Last week’s murder in Paris of 12 people, including the senior editor and multiple cartoonists for the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, was awful and terrifying simply for the way it was carried out.
The attacks have drawn outrage and shock worldwide and solidarity against the perceived assault on free speech. Charlie Hebdo is known for publishing satirical reports and cartoons on everything from politics to religion, including caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, which is suspected to have led to the recent attack.
The worldwide response has seen hundreds of thousands march in solidarity in France and elsewhere and more people join social media groups supporting the notion that free speech has been radically and violently attacked.
Supporters’ placards held up around the globe have stated Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie). A better question might be Pourquoi Charlie (why Charlie)?
While few support the actions of those who carried out this terror attack, what was it about Charlie Hebdo and what it stands for that has inspired millions to march or otherwise make their voice or opinions heard? Would people voice support as loudly if the Globe and Mail or the New York Times were attacked?
In today’s wired world, perceived attacks on ideas or ideals seem to galvanize people more quickly than, say, the outbreak of a disease such as Ebola, the spread of which has seen more than 8,000 people die in Africa.
The murder of a Canadian soldier outside Parliament in Ottawa and subsequent gunfight inside represented not just the actions of a “radicalized” gunman, but an attack on the heart of our democracy. The kidnapping and murder of schoolgirls in Nigeria by radical group Boko Haram was condemned as much for its assault on the education of females as for the simple brutal violence of the attack.
The importance of the ideal gives legs to support movements such as Je Suis Charlie. But one never knows what will spur widespread support until faced with a tragedy or crisis. Sadly, with the ongoing global news cycle and social media chatter, it depends on what else has grabbed people’s attention.