The murders of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in France yesterday have left 12 families bereaved and bereft. In Egypt, Al-Jazeera journalists are still held in jail.Worldwide, in 2014, 61 journalists were killed. Everyday, around the world, people are being killed for speaking out, for not agreeing, for holding a different opinion or belief.
The magazine satirises everyone - religions (of all kinds) politicians (of all kinds) and any topic, person or subject deemed worthy of lampooning. Since the murders, debate on the perceived 'rights and wrongs' of Charlie Hebdo content has been heated - here in New Zealand, remarks by a former broadcaster have prompted a storm of social protest.
But the focus should not be on debating the rights and wrongs of content. Instead, words and images that accurately describe the evil men who perpetrated this crime should be chosen with care. They are not fighters for a cause, warriors in a war or any other of the descriptors assigned to them.
They are murderers, pure and simple, who took the lives of 12 people and injured seven others. Their actions contravene civil and religious laws. They will be caught and granted a fair trial.
As for the rest of us, such murders should not constrain our thinking or our speech. The spontaneous vigils held throughout the night of the murders showered sparks of hope on a dark day - would that such vigils continue for the thousands upon thousands around the world currently at the mercy of other ruthless murderers.
I would urge you to use your words to affect change - write on behalf of those, like the Al Jazeera journalists, imprisoned for doing their job. If you don't know where to start, then Amnesty International can guide you. Write to your politicians and media urging them to do what they can to encourage, rather than suppress freedom of speech and the spread of ideas. Speak out when someone is hounded on social media for an opinion or idea that contradicts, satirises or challenges convention.
As Edmund Burke possibly remarked:
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
Nous Sommes Charlie - nous devons tous parler.