to believe that you can't keep ideas down with bloodshed. I was never threatened for the cartoons I drew of Richard Nixon. I was never worried that my unrelenting reference to our forty-third president as "Pinhead" might cause me to be mowed down in a hail of machine gun bullets. I have a regular seasonal routine of Jesus jokes which I trot out each and every Easter, and I have never been beaten up. Blasphemous? Guilty. Politically Incorrect? Guilty. Executable offenses? Sorry. I just don't get it. Every time a cartoonist hangs up his or her pen, the terrorists win.