James Bartholomeusz responds to the terror attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris.
Often, in the immediate aftermath of such moments, a strange quiet descends. A lot of people are saying a lot of things, but no one really seems able to a grasp on the event itself. It defies definition and compartmentalisation. There is fear, sympathy, anger – but most of all there is confusion. We struggle to comprehend how such a thing can have happened.
A deep sense of uncertainty is normal at times like these. And yet, it is such horrors that provide the greatest test of our principles. These are the moments at which those principles are either shown to be empty, impossible to maintain at a time of crisis, or else stand tall, emboldened by the trial.
Yesterday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris was more than a barbaric massacre of an unarmed group of people. It was a symbolic assault on liberty itself – on freedom of expression, on an open public sphere, on the power of words and images to engage and entertain. These are things the majority of us – not just in Europe, but across the world – value deeply, and the way in which they have been sullied rightly fills us with rage.
There are those who, whilst outwardly disgusted at these events, are even now looking for the best way to exploit the situation for darker purposes. There will undoubtedly be reprisals, rhetorical and violent, against Muslims who bear no greater allegiance to these assailants than anyone else, on the basis that they are convenient scapegoats for public anguish. If we value our liberty, we must oppose such machinations with utter contempt. If we concede that our Muslim compatriots are anything other than fellow Europeans and integral members of our society, if we separate them off as a threat to ‘our way of life’, then we have capitulated to terror – and we risk driving them into the welcoming arms of extremism. We cannot allow these extremist groups to threaten moves toward a properly inclusive society. Liberty is liberty for all, or it is not liberty.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims of this attack. We will continue to stand in solidarity with them through this most difficult of times. And, in the name of the fallen, we must safeguard our liberty all the more, opposing the spread of hatred and violence by any group in society.
We are all Europeans, and we are all Charlie.
Image: ‘Je suis Charlie’ courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.