For this particular writer, hearing about the slaughter of fellow journalists made last week an emotional one. Yet it's probably fair to say that half the people outside of France writing 'Je Suis Charlie' on their twitter feeds had not heard of the magazine before last Wednesday, and I was certainly one of them. Now that I have, I can honestly say I thought the offending cartoons were crass, unsophisticated and largely unoriginal. Far more funny and moving were the satirical images many supporters published in tribute during the aftermath of the massacre.
The magazine's writers had a right to publish their work without being gunned down, and to say that I dislike the cartoons does not mean, for a single second, that I support the use of censorship or slaughter in any context. But it's ironic that satirists are often the first people to lampoon attempts at turning victims of atrocities into martyrs in the eyes of the public. Were it aimed at anyone else, the 'Je Suis Charlie' campaign would surely have been savagely skewered by the magazine. It's a tired reality that popular narratives of history often clash with actual events, but however horrendous and unjustified the murders in Paris were, I refuse to get on board the sentimental band-wagon that has attempted to portray the hacks of Charlie Hebdo as fearless crusaders for freedom of expression.
The fact is that they were operating in a democratic society with a free press, and the cartoons they published were designed to cause deep-seated offence towards what some would call a beleaguered religious minority (and by this I mean Europe's largely law-abiding Muslim populations, not the barbaric fanatics masquerading as spokesmen for Islam).
Indeed, the cartoonists were perfectly entitled to do so - but lamenting their senseless murders does not require claiming crude and provocative scribblings of the Prophet Muhammed are somehow comparable to the work undertaken by scores of investigative journalists elsewhere, who are killed and oppressed every single week for trying to report the truth. The routine deaths and disappearances of journalists in Iran, Ethiopia, Belarus and Zimbabwe get about as much attention as the victims of Boko Haram's massacre of 2,000 people in Baga did last week (in other words, very little).
Caricature and ridicule is essential and desirable in a democracy. But part of living in a democracy is also the ability to debate openly what constitutes good and bad satire. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons were in poor, and to my mind, vindictive taste. That is not, and should never be, a crime; but I'm still going to peacefully criticise them. That is, after all, my right.Suggest a correction