Yesterday’s carnage in a quiet newspaper office in Paris has instantaneously shocked and aroused a world in danger of being numbed and anaesthetised by an escalating frequency of atrocity and impassioned rage around us.
Helped, more than hindered, by the poorly-judged ‘anti-terrorism’ fixations of the post-9/11 West, the battle grounds have moved progressively into the streets of our cities; and yesterday reached into the weekly editorial meeting of a no-doubt noisy, outrageously witty and creatively excited group of artists and journalists, provocatively armed with pens and coloured crayons.
Predictably – but none-the-less appropriately – presidents and prime-ministers were quick to the cameras and microphones to express the public outrage; and some – not always best known for their championship of untrammelled freedom of speech, transparency, disclosure or protection of their citizens’ privacy from Orwellian intrusion – linked the outrage to a new level of attack on basic democratic values.
As is becoming the norm, however, the citizens of France and, progressively, of the world moved faster, both to react to the news and to ingest its human significance; expressing an immediate identity with the victims, their families and a widening confraternity of peoples which over-leaps frontiers, religions and –increasingly- the worn-out constraints of introverted patriotisms and ideologies. ‘Je suis Charlie’ has the ring of challenge, as well as shared compassion and grief.
And there is a special significance in this for Arts Social Action and its mission.
Those who wielded pen, brush or crayon, and will no doubt continue to do so in the Charlie Hebdo office, are brothers and sisters to all of us who live partly or wholly by pen, brush, camera, stage or any other instrumentation of creativity.We’ve learned, through a long, cruel history , how vulnerable can be those of us whose role it is ‘ to bring the message ’.
Charlie Hebdo delivered theirs, and will no doubt continue to do so.
So we, who in our various fields of creative activity, have our own , sometimes prickly, messages to deliver – on climate change, social inequalities or whatever – should take inspiration from the commitment of these confreres.
They knew that, over time, pens are always mightier than swords in defending our Democratic freedoms.