The world is still under a shock after last week's events in Paris. Most of you were deeply saddened by the repeated use of Islam as an excuse for barbaric purposes. Some of you reacted in support of Charlie. Yet some of you felt hurt by the images of the Prophet that came out.
I know I will meet with some of you soon and we'll have some intense discussions, sharing our views and arguing about what happened and why it happened. But right now, I would like to explain why I feel the huge majority of the Atheists, Catholics, Muslims, Jewish, Hindu and many more people... gathered together last Sunday. All of them did not gather to support Charlie Hebdo as such. They did not gather to stand against the Muslim world. They gathered in support of freedom of speech. Because by shooting journalists, by having a 10 years old girl bombing herself in the middle of a market in Nigeria, or by shooting over 130 kids in a school in Pakistan, the terrorists' repeated message is: « if you do not agree with me, you will die ».
Like the vast majority of the French, I was not a regular reader of Charlie. Very often I even thought their drawings were quite vulgar. But I did laugh intensely to some of their caricatures. Just like all of you would laugh to some of their drawings if you really looked into to diversity of their positions. Because Charlie caricatures everything and everyone, with no distinction. Only then does freedom of speech make sense. Had Charlie caricatured Islam and only Islam, of course it would have been condemned.
For those of you who are not familiar with my country, I would like to stress that Charlie Hebdo does not have a large distribution in France. It has always been a rather minor publication although it's been around for decades. But the killers have turned it into an international symbol of what should never happen again. This is why I feel I am Charlie. You have the right not to agree with me and you have the right to say it. This is why you are Charlie too.
I understand that since the drawings are taken out of their context, some of you, my friends, may think that these journalists were only mocking Islam. Although the immense majority of you condemn the killings, some of you may feel that in the end, they knew one day, one crazy fundamentalist could come out, and threaten their lives. Yet you need to know that Charlie Hebdo caricatures all religions, all politicians, and all communities. Many Catholic people around me were shocked by the caricatures of Pope Benedict XVI, by those of a Cardinal of the French Catholic Church in a very explicit position. Charlie drew pictures of the Christ on the cross complaining that «It's tough being financed by assholes» referring to Opus Dei. They caricatured fundamentalists Jews. They caricatured politicians of all sides.
The fact is, Charlie Hebdo has often taken pro-Palestinian positions. They were preparing an edition against racism before they were shot. So it would be too easy to call them racists and islamophobic. I belong to those who understood from the start that the caricatures of the Prophet were actually saying "Hey guys, we know that what the terrorists are doing is not what the Prophet has taught."
This week, a special edition of Charlie Hebdo came out. Globally. And it features the Prophet. Despite the sadness and the tears it aims to deliver a message of peace by saying that we know people are responsible, not religion and that therefore "All is forgiven." But above all, there are many more drawings to come. Some will hurt again. But humour and caricature are part of our culture. People like to have their caricature done in the streets of Paris. The French have fought for freedom of speech for centuries. And the first religious body to be mocked in France is probably the Catholic Church. Islam, in France, should not have a specific treatment. Read La Fontaine, Voltaire, and remember the Renaissance writer Rabelais, who back in the XVth Century, said that what distinguishes man is his capacity to laugh!
As some predict that World War III has started in Paris last week, I say I truly hope that these events will actually help us to better understand each other. I hope we can fight for a world were it's ok to disagree with each other and to say it, to write it, or to draw it, instead of taking guns and knives in an attempt to shut ideas down. As an Imam in Paris recently stressed, the most powerful answer to a drawing is and remains: a drawing.
I know it's a very complex matter. I know there's a lot of politics involved. But if you and I don't agree, lets continue to argue and to laugh together.
Communications consultant, Middle East & Africa