The events at Charlie Hebdo were shocking. Journalists and lay members of the public have showed solidarity with the journalists of Charlie Hebdo by holding up the “Je suis Charlie” placards. The sheer volume of people taking part in these acts of solidarity has been tremendous. The deaths in Paris take place at a time when some divisions in society are increasing- yes, between peoples of different faiths (and none), but also between richer and poorer, between the older and the younger, between indigenous populations and newer migrants composed of a variety of colours, languages and creeds. Europe finds itself in a tinderbox- the last week has seen demonstrations by PEGIDA, killings by people claiming to act for Islam, bombings and burning of mosques, and much else.
The principles of the French Republic are summarised in the slogan- Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. There has been much talk about the first two, but what Europe and the wider world need now is an emphasis on the third; we must as humans (whether we consider ourselves creations of one God (or many), or the rational conclusions of a blind evolutionary process) show humanity, and rise to be worthy of the acclaim we have granted ourselves.
We have been asked to show solidarity with those who died this week. Let us extend this idea further- let us show solidarity, and with it benevolence and restraint, to all participants of society. Society can become stronger, but it will be tested before it becomes so; and for it to do so, it needs effort. Or we can allow society to erode and fracture; and that requires good people to do nothing at all.
There will be a clamour from some portions of society to show ‘strength’ and solidarity in a particular way- by publishing offensive imagery and cartoons. I urge journalists and editors to not do so. There is no doubt that we live in a society in which there is freedom of expression, but freedom of expression does not entail that there is a necessity of expression. We are already in a cycle of despair and hatred; we do not need to accelerate it artificially and deliberately. For those journalists and editors who are inclined to publish cartoons (of any subject matter), I urge them to engage in dialogue with those whom publishing will affect, and understand what the effects of doing so are. Of course, dialogue requires a common language, hence those with whom such a dialogue will be undertaken need to sought out- not the roughnecks, but the calm, quiet voices of wisdom, which exist in every community.
Fraternité implies that we see others as having moral value; not that we see them as inferior, as the Other. It is very easy to slip into the monochromatic narrative that We are this, and They are that; that the killings in Paris were the outcome of a simple set of characteristics of alien people. The world is Technicolor- we simplify what we do not understand, or do not want to understand in moments of anger, and we overlook the wider world that has created those who live in it- the economic, political, technological, and yes cultural and religious factors, all stretched and distorted through a thousand prisms of history. To heal, we need to understand; to heal we must restrain our hate; to heal we must be human.