By Michael J. ARVIZU
The world continues to reel over the tragic deaths of 12 satirical journalists and cartoonists shot in Paris on Jan 7.
The deaths of what accounted for more than half the staff of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo stunned the world and once again brought to the forefront the question of just how far free expression can go and what its limits may be.
And while the world continues to argue this issue, Je ne suis pas Charlie – I am not Charlie. I do not consider myself satirical or feel a desire to publish offensive cartoons to make a point.
As a journalist, what occurred in Paris is not lost on me. Lives were taken. Families lost relatives. Colleagues will never see their coworkers again.
They join the ranks of other fallen journalists.
I admire Charlie Hebdo’s tenacity to move forward on the heels of such a tragedy and bounce back in defiance of the shooters and their terror network. But do I believe the journalists deserved to die because of their unique point of view? No.
Do I believe they have a right to publish offensive satirical cartoons, portraying religious figures as exaggerated caricatures drawn on glossy paper? Yes. Should journalists have to live in fear for showing their work to the world? No. Will journalists stop drawing or making fun of religious figures based on the words of a religious leader? Probably not. Will an imam’s words calling for a stop to all cartoons portraying Mohammed in an unflattering light prevent the next issue of Charlie Hebdo? Of course it won’t.
And that is the beauty of free expression. Charlie Hebdo can draw and choose to ignore the critics. But to die or kill because of it is wrong.
But this journalist is not Charlie. I stand with Charlie, but I am not him. I don’t agree with Charlie Hebdo’s work, especially their portrayal of religious figures, not the least of which is Mohammed.
As with all satirical cartoons, the drawings are made to make a point about a political figure, government, celebrity, or other worldly nuance the editors feel is worthy of attention. Religious leaders in the weeks after the attacks criticized the newspaper, most notably Pope Francis. During his flight to visit the Philippines earlier this month, he said, “One cannot make fun of faith.”
And I agree.
However, the pope does not speak for me, and my opinions are solely my own. As a faith leader in my own religious community, I have always been disturbed at satirical and, at times, offensive representations of my faith. More often than I can count, I have had to hold back throwing something hard at my television during the height of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis.
Therefore, do we conclude that faith is where we draw the line under the auspices of freedom of expression? Must we stop ourselves from drawing a caricature of Mohammed in the process of making a political point? Maybe.
I will never choose to work for a newspaper that publishes such material nor will I ever lower myself to create such material.
Sure, there are perhaps thousands of other satirical publications around the world that merit critiquing in one way or another, but we know of Charlie Hebdo readily because of the shootings that took place there and the media attention the incident garnered in the proceeding weeks.
Should we choose to agree with it or not, the dialogue must continue in a peaceful and constructive manner. Not at the tip of a gun barrel, but the tip of a pen or around the conference table.
Reach Michael J. Arvizu at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedjmichaelj.