The Observer, like most people, has been saddened more than we can express by the massacre of 12 people at the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. We honestly don't know if we want to live in a world where you can be executed for being a smartass, even an annoying, offensive, vulgar smartass, as the writers and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo seem to have been from time to time. The Observer has been all of the above during our tenure here at the Fortress of Employment, and we're plenty proud of it.
We tend to believe that you can judge the worth of a society by how much that society values those who look at power and find the courage to chuckle, from Aristophanes to Charlie Chaplin to the minds behind Charlie Hebdo. We know, as they did, that there are times when the best way to speak to the slapdash collection of stuffed-shirts, ancient edicts and cherished horseshit that rules these lives of ours is to laugh at them until you can't catch your breath. Here's the truth: Those who set themselves up as infallible deserve to be laughed at, because they are the butt of a joke they're playing on themselves without even knowing it. Here's what the dead know: A joke can smuggle a seed of knowledge within itself. A smile can vault over the barriers we all construct to keep our most precious misconceptions intact. A laugh can get inside even the tightest-shut mind, quick as picking a lock, taking that seed with it. It's like a magic trick. It's like a gift from God Himself, for whom the dirtbags who slaughtered the staff of Charlie Hebdo claim to have worked. The Observer suspects there isn't really a physical Hell waiting out there somewhere, but we're hopeful the Universe can find a way to invent one for people who would commit a perversion like that.
All the things that we could say have been said, and said better, in the days since the attack. A picture is worth a thousand words, much to The Observer's chagrin, and the cartoonists of Planet Earth have said several million words on the topic in the past week, with nearly every scribbler who can still lift a hand weighing in on the killings in some way: usually with the message that free speech won't be silenced by zealots; that the edgeless sword of the pen, pencil or brush will always prevail in the fight for truth and justice; that speech can be momentarily stilled by a punch to the mouth or a bullet to the head, but can never be silenced as long as brave people exist.
The Observer, who can't draw a straight line to save our miserable life, is left with only these pitiful black marks, invented millennia after the cartoonists were already making their point with sticks in the dirt, mud-dipped fingers, and crouching lionesses stalking antelope across cave walls. And so we can do nothing more than to write the names of the dead. Not what they deserve, we know. But it's the best we can do with the meager tools we have, and maybe that's enough:
Stephane Charbonnier, a.k.a. "Charb," the publisher of Charlie Hebdo.
Jean Cabut, a cartoonist.
Bernard Verlhac, a cartoonist.
Bernard Maris, a columnist.
Phillipe Honoré, a cartoonist.
Georges Wolinski, a cartoonist.
Michel Renaud, a visitor to the offices that day.
Mustapha Ourrad, a copy editor.
Elsa Cayat, a columnist.
Frédéric Boisseau, a maintenance worker.
Franck Brinsolaro, a policeman assigned to provide security for Charb.
Ahmed Merabet, a police officer shot in the street as the gunmen fled.