It’s taken me a little while to try to come to terms with the carnage in Paris. As a cartoonist and journalist, I share the overwhelming sense of horror and revulsion most of us feel. What these jihadist morons did was sickening beyond belief, yet another reminder that Western civil society is under increasing threat from an ideology that rejects an open, multi-cultural world view, and rejects it violently. What’s most terrifying is that it only takes a few dedicated extremists to cause enormous damage.
That said, I’m already a little tired of the deluge of cartoons by my ink-stained compatriots valiantly proclaiming, in one metaphor or another, the power of the pen over the sword. A bit too easy and glib for my taste, especially since the guys with the pen were butchered. I doubt that any of our American artists worried for one second that their lives would be in jeopardy because of yesterday’s cartoon celebrating the ultimate triumph of their drawing tools over AK-47s.
And let’s be honest about Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. They weren’t what I would call genuine editorial cartoons, designed to make a specific editorial point. They were deliberately offensive broadsides, more adolescent sniggering than thoughtful comment. Not that there’s any excuse for murdering their creators, but let’s not pretend they were attempting serious journalism. In some ways, this makes the attacks worse. The killers were incensed not by an intellectual critique of their religious practices, but by a silly insult. As an editorial cartoonist I wouldn’t have drawn those cartoons. I never minded offending my subjects, but I never wanted to do it just for the sake of offending.
Another theme in yesterday’s editorial cartoons was the terrorists’ bullets striking Islam itself, often represented as a mosque. A version of this theme has Allah decrying the stupidity of the shooters. These, I thought, were marginally better cartoons, more substantial than the power of the pen drawings.
It’s not easy to come up with a really good cartoon on deadline in reaction to breaking news like this, especially when it hits so close to home, so I give my guys some slack. I might have done something similar. What I’m hoping to see in the next few days are some cartoons that delve deeper into the complex issues this incident raises. For instance, this isn’t all about free expression vs. oppression. There’s an irreconcilable ideological conflict here between those of us who believe in a democratic, tolerant social structure and those who fervently believe in an autocratic theocracy. How do we protect our society when those conflicting world views clash? What has given rise to the growth and spread of jihadism? How do we contain it?
And what will any of us have the courage to draw if we know our life is in danger? I don’t honestly know what my answer would be.