Shared from Facebook – image by Lucille Clerc

By the time I heard the details of the protest in Trafalgar Square last night over the shooting at Charlie Hebdo it was a little late for me to drop what I was doing and get there, though this morning I regret my absence. I should have been there, at least with a pen if not with a camera.

It isn’t a matter of religion, but one of humanity. Something that we can all abhor, whether we read the Quran, the Bible or other religious texts, or are agnostics or atheists.  You, like me will probably have read many of the comments about the attack from people around the world, so I’ll only quote two of them. On the radio this morning I heard a leading Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan being interviewed, and his comment (also on Democracy Now!) was “This is just a pure betrayal of our religion & our principles”  and my own union statement ends “Supporters of free speech and civil liberties must stand together with governments to condemn this act and defend the right of all journalists to do their job without fear of threats, intimidation and brutal murder.

The news of the killing took my mind back to 2006 and the protests then against the publication of cartoons by a Danish magazine.

Of course I respect the right to peaceful demonstration, but the call for ‘global civility’ steps over my right to free speech once there is any suggestion it should be imposed.

The following month I was back in Trafalgar Square, photographing a protest to ‘protect free expression’ at which some of those present held up placards containing some of the Danish cartoons – which were republished in France by Charlie Hebdo in 2005.

Charlie Hebdo was certainly not afraid to criticize Islam. Or Christianity or any other religion or politicians of all colours or anything else, but I’m sorry to have to admit that I censored some of the images that I took on that day to avoid offending people, blurring the cartoons. I should not have done so and will not do so again.

I hope that all journalists and publications around the world will stand up and be counted on the side of freedom of speech (though I know there are some countries where this is not possible.) Some will be holding a short silence at 11.00 am today (when I’ll join them and post this), and many newspapers have published cartoons about the shooting – including some of those from Charlie Hebdo that offended the killers. Perhaps we should name January 7 ‘Charlie Hebdo Day’ and make it an annual celebration, publishing their work again.

I hope too that Charlie Hebdo will continue, and continue to offend people of all faiths and none. And I certainly have no time at all for those who try to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators.

from Charlie Hebdo


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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