Credit Lalo Alcazar

Charlie Hebdo massacre: intellectuals in the line of fire


Imagine that you have been sentenced to death by a self-righteous group because of your ideas. This could happen to any of you. As a researcher, imagine that you have been unveiling some fascinating counter-intuitive views on what had been the life of prophet Mohamed in ancient times. Or you could have been doing sociological studies of how well integrated and active second generation Muslim women are in Western society. Or any other scientific work that goes against the views of some ultra-minority of extremists. What happened yesterday, 7th January 2015, in Paris is only one step removed from such scenario.

People were killed because of the ideas they brought across in the course of their work. This time, these people were no scientists. Mere intellectuals: cartoonists, to be precise. Some of France most revered irreverent press cartoonists have been shot dead. That happened, in the light of day, in the office at French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo. The perpetrators have been identified as extremist Islamist fundamentalists; a description in itself an oxymoron, as Islam itself does not prone extremism.

Charb's last drawing in Charlie Hebdo

Photo credit: Charb - Charb's last drawing in Charlie Hebdo

The logic of the attack defies common sense on many counts.

The perpetrators’ motives by their somewhat naïve nature are almost as astounding as the violence of the attack. How could they be so immature to believe that their act would have any of the intended consequences: suppressing the voice of what they consider blasphemous cartoons’ authors. Back in the school yards, children of a young age learn not to respond to what they may perceive as provocation—such as name calling—with violence. Rather, they are taught to handle the situation by not believing everything others say, and through reasoning. Obviously, this lesson is not always fully integrated.

Besides, we live in a society where killing people does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, killing their ideas. Case in point, among the dead feature cartoonists going by the pen name of Charb, Wolinski, Tignous, and Cabu—many of them known pacifists. Their death will have absolutely no impact on the kind of ideas they have portrayed in their cartoons, on the basis of the freedom of speech. Their work will survive them well beyond their grave.

Most of them were already living legends in French culture. Before, they were merely part of the furniture, fulfilling the need for satire of the cultural French psyche. Now, they have left the background noise of popular culture to be elevated to the rank of icons, representing values of tolerance and freedom of expression.

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There is no doubt that anybody who wishes to annihilate someone’s idea, has to come up with more powerful ideas and to ensure that these are spread widely. But, shooting the messenger won’t work. Particularly, when it comes shooting people armed with pencils and paper. It makes for a battle with unequal weapons. And the more final of solutions: inflicting death with a kalachnikov is, by far, the weakest of the two.

It may give the perpetrators a sense of instant gratification. But they are the one who will soon be forgotten. By contrast, the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo will remain for good in the collective memory. And the magazine will go and hire new cartoonists, as already new cartoons reacting to the horror have been published.

New ideas continue to be formulated every day, be it by press cartoonists or scientists. And this is unlikely to end any time soon.

And you, what are your feelings about the recent tragic events?

Did this sad event make you have more interest in the French satire?

Photo credit: Lalo Alcatraz

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Sabine Louët

Sabine Louët

Editor at EuroScientist
Sabine has a passion for all things related to European research. A physicist by training, she has been covering stories in life science, the physical sciences, technology, policy and innovation for the past 20 years. She was previously the news editor at Nature Biotechnology. She was also involved in the creation of AlphaGalileo. She is the Founder of SciencePOD translating complex science and tech concepts into high-quality articles written in simple language.
Sabine Louët

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4 thoughts on “Charlie Hebdo massacre: intellectuals in the line of fire”

  1. Je suis Charlie
    Nous sommes
    les enfants du siècle de Voltaire.
    Nous nous
    moquons de tout quand l’envie nous en prend.
    Ces grands
    dessinateurs sont le sel de la terre.
    Soyons en
    fiers, nous les enfants de l’Occident.
    Par eux la
    liberté devenait planétaire.
    Sous leur
    plume un seul trait allègrement mordant
    nous traçait l’avenir.
    Tout homme le comprend
    et toute
    femme aussi, voilée ou non. Se taire
    serait un
    crime, un déshonneur, une infamie.
    Le vrai démon s’est révélé par sa
    Ne les
    trahissons pas, nos soldats de l’esprit.
    Ils ont
    lancé le vrai combat en solitaires
    et payé de leur vie un courage incompris.
    soyons là, trop tard mais solidaires.
    (Les âmes d’aujourd’hui)

  2. ”Besides, we live in a society where killing people does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, killing their ideas.” Wake up! Are you playing stupid or what? You live in a society like that, not them. Those backward people don’t give a shit about ”killing an idea”, they want to kill the human beings asociated with it. It’s tragic for people to die because of some stupid caricatures. Don’t apply your intellectual philosophy to them because they are stone age savage religious fanatics who think and react kind of like this: If you write/draw mockery about our religion we will kill you! On the internet you can find horrendeous images about what these people do in their countries for example a picture showing some adults in the background while in the foreground there is a pile of freshly decapitated human heads and a CHILD smiling and holding one head up by the ear Do you understand who you are dealing with here?