In the light of the most horrendous terrorist attack in France in many decades it is important that none of us should be cowed or allow our freedoms be attacked or diluted. The mass murder of journalist, illustrators and even police men by Islamic extremist means more than ever that we must stand firm in defending our values. What we witnessed in France this week was an attack on democracy, freedom of speech and a free press. All of these things are essential and fundamental to the society and culture that we have come to cherish. Freedom of speech is without doubt a value that is non negotiable, there is a fine line between inciting hatred and the right to offend but nobody should be free from criticism or protected from offense.
What is important to point out is that Charlie Hebdo was not just a magazine that attacked the Islamic faith, this was a group of people who criticised many groups of people whether they be Christians, Muslims or of any other faith. Charlie Hebdo absolutely got it right when they stood and criticised Islam. While others may have shirked away from criticising Islam Charlie Hebdo was on the forefront of defending free speech. It doesn't matter how sacred Muslims may revere the Prophet Muhammad because everyone is allowed to have an opinion. Some people consider the Prophet to have been a brutal warrior and even a child abuser who had relationships with girls as young as 9 years of age. This is a deeply offensive view to many Muslims but as offensive as it may be people are allowed to have that view. The same as some people hold the view that Jesus was a fraud. Both views are widespread but the difference we find in the 21st Century is that Christians will no longer burn you at the stake while on the other hand Muslim extremist will brand their AK47s and kill a group of people who's only crime was to write down their own viewpoints.
It is not the first time that extremist from within the Islamic faith have targeted someone for just having the audacity for saying what they think. Salman Rushdie, famous for his book; The Satanic Verses had a fatwa put on his life simply for putting pen to paper. Anyone who deems this kind of behavior normal is simply not living in the real world.If someone criticises or offends your beliefs the natural reaction is not to try and torture those people. Every single one of us at some point faces criticism but if we all reacted as these monsters did there would be very few of us around today. Civilised society has moved past the point where you kill someone because they offend your honor. I find it deeply offensive when a country like Iran hangs someone because they are gay but I'm not going to go out a kill the closest Iranian because that would be ridiculous.
Of course it is important to emphasise that the vast majority of Muslims are never going to go out and hurt you in any fashion at all. In the very aftermath of the atrocity in Paris 4 leading French Imams and the Vatican released a joint statement outright condemning this act of murder. The Foreign Minister from Egypt, Sameh Shoukry condemned the attack and passed on his words of condolence after the attack. Even with all that in mind I wonder how adherents of Islam or any faith for that matter cannot look at what their holy text say or their religious leaders do and not question what they believe. Religion has been used to justify a whole range of injustices throughout history, whether it be the Crusades, the Inquisition, the abuse of women, to acts of murder like this on the streets of Paris. I look at this and think there must be something inherently wrong within these religions.
This attack obviously killed many talented innocent people but of course what they created hasn't gone away. The images are still there and you can't destroy those images. In reality these killers destroy many lives but they've accomplished nothing because the art is never going to disappear. The legacy of the people they killed has been immortalised forever and that is wonderful.
This is my opinion, it is going to offend some people but we must not be afraid to say things that some would deem offensive. As a gay man people pass comment or judgement on me but I won't react with violence because what we have to do is protect free speech, allow people the right to say these things and then argue against them. If on a particular subject if we are right then inevitably we shall win and we shall do with words and changing hearts not by using weapons or seeking to silence those who do put their ideas and their thoughts to paper. Many Muslims feel harassed and attacked given Western actions in Iraq and Afghanistan but nothing shall ever excuse the murder of innocent civilians. Those civilians are heroes because they paid the ultimate price for defending what they believe. And I say Je suis Charlie without a shadow of shame.