This morning on the news, a cartoon that many people will find disturbing flashed onto my television screen at least two times. Wednesday’s front page of the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, attacked by terrorists last week, will show the very kind of cartoon that purportedly spurred the attacks.
Many will say the newspaper is irresponsible, adding fuel to the fire and could lead to more attacks. Others will say (as London’s mayor Boris Johnson did) that the only way to demonstrate that open societies will not bow down to terrorism is to print the cartoon. This debate got me thinking about the power of an image.
The controversial cartoon undoubtedly has power. The thought of adding a link to it on this blog fills me with dread, I’m ashamed to admit. But where did that power come from? And can that power be transferred into something that could heal instead of create more hate?
From what I can gather (these are my own views, obviously), the attacks highlight two conflicting beliefs:
- Religion is the “truth” and must be held sacred above all else. To deny this is to deny existence.
- Religions are not “truth” but are the creation of different cultures and societies; therefore, they are not sacred but are open to criticism and debate, just like everything else.
The aforementioned cartoon has become the mouthpiece for the second message — there is no one “true” religion. Printing it on the front page of a newspaper and then republishing that image over hundreds of news outlets across the world is basically blasting out that message loud and clear. Should Charlie Hebdo do this? As a newspaper, especially a political and satirical one, it’s obligated to shout out its editorial viewpoint. It has every right to do this.
On a moral level? Personally, I would have preferred to see photographs of the people who lost their lives in the attacks last week. I think making the victims “human,” rather than political mouthpieces would do more to stem violence than continuing the argument about fundamental beliefs. We’re not going to change terrorists’ minds my shouting back, “You’re wrong! And we’re right!” But connecting their actions to real people who have sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, showing how all people are fundamentally the same, THAT might make a few extremists pause for thought.
The power of one cartoon comes from all we attribute to it — freedom of speech, blasphemy, East versus West, right versus wrong, religious society versus sectarian society … Right now, that cartoon is being used to send a message, a message I personally agree with, but not the most important one at the moment. How can the media (and governments!) convey a broader, more crucial ideology — that all lives are valuable? I think that’s what the media should be working on.