This morning the world woke up once again to media reports of a brutal terrorist attack in France, with the news that twelve innocent people had been murdered at the offices of a leading French satire publication. Murderous violence for any reason is a stain on the fabric of society, terrorism perhaps even more so. Whatever the particularly twisted political, religious or ideological reasoning behind each incident, it is always the case that the first victims are those directly impacted by the violence and the secondary victim is society at large.
The events today in Paris are no exception - for the families, friends and colleagues of those killed what occurred thus morning is a deeply personal tragedy. This was a brazen assault not only on the sanctity of human life, but by attacking journalists the people who did this were striking out at a central element, a cornerstone of civil society. That this was a satirical publication is also likely significant - after all, satire is often the sharpest tool of social critics, holding a mirror up to society, highlighting its most ironic inconsistencies, flaws and hypocrisies. Whether in the writings of Swift, the pages of the Harvard Lampoon or in Charlie Hebdo, satirists employ humor and wit to tell truth to power, playing an important role in civil society.
It goes without saying that anyone who values human life wants to see the criminals who perpetrated this heinous act swiftly caught and brought to justice. But we must also be willing to say, through whatever means we have at our disposal, that this act was not only a crime against those killed, or an attack against an individual media outlet, but an assault on the idea of civil society itself. To do anything less would be to ignore the real and present danger all Western societies face today, and we would do so at our peril.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2015.