Silence Gives Consent

By Judy Berman

Make no mistake. The aim in the massacre in Paris was to silence those who did not share their beliefs.

Two terrorists linked to al-Qaeda stormed a weekly satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, on Wednesday, January 7, and murdered eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor.

Why? The extremists wanted to retaliate against the paper for publishing cartoons that depicted the prophet Mohammed, which they said is forbidden under Islamic law.

The rallying cry “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) is the voice of people in Paris and throughout the world who are taking a stand against Islamic terrorism. It is similar to what France’s newspaper, Le Monde, wrote after the 9/11 attack on the U.S.: “We Are All Americans Now.”

Some argue that the paper should not have continued to publish cartoons that inflamed Islamic radicals.

Where do you draw the line on what’s acceptable?

If we do, we censor our thoughts, voice and actions because someone might take offense at what we say or do.

Voltaire, a satirist, “frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day.” (Wikipedia)

But, in a quote attributed to Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it … “

That idea is obsolete for extremists. They become outraged and threaten retaliation and deadly force if any one disagrees with them.

cartoon - Jeff Parker - cartoon - Je Suis Charlie

It’s played out every day, including on social media, by those who cannot express clearly what their opposition is without violence – either verbal, in writing or with assault.

There are times when I feared for my safety when I worked as a reporter because someone was upset with something I wrote.

Once, a man came to the newspaper where I worked and demanded to see me. He accused me of working with police to implicate him in the death of a former girlfriend.

It appeared the man had been drinking. As he stormed out, he nearly knocked a woman down. It was then that my colleague, Bill Farrell, saw that the man had a sharp, shiny object in his back pocket. (story: here)

The assault on those who speak their minds is not limited to those who work in the media.

If we do not take a stand against terrorism, we will also become hostages and targets of extremists.

Rarely do folks with opposing views thoughtfully listen to and consider what another has to say, agree to disagree, and walk away peacefully.

I long for those days.

What are your thoughts? Please keep comments rated PG.

Music video: John Lennon’s “Imagine”   

NewsVideo: Considering this week’s events in France, Scott Pelley closed the broadcast on Friday, Jan. 9,, with a powerful message on a cherished freedom.

Cartoon: Je Suis Charlie – by Jeff Parker, a syndicated cartoonist based in Florida.

  1. I agree with you, Judy, about the need to stand against terrorists–and anyone who opposes free speech. And, I, too, long for a world in which people can peacefully agree to disagree. All week I’ve followed the news about the events in Paris, but I simply can’t wrap my mind around this senseless murder of people.

    1. Merrill … After I wrote this today, I saw a video about the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and their discussions about publishing controversial cartoons about political and religious leaders. They mentioned several countries that would not allow this. But, France, the United States, Great Britain, and many other countries are very fortunate to have the freedom of expression that we do. (I have attached a link to the video which is in French with English subtitles.

  2. Thank you for addressing this raw issue with sensitivity and common sense – and with a wonderful title. My rage has transmuted into deep sorrow. No R or X comments from me. We use our voices for a call for freedom – and peace! You did this eloquently with text, cartoon, and video.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with every word you’ve written here, Judy. Civil discourse, agreeing to disagree while still affording the other party their right to an opinion, considering the merits of the other person’s argument….all these things seem to have vanished. I fear we are heading down a very slippery slope if we begin to self-censor for fear of offending somebody. If you don’t like the cartoon….the book…..the movie, then don’t read it or go see it! I’ve been trying to remember the author of the quote in yours post, Voltaire. Thank you!!

    1. Barbara … As a reporter, I always hoped that I might be able to at least have someone consider another point of view in a situation. When we try to look at things from another perspective, that does give us a better understanding of where that person is coming from and that there are many sides to every argument. With extremists, there is only one point of view: theirs.

      From the brief search I did on that quote, I don’t know if those were Voltaire’s exact words. The comments were that it was a quote frequently attributed to Voltaire.

      1. I just heard on the radio yesterday the following “Prejudice cannot survive proximity.” Meaning, of course, that the better you understand another culture, the less likely to hate it. May Pollyanna-ish in light of what’s going on. In any event, Judy, excellent post and musical accompaniment.

  4. My mother recounts the story of a newspaper editor who lived above her parents’ flat in Nazi Germany being hauled away in the middle of the night never to be seen again. He had written something negative about the party. There are parallels today everywhere!

    1. How horrible and so very scary for that family. I posted a link above – in the comments – about a video done on the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, a few years ago. Some might question their decision to run controversial cartoons of political and religious leaders, but they said how lucky they were to be in France as they had that freedom which is denied to people in other countries.

  5. How scary that you faced a situation that could have easily spiraled out of control. I don’t have answers, but I do have great admiration for those who face the bullies and exercise their right to free speech. We’re all offended by something, but that doesn’t mean others don’t have the right to put it out there.

    1. Carrie … I’d love to be cavalier and say that situation comes with the territory, but it was unnerving. I remain grateful to my colleague who offered to go downstairs with me and remained with me during that confrontation.

  6. I’ve never lived in another country for an extended time so I have trouble wrapping my head around the idea the you kill when someone “disrespects” you. It’s a culture foreign to me. Wonderful post and so appropriate.

    1. Unfortunately, we’ve had similar attacks in the U.S. The deadliest domestic attack took place on April 19, 1995 – six years before the 9/11 attacks. Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in retaliation for the federal government’s handling of the Waco, Texas siege in 1993. The attack killed 76 people – including many children who were in a daycare center in that building.

      The Boston Marathon bombing, that killed three people on April 15, 2013, is also being compared to the Paris murders as it involved terrorist extremists.

      1. I remember those. Not that I can wrap my head around those either. Why would you kill a cartoonist? The pen is mightier than the sword, isn’t it? I also remember the death threat that was on the author Salman Rushdie.

      2. I think that terrorists fear those who can create because they can spread their ideas. Yes, I remember that Salman Rushdie had a very low profile for a long time because of the death threats. Very scary.

  7. Absolutely agree with everything you said. If only people everywhere would realize the simple truths that we each have our own personal beliefs and our reasons for them and therefore should be respected, even when you don’t agree or are offended by them.

    1. Thank you, Diana. I was telling one of my students recently that we should look at each other as individuals. When folks slap labels on someone, it diminishes that person. “Here, this is all you are.” Well, we’re all so much more and we should appreciate that. How boring it would be if everyone was in lock step. 😉

    1. Looking back, I can say that I really enjoyed working the cop and courts beat. I’ve often joked that ‘only the good die young. I’m going to live forever.’

      But sometimes I was more concerned about some of the “upstanding citizens” than I was of the thugs. 😉

      1. I can understand that Judy. When I first started working with a non profit that addressed homelessness, I was an outreach worker. I was called a bitch by pimps, I was threatened by drug dealers, and still I went out, stealthily photographed drug deals from roof tops, stood up to the pimps, brought women to my place so they could be safe, etc. I loved it, the adrenaline, the danger, the rush… Not sure that would be my thing now but…

      2. The adrenaline rush, the danger … you captured those moments correctly, Diana. What you did was risky, but I’m sure it was very rewarding knowing that you were helping someone stay out of danger. Hats off to you, Diana. 😉

  8. This was a beautiful post and beautifully written, Judy. You put into words what so many of us are thinking. Thank you for that. I am thinking about reposting this on my blog in a few days. I hope you do not mind. Thanks Again for this important post.

  9. It’s funny but I was thinking you most likely got excited about writing this post … up your old alley so to speak! I’m glad and I was or still am thinking about this as a topic. I’d be remiss if I didn’t I guess.

    I wrote so many articles about civil rights! Right there from Central Tech HS in Syracuse NY. It was perhaps when I really started to want the whole truth and nothing but! I had so many truths I believed because they came from impeachable sources ( news media use that don’t they?) … bishops, asst. police chiefs (my relations of sorts) local priests as I discovered too many of then had their own agenda were better liars … than those who did tell the truth. I placed too much trust because that’s what we do with parents, teachers and authorities of all sorts (at least back then). Like honor thy father and mother … right … what if they were Bonnie and Clyde or … not a good idea but it was a mitzvah ( commandment) so it is commanded by God! You gonna tell Him He’s wrong ! I ain’t that dumb (close)! I began to question everything then and since but that’s another story!

    Who are you ( favorite question of mine) ? I don’t argue as much initially as I used to … rather I say you’re right – no arguments)! Later when safer I think what became the subtitle of my blog … “You’re Always Right”, but … ‘Question Everything’ (just in case) … Hey !!! Who’s your ‘go to’ helper or rulebook?” Can you trust them and is their source really reliable?!

    Back then I was scared a lot! Got beat up a lot too! It was ok … I’m still here … almost in one piece! LOL Thanks and I hope you’ll all agree that truth needs to win out to help us all find peace! Blessings, Rick =)

    1. Rick … I wouldn’t say “excited” was what I was most likely feeling. It was mostly pain. Yes, I can relate as I was a former journalist. But the murderous attacks took place in an office where the victims – except for security – were unarmed. The extremists choose their targets well. They are unarmed civilians, children, and could be you or me. The only commonality is: we’re not them.

      As for who to believe, I recall a conversation I had in 1990 with a Mohawk Indian on the St. Regis Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation that straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. There was a clash among factions within the reservation over casino gambling and New York State Police were called in. He told me “You’ve heard their truths. Now listen to our truths.” His comment emphasized to me that the truth does depend on your perspective. You and I, and some impartial observer, may all have differing opinions. Yet, to varying degrees, we may still be right and wrong.

      An American humorist, Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) once said: “Trust everybody, but cut the cards.” That advice then still holds up.

      I think the word you mean is “unimpeachable” – which means ‘not able to be doubted, questioned, or criticized; entirely trustworthy.’ So an unimpeachable witness would be someone whose testimony cannot be doubted.

      1. First, thank you Judy I appreciate you correcting me noting I should have used unimpeachable! When Walter Cronkite spoke, everyone believed it (that’s unimpeachable)!

        Yes I was referring to your being a journalist. And yes the events are a tragedy and too many are doing too little to stop it. That to me is the cruelest and greatest heartbreak. I’m sorry for not being clear.

        I too, sadly recall all the infighting within the tribes let alone the outside groups back then. It was chaos as you say. I agree with you that we all have opinions and they can be right and wrong in so many ways depending on perspective as you say.

        However, what I am looking for and hoping for is that as many as we can reach find peace finally through immutable truths and see though the lies. You see I believe time is growing short and increasing silence as you say is giving consent to all our ends – one by one I think we can stop it with God’s grace. At least, I hope so. Thanks

  10. This is a wonderful expression of your opinion, Judy, one that I’m sure is held by many.
    “Rarely do folks with opposing views thoughtfully listen to and consider what another has to say, agree to disagree, and walk away peacefully.” So true…unfortunately.
    Thank you for this, Judy.

    1. Maya Angelou said it best: “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” If we sat down and talked, we’d find that we have many things in common. The extremists discount that the main tenet of all major religions is the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.

      Thank you for your comments, Jill.

  11. John Lennon says it all and you say the rest in your eloquent post . We have been heartbroken to see the papers this week my heart goes out to all .

  12. yes, judy to all of this. we cannot and will not be silenced. approach all with kindness and do not ever be afraid to speak the truth. nothing will stop that.

    1. Thank you, Beth. Stephane Charbonnier, editorial director of Charlie Hebdo, who was killed in the assault once said: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” This is not the first violent attack on freedom of expression. I admire those who are standing up to the terrorists.

  13. I agree with this post, we cannot allow fear to create censorship or we will be going back to the times where government controlled far too much. I have many times written possibly about areas, had it been in the past; they would have said it was about “unacceptable behavior.” We have to be inclusive and allow freedom to express opinions.
    The only place I think we need to be careful is when someone is being paid to entertain, where those words are discriminating towards others.In this case, those Duck Dynasty people who express archaic views and then say it is due to the Bible, they may be boycotted. I don’t watch them, nor Paula Deen or others who have put their foot in their mouth too often. I think the football commissioner needs to be accepting towards gays and blacks, since he has those football players on his team, but not accepting towards wife beaters. This sort of thing is hard to explain but there is a big difference between writing and acting negatively. The written word is that of the writer. Actions that are harmful need to be punished…. Hope this makes sense and you are not offended, Judy!

    1. Robin … What offends me are people who cannot empathize with anyone else’s situation, or are cruel to those are different. There are views I don’t agree with and it’s hard to keep my big mouth shut when those views come from people I love and/or like. If someone is not open to listening to a different point of view, I often find it healthier to leave the conversation entirely. But to use violence to shut somebody down can never be tolerated.

      In one of the stories from Paris, someone said that ‘we are all brothers and sisters.’ Lassana Bathily, a Muslim, risked his life to save those in the supermarket when terrorists began shooting. He took them down to the store’s freezer, turned it off, and left them to alert police about what was going on. At first he was arrested. Then police realized the heroic things Bathily did.

      1. Yes, this is so great you mentioned how people mistake ones who are not the criminals just by the color of their skin or the religion they practice. I feel freedom of expression should include listening to both sides, it is so hard to do sometimes when there if violence as a response. We seem to go one baby step forwards and then so many miles backwards, at times!

  14. The song, “Imagine,” is haunting and such a great way of emphasizing this post, Judy. I think there are several which come to mind, recently I was humming, “What the World needs now is love sweet love, that’s the only thing we don’t have plenty of…” I also like Bette Midler’s “From A Distance.”

    1. Thank you, Robin. “Imagine” is one of my favorites. I had to go back and hear Dionne Warwick’s “What the World Needs Now” – beautiful and so appropriate for what’s happening. I hadn’t heard Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” for quite awhile. Great tune, but prefer Warwick’s. Thanks for the musical memories. 😉

      1. I am so glad you looked up Dionne Warwick and liked the song, all over again. It is fine not to like other’s suggestions (as in the Bette Midler song) since I am not always in favor of the exclusive term of God, (Which is in this song.) Also, musical taste is so varied! You are most welcome for musical memories, Judy.
        Although I try to be open and include Allah and others view of their ‘higher being,’ some of the worst things have been done in the name of religion.
        So, love and imagination are much more important messages. I agree, Judy!

    1. I do love cartoons – whether they’re on the funny page or the editorial page. I have friends who have done both. Thinking of you and everyone else who picks up a pen and creates. 😉

    1. Jenny … It was amazing to see how many turned out – in Paris and throughout the world – to protest the murderous assault. I hope it makes a positive difference Thank you for your comments. 😉

  15. A very brave post indeed Judy I cannot imagine what it must be like to feel threatened for using your freedom of speech. Thank you for sharing your experiences. The world is a sad place when such a thing like this happens.

    1. Kath … The good thing is that so many stood up and spoke out after the attacks in Paris. The extremists’ aim to stop the Charlie Hebdo newspaper backfired. Before the attack, the weekly published about 60,000 copies. Tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 14th), NPR says they will publish 3 million copies and in several languages … including Arabic. 😉

  16. Great post, Judy. You have the gift of speaking forthrightly, but your tone is always warm, reasonable, open. You’re being an ex-reporter, I’m sure the Charlie Hebdo shootings struck very close to home.

    Freedom of speech is tough. Sounds so rosy on the surface, and yet it can be so sorely abused. A lot of today’s so-called comedy and satire are nothing more than mockery for mockery’s sake. People who hate Christianity or organized religion in general use “freedom of expression” to mock it in the most vulgar terms, and then smirk and say: “Whatsa matter– can’t you take a joke?”

    True, freedom of expression has to be defended, but I, personally, am sickened by much of the “humor” that’s perpetuated in its name. Good taste has eroded, and it makes for an ugly, angry world. One can’t defend violence and murder, of course, but it’s hard to see a path to a more peaceful future, when people insist on the right to be rude and offensive.

    Great post, my hat is off to someone who is wise, articulate, brave, and who always keeps the discussion on a calm, reasoned, and respectful level. Well done, Judy! : )

    1. Thank you, Mark. It is difficult to say where and when to draw the line when we talk about Freedom of speech and expression. You’re right. The Charlie Hebdo shooting did hit close to home. I’m not sure I had the distance I should have when writing about it.

      While I am not a fan of some of the cartoons they drew, it’s downright scary that someone decides to take another’s life just because s/he is offended by the writing, drawing, singing, etc.

      I hope that my thoughts and comments lived up to the very kind statements you made. 😉

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