Terror will never break our pencils or our democracies

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Pier-Luigi-ParcuPier Luigi Parcu is director of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Words can hardly express what we have felt for the 7th of January executions of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly newspaper and the further killings the following day. The authors of this massacre were fanatics who declared they were avenging the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, outraged in the cartoons.

Charlie Hebdo has been an independent newspaper – independent from power as well as from money and advertising since its foundation at the beginning of the 1970’s. Charlie has always stood out for its fights against any kind of fanaticism and extremism through a free and disrespectful brand of satire that never spared any form of authority. One of their first targets was the Catholic Church, then they satirized other religions as well as politicians of different kinds. But it was their Muhammad cartoons that generated a vortex of hatred and violence. In 2011 their offices firebombed for the same reason and the editorial staff were hosted for several months by their colleagues at the newspaper Libération.

Charlie’s people are independent artists who have always used, to the full extent, their freedom of expression. What happened in Paris was not just another terroristic attack, it a stronger symbolic meaning. The killers decided to murder those who represented a living and fearless example of freedom of expression, a fundamental principle of French constitutionalism, a common feature of European democratic traditions.

Nothing can justify attacks on people whose only offence lay in their use of words and drawings to mock religion or politics or power. The satirist’s profession should not be a dangerous one, no matter how much its practitioners offend other people’s opinion and beliefs.

The indignation of public opinion, the massive demonstration in Paris and in other cities in France on January 11th and in other European cities in the previous days, is a great sign of reaction, force and stability of the democratic values of Europe. Europe has to stand up and defend even more forcefully its acquired freedoms and fundamental rights, especially freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

European democracies can and will prevail over terror with their orderly everyday activity. A living democracy is a complex mechanism in which everyone continues to do his or her job: politicians try to govern, the religious pray, academics research and satirists mock whoever they want!