I awoke this morning, turned on MSNBC, and was immediately immersed in today’s biggest news: the attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people, mostly journalists, dead. As I processed this information and viewed the videotape of the alleged assailants executing a security officer on the sidewalk outside the magazine’s offices in downtown Paris, I began to realize that this murderous rampage directly affected me even though it was taking place thousands of miles away from where I live.
Like the 10 writers, cartoonists, and editors whose lives were mercilessly snuffed out by the three terrorists armed with AK-47s, I also deal in the world of ideas. I often point out the wrongs in society, in government, in religion and community. I sometimes use cold analysis. Other times I attempt to provoke readers with humor. Words and ideas are my forte, and I consider my ability to write to be nothing short of a gift from God. I make my living with words, with ideas, with satire, by shedding light in areas where others might not want me to. But if I feared my words or ideas might bring about my own death or the death of my family, would I feel so free to say whatever I wanted? Fear is a powerful moderator of human behavior. If you doubt that, ask yourself this question: If it was suddenly ruled illegal or deemed immoral to watch your favorite show on TV, to read your favorite book or magazine, or to affiliate with your best friend, and the punishment for doing so was execution without trial, would you still engage in these prohibited behaviors? What if to do so would bring down violence on not just you, but the ones you love? Still want to watch that show? Still want to talk to that dear friend on the phone three times a day?
Charlie Hebdo dealt in the controversial. That is their calling card, the thing they are most known and loved for. They made fun of all religions, even going so far as to print cartoons and articles that made fun of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. As a Christian, I do not care for writing or pictures which mock or criticize my beliefs, but I don’t think those who do so should should be gunned down as infidels or apostates. We are all free to believe or to criticize others who believe. If you think my religion is silly and choose to satirize it each and every day, that is your right. Your disdain in no way infringes on my right to believe as I choose. That is called liberty. And liberty is the very essence of freedom. No one idea is right above all others. No one religion holds all the answers for every person in the world. Our diversity in this country and internationally is not something that should divide us. We should celebrate our differences and learn to love one another despite them. We are all wonderful and unique creatures, and that is what makes the world a place of constant learning and discovery.
A French Imam said shortly after this barbaric attack occurred at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, “These journalists are martyrs for liberty.” They most certainly are, and it is only right to say that today all journalists, writers, cartoonists, and those who deal in the realm of ideas, work for Charlie Hebdo. We are all Parisians today, no matter where we live, no matter what we believe.
The Qur’an, the holiest of all books in the Islamic faith, teaches us, just as it does in the Hebrew Torah, that he who slays one person has slain all of humanity. To that, I would like to add this commentary from Ibn Abbas, the cousin of Muhammad: “He who kills a…soul intentionally, Allah makes the Fire of Hell his abode, He will become angry with him, and curse him, and has prepared a tremendous punishment for him, equal to if he had killed all people, his punishment will still be the same.”
Today, 12 people were killed because of their ideas. While they may be gone, their ideas will live long after them. Because you can kill a person, but you can never kill an idea.
And that’s because ideas are immortal.