The Pen Is Mightier

Roughly translated, "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter." Copyright Charlie Hebdo.

Roughly translated, “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” Copyright Charlie Hebdo.

If you know not the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, Paris, then I invite you to read this news report and search for “Je Suis Charlie” on your favourite social network.

The editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, and the bodyguard and police officer who were also killed, died doing their jobs. For those artists, that job was satire.

Satire, from Aristophanes to Jonathan Swift, the court jester to Mad Magazine, has always been about using humour to ridicule the powerful, the self-important, and, more often than not, society. But satire is also supposed to make people think. Consider Swift’s “modest proposal,” Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It, Thomas Nast’s cartoons of Boss Tweed.

Islamic extremism should be a ripe target for satire – extremism of any stripe tend to be extremely self-serious and full of inherent self-contradictions, and its power and influence continues to grow worldwide. And, in a way, the actions of January 7 justified Charlie Hebdo’s continual targeting of Islamic fundamentalists, a class of people who have so weak a grasp on their religion, and such cowardice, that they are willing to terrorize and kill defenceless people whose only “sin” was pointing out, in living colour, the fundamentalists’ own hypocrisy.

I was reminded today of something Mel Brooks said about Hitler. I’m paraphrasing, but he once told a news program that he wanted to make Hitler such a figure of ridicule that no one would ever take him or his ideas seriously again.

If we want to honour the victims of January 7, we can do so by making those criminals, those terrorists, and their perversion of peaceful faith, seem as ridiculous as Brooks wants to make Hitler, because today, we are all Charlie Hebdo.

This piece was edited for grammar.

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