WASHINGTON, January 7, 2014 — Stéphane Charbonnier – a.k.a., “Charb” – is a name unfamiliar to most. The exception being a small cadre of readers, the police that guarded him and the three masked Islamic gunmen that entered the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, murdering the cartoonist along with eleven of his coworkers.
And so, the 2013 al Qaeda fatwa calling for Charbonnier’s death for “crimes against Islam” is fulfilled. He will never draw another cartoon defaming the Prophet Muhammad again.
That is a shame.
The satirical weekly was firebombed back in 2011 shortly after publishing a cover, with a cartoon, inviting Muhammad to serve as a guest editor. It further enraged the Muslim population of Paris with the publication of satirical Muhammad cartoons in the spirit of those published by the Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The Dutch cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose 2005 drawing depicted Muhammad wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb, narrowly escaped assassination by a Somali Islamist in 2010 by entering a fortified “panic room” in his home.
“If the country was occupied,” Westergaard told the Manchester Guardian, “I don’t think I would be running around doing sabotage; I would probably be sitting somewhere doing my drawings. But in this situation, I got angry. It is not right that you are threatened in your own country just for doing your job. That’s an absurdity that I have actually benefited from, because it grants me a certain defiance and stubbornness. I won’t stand for it. And that really reduces the fear a great deal.”
Terrorists did not enter the offices of the New York Times to gun down the army of self-important wordsmiths who have opined endlessly about the plight of Islam, condemned to wallow and choke in the dust of secular modernity. Instead, the killers made a special effort to murder cartoonists whose images said more about the absurdity of submitting to anti-intellectual barbarism than any writer for a journal or newspaper since 9/11.
“A picture,” it is said, “is worth a thousand words.” The barbaric act in Paris underscores that reality.
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