The people of Paris and the civilized world, looking for a way to express solidarity after the heinous murders of twelve editors and illustrators, have leapt upon the phrase “I am Charlie Hebdo,” or sometimes, “Nous sommes Charlie!”
The instinct was and is understandable — noble, even — but, alas, it is one I cannot share.
I am not Charlie Hebdo because, well, while I can admire it, I cannot personally imagine dying for the cause of printing juvenile and occasionally borderline pornographic cartoons that mock religion (all religions, he and his colleagues insisted). I could die for my faith, I hope, and my family, certainly, but not for naked cartoons.
I am not Charlie Hebdo because I cannot agree with David Harsanyi that Islam is “not mocked enough” and the answer is to mock more. Respect for the idea of the sacred, and the way people attempt to find God, forbids that pathway to me.
George Clooney famously said about the threats to theaters used to shut down general distribution of the movie The Interview: “With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid.”
That is not quite true. John Podhoretz points out that a few generations ago, you could defend free speech by defending literature some government wanted to ban: Ulysses, Lolita, Madame Bovary.
And the very first martyr to the free press in this country was the Reverend Elijah Lovejoy, who died for the right to oppose slavery. A mob had destroyed three of his printing presses. On November 7, 1837, just as his fourth new printing press arrived and was installed, Reverend Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Alton, Ill. He was buried without public services in an unmarked grave.
Four days before he died, Reverend Lovejoy delivered a speech to the good people of Alton in which he said, “If the civil authorities refuse to protect me, I must look to God, and if I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton. I have sworn eternal opposition to slavery and by the blessing of God I will never turn back. With God I cheerfully rest my cause. I can die at my post but I cannot desert it.”
The tree of liberty must be watered now and again by the blood of martyrs.
I am not Charlie Hebdo because that is not the right name. That is not a person, it is a magazine, and darn it, the heroes in this case have other names, especially Stephane Charbonnier, the editor in chief, who testified, “It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”
No Stephane Charbonnier, it doesn’t sound at all pompous. Not today.
I am not Charlie Hebdo, in other words, because Stephane Charbonnier and his colleagues were heroes and I am not.
What have I done to deserve that title, to make that claim?
Tweeting “I am Charlie!” does nothing to change the fact that I live in utter safety; Stephane Charbonnier and his colleagues did not die because they wrote “I am Charlie Hebdo,” but because like the others on the al-Qaeda hit list, he and they dared to criticize the Prophet Mohammed.
With all due respect to my fellow citizens and friends who are Muslims, the least I can do is say this: I believe the Prophet Mohammed is a false prophet.
I don’t think it requires any courage for me to say that but in case it does, one final note:
Almost every Wednesday around 3 p.m. you can find me walking up Connecticut Avenue NW past 17th Street on the way to meetings. Thankfully, I live in a country where both the police and the people have the right to bear arms.
Stephane Charbonnier, rest in peace.
— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.