Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London Stands Shoulder to Shoulder with Paris

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London Stands Shoulder to Shoulder with Paris

Article excerpt

IT IS perhaps a small comfort in the dark day that follows his murder, that the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, fulfilled the defiant promise he once expressed in an interview: "It probably sounds a bit pompous but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees." Thus he died, along with 11 others, as the editor of a magazine that had the courage to subject Islam to the same derision as its other targets, including the French political elite, Catholicism and feminism. Mr Charbonnier and his colleagues, among them some of France's bestloved cartoonists, have paid a heavy price for their refusal to be intimidated from satirising Islam. Their murder is France's 9/11, an attack on an equally totemic target. In a country in which free expression is valued not least as an expression of the secularism at the heart of its republican principles, this is an attack on what makes France French.

Naturally there has been a near-universal outpouring of grief and solidarity, not just in France but in Trafalgar Square last night and in cities throughout the world. We are all Charlie Hebdo now. The expressions of revulsion have been shared by Muslim leaders and the Arab League. This episode is plainly not quite in the same category as the controversy over the Danish cartoons in 2006, when the attacks on the cartoons and the magazine that published them attracted support throughout the Muslim world, including demonstrators in London. Yet the willingness of Charlie Hebdo to republish those cartoons is one reason why its editor is dead.

For all these declarations of support, it is perhaps too early to declare that Western proponents of free speech We are all Charlie Hebdo now will never be subdued by the threat of violence. It is worth asking whether, if Salman Rushdie were to write another version of his Satanic Verses about a controversial section of the Koran now, he would find a publisher and outlets willing to sell and promote it. …

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