The Charlie Hebdo Horror: Why ‘Causing Trouble’ is Essential to Writers and Artists

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By Daisy Lacey

Today, I am writing probably the most heartfelt piece I have written, having sat in sadness over the attacks in Paris at Charlie Hebdo, all because one idea ‘caused trouble’. Of course, causing trouble can do harm, as I will mention next, but artistic trouble is a force for good. Writers and artists should continue to challenge and ‘cause trouble’ as a form of retaliation. I am not writing this out of malice against religion. I am writing this as a mechanism that will hopefully educate society, liberate readers and make them think.

Before this horrendous attack happened, I would like to mention and inform readers that France may have seen some form of attack coming. In late December, three seemingly isolated attacks in Joué- le-Tours, Dijon and my former French residence, Nantes, saw three Islamic fundamentalists stab police officers and run down French citizens.

Earlier this week, my mother woke me up to the horrendous news about the victims of this latest terror attack. Twelve people, including writers and cartoonists for the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo had been brutally murdered by Islamic fundamentalists; they even murdered an Islamic policeman, Ahmed Merabet, who was trying to protect the public.

Ian Hisplop, editor of perhaps the nearest British equivalent to Charlie Hebdo, Private Eye, spoke simply but effectively on the situation.

“I am appalled by this murderous attack on free speech. I offer my condolences to the families and friends of those killed – the cartoonists, journalists and those who were trying to protect them. They paid a very high price for exercising their comic liberty. Very little seems funny today.”

Salman Rusdhie, author of The Satanic Verses, who was forced into hiding after challenging death decrees in Iran during the 1980s said of the attack,

“Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion’. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

The editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, Gerard Biard, said,

“I am shocked that people have attacked a newspaper in France, a secular republic. I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war.2

Perhaps most inspiringly, one of the victims, Charlie Hebdo Editor, Stephane Charbonnier – who always refused to back down – had this to say two years ago after receiving death threats,

“I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no children, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

This statement is not pompous. It is the perfect expression of thought for all existing writers and cartoonists, but also for writers and artists of the future.

Yes France and the UK have an ongoing love/hate relationship; we both as countries mock each other and everybody else around us, nevertheless, we future and existing writers should stand beside our friends across the Channel and continue to challenge anything that comes our way. The point of writing is to inspire, to challenge and to educate and I think that writers should show courage in the face of retaliation like Mr Charbonnier and his colleagues.

No writer should feel scared by what they write and say, they should feel passionate about what they are challenging. Admittedly, it takes time to feel confident enough to write something controversial but also to be able to stand by what you have written and feel proud about it too. The same goes for artists, you will stand by whatever you have painted, installed or filmed. Your purpose isn’t to please everybody, your purpose is to please some, challenge others, to take great pride in what you write and to educate people.

The Charlie Hebdo staff  have suffered unnecessarily because they challenged one idea, which provoked a brutal attack. As satirists, however, they challenged most ideas.

My final quotation from is one of my favourite authors, who challenges many social ideas. Benjamin Zephaniah is a dyslexic writer who proves people can do anything when they go against not only personal but global issues to make statements and prove points. He said,

“The world needs troublemakers. If you didn’t have troublemakers most women wouldn’t have the right to vote, a black person wouldn’t be talking to a white person … We need troublemakers to challenge the establishment.”

Unfortunately 12 people have paid the ultimate price for ‘troublemaking’ and challenging the establishment. But their legacy will live on and they have inspired more troublemakers to express themselves. Out of the dark, will come the light and trouble is key to changing sad to happy and boring to entertaining and interesting.

What I write today amongst many other blog writers, newspaper journalists and cartoonists I hope to be tomorrow’s history. There are many ways of causing trouble; I just hope people cause trouble for the greater good of society instead of doing harm and out of malice. To liberate people confined to one single state of mind.

Trouble is an odd word. The fundamentalists caused trouble, hurt and destroyed people and towns. Trouble does do harm but artistic trouble should do harm too. It should challenge constantly the absurdity of all ideas, nothing should be free of criticism, but people should be better educated and entertained too. That is where the trouble caused by the artists comes into light. This suppression of freedom of speech that has caused the trouble sadly through loss of lives is why ‘Je suis Charlie’, I am Charlie and I will continue to write.

I feel sympathy on both parts, not only have Muslims been given a bad name but so have journalists. We need to keep fighting and challenging all forms of ideas but with decent intentions. You hear the expression ‘actions speak louder than words’ but I am writing this with the intention to reverse the expression ‘words speak louder than actions’, but in reality, words are the cause and result of actions. Trouble should exist but it shouldn’t physically harm people, it should make people think and reflect.


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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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