I’ve been pondering whether to write anything about the terrible, terrible events that unfolded in Paris on Wednesday. At first, I thought, no – plenty of others, far more politically savvy and far more articulate than I, will be saying everything that needs to be said. But then it seemed that to write about anything other than our basic right to express our truth would be akin to turning my back on the obvious. Plus, writing on a blog with a name like this – Naked Authors: The Naked Truth About Literature and Life – we really have to put our two cents worth in there. So, here’s mine – and my fellow Naked Authors, please chime in with your comments - add them to the end of this post if you like. Just don’t erase my words though!
From the very first time I disagreed with my parents on something I’d read in the newspaper – I must have been about nine years old (I know … sassy little moo wasn’t I?), I knew instinctively that, though they did not like what I said, they would do everything in their power to support me in my right to say it. The fact that they argued their points back to me and waited for my response, even when my father muttered under his breath, “She’s a rebel!” – meant that it was OK to speak your truth in our house, as uncomfortable as that truth might be. So, I have cherished that right – and I have written about it here on these pages, encouraging other writers never to be assailed by something so minor as writer’s block, when there are guys with serious ammunition killing people for uttering words they didn’t like in countries without some sort of protection and support for the free expression of opinion. Take this girl for example – and you can’t tell me that she still doesn’t have a price on her head.
Throughout Europe, illustrated opinion has always been considered as powerful as the written word – possibly more so than in the USA. In France, especially, satire in the form of a hard-hitting cartoon is an accepted and important part of the political conversation, fanning the flames of heated dialogue, no matter who is offended in the process. Call it Libertie! On Wednesday, in the offices of Paris-based satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, Islamist assassins (a couple of former rapping, small-time wide-boys) made an attempt to annihilate truth itself because freedom of expression is not part of their worldview. They live in a country where they have the liberty to think what they like – but the fact that they attempted to punish and halt an expressed worldview different from their own in such an indescribably violent and destructive manner must be countered by anyone who has ever held an opinion in a public forum. With social media, that probably means a good 75% of us. And thank God writers and artists the world over are picking up the tools of their trade to do just that. Politicians must avoid tap-dancing around this one in case they lose favor – there is no side-stepping this issue. In every self-proclaimed democracy there has to be an unequivocal support for freedom of expression, even if you don’t much like what you’re hearing or seeing.
I am a writer of historical fiction, of essays and articles, and though I have written many opinion pieces, writers like me don’t usually draw the kind of ire that leads someone to our doors with Kalashnikovs (I don't even know if that's how you spell it!). Snarky reviews, maybe. The odd letter of complaint – of course, we all get those, however I don’t think anyone’s going to kill me over an incorrect date, or some such thing. But I am really impressed by people who are prepared to stand up and be counted by saying – with their art or craft – something that resonates on a collective scale, or that inspires dialogue, or a good old argument, even if it is not a popular point of view. And I take my hat off to the many writers and artists who have shot back with their truth in the past day or so. I am not worthy to be among your number, because you are risking death to tell your story or express your views. I only ever risk repetitive motion syndrome and a sore back.
God bless you, you journalists and political commentators who speak your truth, who report what you have seen so that we might be better informed, and who risk your life to make us think, even when it's uncomfortable. I might disagree with what you’ve said, or with what you have written, but by any god that exists, you have a right to your voice - and every time you use it, you empower democracy beyond measure.