Disclaimer – This may not be a popular opinion and I truly welcome comments and criticisms. However, please keep them polite and adult.
On the 7th January 2015, news spread of a terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Previous to this nobody really knew of Charlie Hebdo outside of their relatively small readership. Having lived in France, I knew of its existence but I had never read it. Rather than causing the paper to shut down, which is perhaps what the attackers wanted, they actually boosted their sales. Cartoonists and journalists came out in support of the magazine – claiming freedom of speech, no matter how insensitive, should not be censored. Social media was flooded with the phrase “Je suis Charlie”, my own page included. People were equally supportive and condemning of the paper.
One year later, the paper faced a fresh backlash after depicting drowned toddler, Aylan Kurdi, as a grown molester. The outrage grew. It was increasingly difficult to defend a paper that seemed so hell bent on attacking innocent people. Yet, defend it I did. Now, the latest cover takes aim at the terrible earthquake we suffered here in Italy. Upon seeing the image this morning, I felt sick to my stomach. Over 300 people died and yet these people saw fit to mock them. I stared at my computer and wondered how? How could they do such a thing?
The truth, I felt, was that these “journalists”, who revel in causing pain and misery, are truly the dregs of society. Why had I defended them in the past? Was it because they had been attacking religion – a concept that I didn’t really care about? Or was it because I was removed from the situation, safe in my flat and not washed up on a beach? I couldn’t understand how any self-respecting human being could possibly work for such a publication. Yet, I find myself oddly glad that I live in a world where it is possible for them to do so. I cannot possibly condone anything that is contained within the pages of Charlie Hebdo. Yet, what I will never support is censorship. I am happy to say that those who truly think in the way depicted in Charlie Hebdo are in the minority. The majority of people do not support what is written in the rag.
Then, I took a step back and thought about it. I looked at the image again and I realised that papers like Charlie Hebdo have their place in the world. While they may insult the everyday man, whether intentionally or not, they also make politicians uncomfortable. What you see in the cover today is actually a true reflection of Italian society and politics. During the earthquake in Accumoli, the local school collapsed to a pile of rubble. This was a building that had received hundreds of thousands of Euros in funding to ensure that it was earthquake proof and yet, instead of following regulations, the contractors decided to use sand between the bricks instead of cement, no doubt pocketing the savings. Had the earthquake happened at 10 o’clock on a school day, that image of bodies lying between bricks would have been a reality. The school would have folded like paper and hundreds of children would have been killed. It is exactly why so many people died in the earthquake in L’Aquila in 2009 – people cut corners and innocent people paid the ultimate price. Yet nobody is ever held to account. They do the same thing over and over again and get away with it.
This was also the answer on Facebook from Charlie Hebdo in response to the thousands of angry voices; voices that are, in my opinion, misdirected. Why are Italians up in arms over a drawing and not outraged over the fact that governments can ignore building regulations and put innocent lives at risk? Why didn’t I know that only 3 out of the 16 schools in my town have been restructured and are now earthquake proof? Why does nobody know where the €2.5 million given to one school has gone? This is the truth, Charlie Hebdo knows it, and it makes uncomfortable reading for Italians. This may have been a natural disaster but it was exacerbated by political failure.
Do I think the cover is in bad taste? Yes. Would I be sorry if Charlie Hebdo shut its doors? No. But ultimately they didn’t kill the 300 people. So, once again, I will defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to exist and I will ask you to look past the hate and disgust and look at the truth of the matter. Italy is still constructing buildings that are not up to code, essentially playing Russian roulette with our lives, and that, in my eyes, is truly criminal.