Opinion: Charlie Hebdo stands firm

POSTED: 01/15/15 2:43 PM

You have to give it to them: the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo is not going to back down. While the tears over the loss of their colleagues probably are still flowing freely, the staff is resolute in its decision to publish Mohammed-cartoons in tomorrow’s edition. Circulation of this issue will be one million copies.

Richard Malka, Charlie’s attorney, said that the choice for the subject matter was quickly made. Malka told public radio broadcaster France Info that the remaining editors are determined not to give in to the wishes of terrorists. “Otherwise everything would have been in vain.” Readers may count on an edition that celebrates the right to blasphemy.

The editorial staff completed the magazine’s cover last night. Editor-in-Chief Gérard Biard has attempted to prevent that the issue would turn into one long necrology. “We did not want to be cry-babies.”

Last Wednesday’s terrorist attack killed eight journalists and a receptionist. Eleven people sustained serious injuries.

The only Dutch contributing cartoonist, Bernard Willem Holtrop was in the Netherlands during the attack and he worked during the past couple of days on the new edition. That promises to become the most sold issue in the magazine’s history. The regular circulation of Charlie Hebdo is between 60 and 70 thousand copies.

Distributor Betapress that takes care of the distribution of the approximately 500 copies in the Netherlands, expects the magazine to be for sale on Wednesday evening or otherwise in the course of Thursday at some book stores and store chains and at train stations. Betapress reported a large interest in the issue.

A couple of years ago Betapress stopped the distribution of Charlie Hebdo for a lack of interest. Bankruptcy has been looming for Charlie Hebdo for a long time, but those concerns are gone for the time being. Since the attacks, Charlie received donations from the French government ($1.2 million), the parent company of the British daily The Guardian ($154,000) and from several funds that promote freedom of the press (totaling $600,000).

Betapress said that there will be no Dutch version of the new Charlie Hebdo. The distributor declined to say which stores have ordered the satirical magazine. The Dutch daily Trouw reported that the AKO-stores are among the retailers that will sell it.

Critics may feel that the decision by Charlie’s editorial staff to punch the prophet Mohammed for good measure once more in the face is rather reckless. Up to a point, we understand that sentiment. On the other hand – any editor worth his salt at Charlie Hebdo did not really have another choice – short of resigning and fleeing to a tropical and terrorist-free island in the Caribbean.

If you stand for something, you cannot back down. And thus, terrorists who conveniently abuse the Islam to do whatever they are doing, will always find an excuse for their senseless barbarism.

In St. Maarten, Charlie Hebdo has always been on sale at Le Grand Marché in Cole Bay. Usually there were one or two copies lingering in the rack with French newspapers. But last Saturday, they were all gone and one may expect that there is serious interest in Charlie’s new stand for freedom of expression – and the freedom of blasphemy.

The opinion in the Netherlands about the work of Charlie Hebdo is sharply divided. Reading those opinions, it has occurred to us that most people are unable to make the distinction between defamation and satire. If Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are simply dismissed as vulgar insults to Mohammed, as some people do, we may as well close down all theaters and forbid standup comedians to perform. That is not the world we want to live in.

Freedom of expression – within a given context – goes far, very far. And rightly so.

In the same vein, it is okay for people to have a different opinion on this issue. One Trouw-reader wrote: “If you constantly insult your own brother, sister, partner of child, friendship will come to an end. Saying that this is freedom of expression is shortsighted, because you cause that other person constant pain.”

This is, in a nutshell the misunderstanding that rages through this debate. Calling somebody at random names in a public place amounts quickly to insult or, if the argument becomes heated, to threats. All that is against the law.

But the standup comedian, the cartoonist and the columnist have a much larger freedom. They show their audience a different world, one that sometimes puts a smile on your face, sometimes outrages you and sometimes makes you think. That’s all part of the society we live in.

We read somewhere that Charlie Hebdo has insulted the Pope more often than it did Mohammed and Catholics have never come out with guns blazing – at least not recently. Maybe that is because Christians have their own history of violence – and they’ve had enough of it.

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