If this Sunday post were to become a regular Pick of the Week feature focusing on some specific event of the past seven days (which, given that I’ve just had the idea, might well be the case), I’d have to choose between events with personal significance and events which resonate much wider. This week there’s no hesitation: I won’t be among the million people in the streets of Paris today, but along with them and millions of others all over the world, I hold up the banner in my mind: Je suis Charlie.
But there have been a few dissident voices. Here and there, signs proclaiming Je ne suis pas Charlie. It took me a while to figure out their logic, but they’re playing on the ambiguity of ‘suis’ – either from the verb ‘être’, to be, or the verb ‘suivre’, to follow. What they’re saying is they don’t follow Charlie because Charlie had it coming to them for publishing those cartoons in the first place. An expanded form of the argument is put here by the cartoonist Joe Sacco.
But while I agree entirely with Sacco’s final picture – yes, of course, we need to look for ways to fit in each other’s world, accept each other as we are – I don’t accept that doing so must involve self-censorship. If we’re reduced to silence out of fear that some people must take a bullet because others can’t take a joke, then we’ve been defeated.
To the question of how far humour can go, the great French comedian Pierre Desproges replied, ‘On peut rire de tout mais pas avec tout le monde’ – we can laugh about everything but not with everyone. Because some people, clearly, aren’t going to find it funny. But that’s no reason not to make the joke. Rather, as Sacco also says, to wonder why they reply with a bullet. What has happened to drive some Muslims to such violence? The answer is complex, but the violence, without being inherent to Islam (as some try to maintain), was there before the cartoons.