Without a doubt in any human heart, the atrocities meted out in Paris attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent events that included the supermarket massacre were callous and reprehensible.
It is however important to observe how group think quickly kicks in after such types of brutality, takes a hold and suddenly there's an angle, a position, a side, to the point we may even find ourselves thinking something way off kilter with the prevailing media view of 'good French cartoonists, bad French-Algerian terrorists'.
But what if we took cultural, religious and geographical bias out of the equation and de-identified both sides, making them kids in a school playground and calling one A, the other B.
If A believed in something no matter how extreme, A would still have the right to express their view. If B didn't like it, B could express theirs in return. If A didn't like what they heard and abused or aggressed in some way towards B to try and silence and overpower B to A's way of thinking, then that wouldn't be 'right'. We're clear on that.
But if B started to point the finger, ridicule, draw disrespectful images about A's position, humiliating A in front of the gathering crowd and inciting anger and revenge, would that be 'right' of B, or could that possibly be a form of abuse? Mild yes, but abuse nonetheless. We imagine A's parents would have something to say to B's teacher about the bullying A was getting in the playground for his beliefs. After all isn't bullying the child's playground term for abuse?
If either A or B became violent, causing bodily harm then they would be liable to the jurisdiction of the school rules on behaviour, and depending on the severity of the 'crime', potentially expelled.
The point is, mockery, sarcasm and satire, spoken, written, drawn or sung, are all forms of judgment, offering socially acceptable relief to those on the side of the joke but a for-definite form of abuse profoundly impactful to a foe already on the warpath.
In a parallel world where a Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, is receiving 1000 public lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam, it appears our options are to either choose to use language (and image) responsibly, OR we retaliate, by further underscoring our differences. If our view is that their views are antiquated and extreme and that ours are progressive and tolerant, we have to dig deeper to find common ground
Back to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression
Much has been written about freedom of speech, Liberté, the right to voice, write or draw one's opinion.
But what if we are working with a definition of freedom of speech that can actually be used for an act of will that brings hate or vilification or ridicule at the expense of another? Is that OK, so long as we're not on the receiving end? Is that what we truly mean by democratic freedom of speech?
The act of killing is truly abhorrent and evil. But is it not also abhorrent and evil to abuse journalistically, where the sole objective is to entertain, self-aggrandise and sell copy at the expense of another, to goad and humiliate in the name of freedom of speech rather than to plant the seeds of understanding and of unity? Would that not be a more responsible form of journalism?
Is it possible that such provocations only serve to fuel and incite further division and separation between two sets of human beings? What if, when we say what we think in a way that doesn't encourage humanity towards its natural unity but instead stimulates division, we have to experience the full responsibility for the consequences of our actions?
Not for one millisecond should anyone condone the barbaric activities of the terrorists towards their fellow humans, but what if not just one but both sides have got it untrue?
What if we're both operating under the same pernicious paradigm whether through cartoons, quips, jokes, snide remarks, judgments, brutality, violence, murder or carnage. Aren't these manifestations two sides of the same coin, just one way more extreme and socially abhorrent than the other? Like physical and psychological abuse and the way we see one as being much worse than the other, when in absolute terms, they're still one and the same thing.
Isn't it time we look deeper beyond our national, regional or religious fiefdoms, our separatist arrangements, pointing fingers, pens and guns? This pattern, Man's inhumanity to Man, has been going on for centuries just rebranded and reworked to suit the zeitgeist.
The immediate reaction to the atrocities was a call for unity. But how can unity be a unity for some and not for the All? High time we stopped rather than reverting to the comfort of business as usual conveniently burying the real truth behind the meaning of these events.
What will it take to make the paradigm shift?
Another religious crusade or a global-scale Irish Question equivalent taking its toll on generations to come, keeping us circling interminably around the same issues, with no progress in sight? Surely now is a superb opportunity to lay down the range of armaments that both sides are fighting with - from Cartoons to Kalashnikovs - and take the lid off all this to ask, 'What next?'
Are both sides so content in their comfort zone of perceived, but not true truth, that they are too arrogant to step to one side for the Truth of All and see things in a different light? Only time - of which there is plenty - will tell.