From the Managing Editor: “Nous Sommes Charlie”
Later news dispatches reported that three men shouting Islamist religious slogans were being sought for the shootings, which were seen as revenge for insulting cartoon portrayals of Muhammed published in Charlie Hebdo.
The people of France responded with anguish and outrage. They gathered by the thousands, and very quickly buttons were produced that proclaim “Je suis Charlie” — “I am Charlie” — in solidarity with the slain journalists and the ideals of respect for creativity and freedom of expression. It’s not clear what effect this backlash will have on the complex religious and geopolitical forces at play in France and the world, but that expression of identity with the victims has a power and focus that will ensure the martyred journalists become models for writers and cartoonists everywhere.
The slaughter brought some of us up short — especially those in Knoxville who are launching alternative papers in the wake of the demise of Metro Pulse. As we at Hard Knox Independent sweat publishing strategies and work up stories that will give you new knowledge and insights about our town, it’s astonishing to think that what we do might prompt someone to take violent action against us for what we think and write and say. We will be using some of the same tools — reportage, humor, illustration, satire, courage, irreverence — that put the staff of Charlie in the crosshairs of terrorists who would kill to silence free expression. Our fellow journalists/friends who are working up a competing weekly must be feeling the same disconnect.
Of course, as citizens and as journalists, we can take comfort in the fact that our freedoms of press, expression, assembly and religion are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. We’re free to collect and publish information, to speculate, to ridicule, (even to make up stuff) without fear of violence against ourselves.
It’s been less than seven years since a man armed with a sawed-off shotgun and driven by a terrorist ideology invaded a children’s Sunday service at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, shot dead two churchgoers and wounded half a dozen more. His stated purpose was to kill anyone with a liberal ideology, and his gospel was a collection of books by conservative talk-show hosts whose words egged him on to violence and murder. The courage of unarmed church members stopped him before he could fire more than two of the 70-odd shotgun shells he had brought to use on the congregation. He is spending the rest of his life in a Tennessee state prison.
So we may not be safe after all. And that’s an important lesson.
We are all martyrs in the making. Daily, in little bits and pieces, we sacrifice our lives for the things we believe in. Our newspaper. Our government. Our kids or our career. The Big Orange or some other religious organization. Only we as individuals can decide the value of our sacrifice, whether what we will inevitably die for is worth the cost. As the staff of Charlie Hebdo tragically reminds us — we are all Charlie.
— Bill Dockery, managing editor, was a member of Tennessee Valley UU Church at the time of the shooting and handled church responses to local and national media in the aftermath of the tragedy.