Over the weekend, three to four million people showed up on the streets of Paris to express their sympathy for, and solidarity with, the cartoonists and editors of a satirical newspaper called Charlie Hebdo, who had been murdered by Islamic extremists.
Many carried signs reading Je Suis Charlie – I am Charlie. If that were only the case, but it is not. Perhaps it made them feel better but, if so, Charlie Hebdo would likely have mocked the hypocrisy and called bullshit deservedly.
The crowd was 50 to 60 times the circulation of Charlie Hebdo so, even if they had carried signs reading Je Lis Charlie – I read Charlie — it would not have been true. For most, especially Americans, the story of Charlie Hebdo was learned after the fact, like reading the obituary of an unheard-of public figure. I am in that number.
Next week Charlie Hebdo will publish 1 million copies and, chances are, they will sell out as collectors’ items. But, how many copies will Charlie Hebdo publish next month or next year? Likely, far fewer and that will tell us the sad truth that the Charlie Hebdo story had no legs. It did not capture our fleeting attention long enough for the lessons to take hold.
Charlie Hebdo was good at calling bullshit on those who deserved it. Since it is a left-wing newspaper, the right found itself in the crosshairs far more often than their opponents, but politicians of every stripe were lampooned by the sharpest of pens and brushes.
The murderers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, have been killed. An accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, has also being killed after taking hostages in a kosher grocery store. His wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, seems to have escaped to Syria. Three out of four is better than nothing.
In an interview available on YouTube, the question was “peut on encore rire de tout?” – can we still laugh at everything? Unsurprisingly, the Charlie Hebdo editor’s answer was yes, but to the likes of Kouachi, Coulibaly and Boumeddiene that is not the case.
Obviously, the three or four killers are at fault for what they did, but they are not the leaders of radical Islam. Those leaders bear responsibility for the recruitment and training of the on-the-ground terrorists who serve only their own personal interests. These are not philosophers. These are not religious leaders. These are politicians who recognize the value of using stupid people to increase their own stature.
Those who do not wish to live with the possibility of periodic Charlie Hebdo massacres have little recourse against the terrorist leaders themselves. Where we do have recourse is against our own leaders who, in the name of inclusiveness, political correctness, tolerance or understanding, fail to call bullshit and take appropriate action.
Don’t look for any senior American officials among the world leaders who gathered in Paris. They were not there. After scathing criticism in the news and on social media, the White House has acknowledged that it made a mistake by not sending anyone.
Fumbling the optics is one thing but fumbling the solution is another. Western leaders, not least our own, bear significant responsibility for encouraging a climate in which barbarism is tolerated.
Please don’t say or think “Je Suis Charlie” unless and until it is actually true. For most it isn’t and never will be.
And that is truly our loss.