As a writer and the former star/writer of a sex humor YouTube channel, I know all too well how one’s opinion or take on something can inspire the vitriol and hatred of others. I talk about issues as trivial as foot fetishes, for crying out loud (and in a tongue-in-cheek fashion), and internet users leave me comments about how I’m a moron who should go kill herself. We live in a world where information is spread quickly over the entire globe, which can be quite useful and also dangerous. We live in a world where a satirical magazine is considered such a threat to religion internationally that alleged extremists attack their offices and kill twelve people.
I am, of course, referring to the murders at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. It is as yet early, police are still searching for the suspects, and much is unknown. This incident is a high-profile and isolated example of the dichotomy existing on Earth today between those who use technology to advance and perpetuate growth and those who withhold technology to keep their followers close and obedient. North Korea keeps a tight rein on everything to do with internet and media in order to contain any differing opinions or ideas. If a citizen is raised on only one philosophy, that person will follow suit. Open up their world to a million opposing ways and notions, and they will begin to see they can think and act for themselves. This is dangerous to any regime or extremist culture. A dictator/religious cult leader can lose control of the masses when they begin to think for themselves.
The crimes today in France echo, in a more tragic fashion, the hubbub over the movie The Interview only a few weeks ago. What I find interesting about both these events is that by lashing out, extremists are admitting that they are threatened by comedic media. They attacked a satirical publication, not a serious newspaper. An entire government denounced a goofy Seth Rogan film. Comedy is often smart, and has underlying messages, but is not necessarily taken seriously as a call to any kind of rebellion. By attacking freedom of expression in media, terrorists and regimes are giving weight to comedic material as an influential medium in the international community. These people are in fact showing themselves to be quite weak, threatened and reactionary.
The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, died in the attack on his magazine. He was quoted in Le Monde newspaper in 2012 as saying, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” Charbonnier knew this was a distinct possibility – the office was burned three years ago in protest of anti-Islamic cartoons and then his personal office firebombed in 2011 for the same reason. He knew that these incendiary retaliations meant that what he did mattered – he was making an impact through his particular art form. He refused to let them stop him. May we all continue to strive to do the same, and never take our freedom of speech for granted.