09/01/2015 07:29 GMT | Updated 10/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Charlie Hebdo and the One Who Thinks Differently


Yesterday was a national day of mourning here in France, marked by a moment's silence at noon. In Place de la République this was observed by a group of many hundreds, holding hands in the rain, forming a ring around the square's central monument.

Their vigil in solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo had continued late the evening before, as it had in many places throughout France. Slogans of "I am Charlie," "We are not afraid!" and "Charlie Hebdo, we need you!" were rallied from the monument's steps as crowds gathered and contributed to the memorials of candles and pens decorating the square. "Not in the name of my religion" was the placard carried by one emotional demonstrator as he spoke to local media.

Earlier yesterday, one Charlie Hebdo supporter had tried to explain to me what the attack meant to him, "Imagine all cartoonists from the Guardian, the Times... All put in a room and shot... I grew up with these cartoonists. (I am) beyond shocked."

The attack that left twelve people dead was perpetrated by a group of men who, if reports are accurate, believed that there are some things the French public has no right to say, hear or see. The public, the demonstrations have confirmed, does not agree.

It is worth remembering that we needn't canonise Charlie Hebdo in the process of defending it. It is certainly true that Charlie Hebdo has printed crude, culturally-Eurocentric representations of Islam. But then this same irreverence was adopted to satirise Christianity in its recent issue "The Real History of Little Jesus." What all observers must recognise, however, is that any charge of racism or cultural insensitivity is irrelevant: one need not agree with the magazine's output in order to defend its right to exist. "Freedom," goes the Rosa Luxemburg quote, "is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently." It is just this freedom that must be demanded for the victims and surviving staff at Charlie Hebdo.

The men holding the guns want to put an end to that freedom and are defined by a vain belief in a single, primitive truth: a truth entirely lacking in humanity, nuance, self-awareness and, most importantly perhaps, humour. After all, rarely does a man (and we are talking almost exclusively about men here) cut such a maliciously ridiculous figure as the black-masked militant shooting not at an armed enemy, but at an unarmed cartoonist. "The rewards of being sane may not be very many," said Kingsley Amis, "but knowing what's funny is one of them." Around the world yesterday cartoonists reaffirmed our collective sanity by ridiculing the murderers who have abandoned theirs.

Among the pens, candles and placards in Place de la République many reproductions of these protest cartoons were to be found. In attending these vigils demonstrators demand that such contributions, here and everywhere, be protected.

Essential to this demand, however, is that it is afforded everyone. In the vigils, at least, there is little evidence of a descent into blind Islamophobia. Rather there can be witnessed a united front against all those who manipulate concepts of "otherness."

"Charlie, Defend me," read one placard, "Against the Extremes... Against the Front Nationale... Against Bullshit... For Liberty."