Thursday, January 8, 2015

Power of the Pen

Je suis Charlie.  I am Charlie.

As I write this I stand in solidarity with all of France and the cartoonists who tragically lost their lives yesterday because of cartoons they published poking fun and satirizing Islam and Mohammed, their prophet. 

My pen is raised in the air as a message to these extremist, fundamentalist Muslims that you will never stop our freedom of the press and freedom of expression.  You can snuff out the lives of journalists, but you can never snuff out our freedom of expression, whether it satirizes your religion or not.

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
~ Voltaire.

France's own countryman, many years ago, reminded us of what was important in freedom of speech, press, and expression.

The lives and loss of these four talented cartoonists will never be forgotten and the U.S. stands with France in fighting these jihadists wherever they may strike.

It is interesting to note that in researching the covers of Charlie Hebdo  I find that it is a magazine that is an equal opportunity satirist.  By that I mean,  Charlie Hebdo satirizes all religions:  Christianity and especially Jesus Christ, Catholicism and especially the popes, Judaism, and Islam among them.  No religion escapes the cartoonists' pen in this magazine.

Charlie Hebdo is much like our Mad magazine here in the U.S.  It focuses on satirizing politics and religion.  I don't always like what Mad magazine has to say, but like Voltaire, I support its right and freedom to say and satirize what they want.

I have never written about this before, but I too have been in the position of standing up for freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

As a high school newspaper adviser, I had one of the best high school newspaper and staff in Summit County, OH.  When I took the job as adviser I made it clear to the principal that he would have no editing or censorship privileges.  He would have to trust in me as an adviser as to what we printed in our newspaper, Paw Prints.

My students were well taught in freedom of the press and the responsibility that goes with that.  They were well schooled in press ethics.  They had to save all their notes from interviews in a special cabinet I had in the class.  They were brave to take on subjects in our high school and community that were controversial, but they handled those subjects and topics with seriousness and aplomb.

There were times when teachers or community members questioned the authenticity and truthfulness of the articles / editorials they wrote.  I mediated many meetings when my students presented their notes to me and the person questioning them.  In every single instance, when the notes and information were presented, and I asked the person if they had been misquoted or misunderstood, they sheepishly had to admit the high school reporter was correct in quoting them and the article written without a bias.

I trusted my high school reporters and in return they rose to the occasion and gave excellent reporting and writing of news articles and editorials. Several times they scooped the Akron Beacon Journal our newspaper here in Akron, OH. Even on the high school level we had freedom of the press and expression.  It is vital no matter what level of a publication even at a high school level.

Today, even as I write this, I am also involved in freedom of speech and expression in my own condominium development.  After 9/11, I posted on my front window a poster from the newspaper that depicts the American flag and the date, September 11, 2001 and the words, "We will never forget."  It has been posted in my window since the day after the Twin Towers attack and demise and is a tribute to all those that lost their lives that day.

I am a former employee of the Department of Defense and so 9/11 resonates with me as I know first hand the sacrifices our soldiers make to keep our country safe and free.  The three thousand+ Americans that died that fateful day made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and they fought their Muslim perpetrators to the end in crashing airplanes.  I can never forget their lives or sacrifice they made that day.

Several years ago a Muslim family moved into our development.  The man teaches Middle Eastern Civilization at the University of Akron.  He and his wife dress in their native clothing, but the children do not.   

It was expressed to me that this Muslim family resented my poster in the window and the constant reminder of 9/11 and they wanted it taken down.  My response was that I respected this Muslim family and their Islamic religion, and I expected their respect in return for expressing my feelings and beliefs about 9/11 with this poster.

We will never forget what was done to us and the American lives lost on 9/11 because of Islamic extremists and fundamentalists.  While I know this Muslim family is not part of Islamic extremists or fundamentalists, the poster will remain in my window as long as I live here, and freedom of expression and speech will always be a part of me and my home.

The believers in Islam cannot be allowed to dictate to us or anyone else in the world what is said, written, drawn, posted, or expressed about them or their Islamic religion.

Freedom of the press, speech and expression must prevail at all costs.  Even at the cost of the death of four cartoonists of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Je suis Charlie.  I am Charlie.