Je Suis la Liberté, le Respect et la Tolérance

“I am freedom, respect and tolerance”


(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A woman has taped her mouth displaying the word Freedom on the tape, as she gathers with several thousand people in solidarity with victims of two terrorist attacks in Paris, one at the office of weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo and another at a kosher market, front of the Brandenburg Gate near the French embassy in Berlin, Sunday, Jan. 11.

Egalitarian Staff Writer Maria Smith.
Staff Writer Maria Smith.

Since I was a little girl, my mother taught me that tolerance is a powerful tool for your everyday life. I learned that not only tolerance, but also patience, could let you accomplish an incredible amount of things in life.

As an international student and future journalist. I have learned a lot about different cultures. I have coexisted with those who think differently, who have different religions and I have accepted those comments that I do not like.

Patience and tolerance: two small words that can change so many things.

Seventeen people died in the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. A conclusion that is acquired from this bloody expression of intolerance, barbarism and ignorance is that the truth is contrary to appearances.

In other words, if someone feels—not angry or offended—but threatened by a cartoon, it is clear that this person has convictions that are too fragile and vulnerable.

It is the opposite of appearance. At first glance, people think that fans have strong, deep convictions and inspired ideas. They proclaim their slogans loudly, with arms raised and detonating bombs that are capable of killing thousands of innocent people and they are even willing to commit suicide for the sake of their beliefs.

This is backwards. Those ideas are so childish that they are not capable of supporting the hint of a smile or the power of a laugh. The strength of an idea is not only measured in its validity and its persuasiveness, but also their triumph over other ideas.

The dispute is with other ideas. Not bullets. If anyone believes that a canvas, a video, a text or a caricature is disrespecting his or her religion, that person has the right to respond with its own canvas, video, text or caricature. Never with a bullet.

If someone feels that he or she must take up arms to defend their god or philosophy or is tempted to use a weapon to protect themselves from a joke, at that moment the person betrays their pathetic fragility. There is no loud crying, slogan or even an explosion, as hard as it sounds, that might convince you otherwise.

Another fact that this insane attack on freedom of expression reveals is the power of speech and pen, which are generally considered weak against a rifle. It is also backwards. They are so powerful that for centuries, the authorities have made bonfires of books and have persecuted writers, artists and comedians, feeling threatened by satire and the written word.

Humor is also a way of saying something serious.

— T.S. Eliot

I come from a country when freedom of expression in no longer allowed. Humor still is our only way out of reality back in Venezuela. Mockery and derision against our government helps us to get through to that nonexistent freedom that we have. The fact that we can still laugh is healthy and necessary. However, it’s also dangerous and for that, very brave and admirable.

For most of us, it is difficult to understand the mind of the cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo. Why were they seeking to offend? Why make fun of what is sacred to others? Why provoke Islamic extremists if they knew they may react with violence?

As a reader of its publication and its jokes, I think they did it because they were convinced of a truth—we cannot coexist with irrational and intolerant fanatics.

In the view of the French weekly, politically correct tolerance is like trying to live with an abusive husband. You believe that your husband is naturally good, and hits only when he’s provoked. Finally,  you become convinced that is not your abuser’s fault, but yours.  

We often believe that if we are good, nothing bad will happen to us. Experience shows that, sooner or later, the striker hits.

I can be politically correct and say that the illustrations of Charlie Hebdo were “too controversial.” But that is the same as arguing that a raped woman’s dress was “too sexy” or “she was asking for it”. Here there is some controversy—on one hand we have drawings, and on the other murderous bullets.

Certainly there are styles of dress, ideas, drawings and texts that can be annoying and even offensive, but making fun of any religion is not correct either. However, killing for it does not make us better than the mockery. Many illustrations of Charlie Hebdo did not make me laugh and several times they infuriate me. But the only civilized alternative is to ignore or respond in the same way—writing, drawing and arguing. If we react with physical violence, we become beasts, and as Buddha said, “who makes you angry, dominates you.”

The difficulty of living with others is part of human experience. It is also human nature to try to have the last word in every argument. Those who killed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and editors tried to have the last word in the most cowardly manner. By doing it in a malicious and ignorant manner, they confirmed that monsters live with no sense of humor or love.

Can we live with fans if we don’t provoke them? Or, should we leave them in evidence so people become aware of their brutality? Those are not simple questions, but I agree that Charlie Hebdo is a problem, which we must deal sooner rather than later. Despite the fact that often I do not share their humor, it was and will remain necessary to ensure freedom and protect their voices from future attacks.