by Pandora Longstreth
“Today we are all horrified, devastated and appalled. But tomorrow we must look for new ways to stand together with writers and artists of all backgrounds and faiths and take courage from our shared commitment to free speech” President of English PEN, Maureen Freely.
On Wednesday 7th January 2015, 10 journalists and 2 policemen were killed during the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, France. PEN centres across the world have spoken out condemning these attacks, standing up for freedom of expression.
English PEN is the founding centre of a global literary network. We work to defend and promote free expression, and to remove barriers to literature.
These attacks have been understood by PEN, Free Word, Index on Censorship, and many others as an attack on freedom of expression. Attacks of any kind with the aim to silence others, with the aim to generate a fear of speaking out, are attacks upon the rights, freedoms and lives of everyone.
Standing up for freedom of expression is not simply about standing up for views you agree with, it is also about supporting the freedom of expression of those you may disagree with. Even if we are divided on politics or religion, we should not be fighting to silence each other; we should all work together to support our right to freedom of expression. We should feel safe in expressing our views peacefully. Although this may seem obvious to some, it is often forgotten. Whether or not we agree with the views expressed in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, we should stand with them during this horrible time. We should stand with them against the extreme violence that they have experienced. We should stand with them to protect freedom of expression.
Just as everyone has been coming together in marches in Paris, it is important that we come together to support Charlie Hebdo, journalists and activists, and freedom of expression.
There is another important message we should take away from this awful attack. Although extremist Muslims undertook this attack, this attack does not in any way reflect the views of Islam or the Muslim community. Despite this, the Muslim community may be blamed by some and even attacked by others. It is important to pass on this message.
The brother, Malek Merabet, of a victim of the attack, Ahmed Merabet, has spoken out against the attackers and words this message beautifully:
“My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims. […] Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity. […] I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes and antisemites. One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither colour or religion”