Why I am not Charlie Hebdo

By Jill Segger
January 8, 2015

Let us start with a few clear parameters. Murderous violence is always wrong and does as much damage to its perpetrators as to its victims. Freedom of expression is at the heart of the free society and must ever be defended. But with that right come responsibilities and an obligation to discernment and humility.

The profound shock and distress which has followed the horrific attack on the staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has echoed around the world and it is right that it should do so. But righteous anger must not be allowed to blind us to our common humanity nor to the necessity of moving beyond emotional immediacy and unexamined anger.

I have only occasionally looked at the content of Charlie Hebdo and I remain agnostic as to whether the stand it takes is above questioning. It is surely legitimate to ask whether insulting that which religious people hold dear can, in the long term, contribute to peace and enlightenment. From the standpoint of my own faith allegiance, any attack on the Society of Friends is not of great significance. I hold to to the admonitions “consider it possible that you may be mistaken” and “answer that of God in every person”. But I also realise that for many – particularly those who feel themselves to be at the margins of the society in which they live – the landscape may appear very different indeed.

In 2011, the office of Charlie Hebdo was fire-bombed on the day after it published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed. I wonder how different matters might now be if its staff had, at that juncture, sought to establish dialogue with those who were responsible for this act of violence. If, however difficult it might have been, they had been able and willing to say: “We differ. And our differences can bring nothing good unless we seek to find a means of understanding each other better”, a huge amount of grief, pain, fear and division might have been avoided. And even if the steps taken towards that understanding had proved small and halting, the world could have looked very different tonight.

I firmly believe that views which many may find repulsive should not be banned. I agree that there is no right not to be offended. But along with that, I hold with equal conviction the belief that none of us has a monopoly on truth and that there is no right to give offence without considering the validation for doing so or taking into account its consequences.

It is for these reasons, that although with a heavy heart I have to say tonight that I am not Charlie Hebdo, I am one who prays with all my being that we may find a way to move forward in a shared acknowledgement of our common vulnerability and with contrition for whatever culturally acquired arrogance we may not have yet recognised.

* More from Ekklesia on the Charlie Hebdo aftermath: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/charliehebdo

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.