Time to reflect on what Charlie Hebdo satire really stands for
Last week on the papal flight to the Philippines, Pope Francis spoke to journalists about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Acknowledging that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, he said 'to kill in the name of God is an aberration' and said religion can never be used to justify violence. He also said that there are limits to free speech, especially when it insults or ridicules someone's faith.
Over the past week, we were offered a stark choice - either we are with Charlie Hebdo - "Je Suis Charlie" - or we are with the Islamic terrorists who murdered some of their staff members two weeks ago. But it's not that simple. As the initial horror and shock at the massacre in Paris subsided, and with some distance now between us and that awful day, people are beginning to reflect more carefully on what Charlie Hebdo stood for, and whether in fact they are content to say 'Je suis Charlie' at all.
Murder is murder, that is very clear, and the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris were murder. Every human being should grieve the twelve people whose lives were taken in this terrorist attack. The cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo didn't deserve to be killed for their drawings, and their right to life should be defended, but that doesn't mean that what they drew and published is worth defending.
I believe in free speech as much as anyone, but it´'s important to understand that what Charlie Hebdo was doing was not just about free speech. They can dress it up any way they want, but for me what Charlie Hebdo published was hate speech. They took cheap shots at Islam and 'poured oil on the fire' as often as they could. They sought a response, they kept stirring up the hornets' nest, relentlessly trying to provoke a response, and unfortunately, the response they got was an horrific one, certainly not proportionate, but in all honesty you couldn't say it was completely unexpected.
The best response for those offended or upset would have been to peacefully protest, or to satirise the Charlie Hebdo publication, or to do as most have done and simply ignore it. But that was never going to be the way when radical extremists are involved. We've seen many times over the past few decades how far radical extremists will go in pursuit of their beliefs. When radical beliefs are ridiculed repeatedly, there's bound to be a response, and Charlie Hebdo must have known they were playing a dangerous game.
To me, Charlie Hebdo is cruel, vulgar, and simply not funny. Some of the publication's cartoons showed Mohammed naked in pornographic poses. Some showed nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. In 2010 the cover cartoon was a picture of Pope Benedict holding a condom aloft as if at the consecration during mass saying 'this is my body'. Another showed the Holy Trinity locked in a three-way homosexual orgy. That's not brilliant satire - that's pornographic hate speech.
There is no justification for the massacre in Paris - it was a terrible attack on freedom, and those responsible for these kind of attacks must be caught and brought to justice. But we also must stand up against hate speech, and against those who use the freedom of the press to attack and ridicule and offend. There is no justification for the conduct of Charlie Hebdo. Religious tolerance and respect are human rights too.