When I was a student in Madrid, I was obsessed with the satirical cartoon magazine El Jueves. I was from suburban Utah. I had never seen media like it: So irreverent. So funny. So weird. I grabbed every new issue and it helped teach me a crass, leftist version of urban Spanish that stoked and channeled the fire of my post-adolescent secular rage.

I wished I could draw cartoons like that. I did draw up plans to fly home and launch something similar. There were certainly some sacred cows in Utah I would have liked to lampoon. What I didn’t properly appreciate was that the faithful there, I knew, could handle merciless satire pretty well.

Alas, I did not launch El Jueves Salt Lake. Today, I almost wished I had. I wished I could commission one of the thousands of cartoons that need to be drawn today to stand in solidarity with those murdered for their drawings in France.

My first thought was of El Jueves, Wednesday morning when I heard of the attack on cartoonists and others, including police, in Paris at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The targeting of journalists in this new style of jihad has frightened me greatly. No, I don’t fear for my own safety. I’m far from that front line.

But as journalists, we have to assume we live in a world that can handle our challenges, our arguments and even our mistakes. Our identity rests on the shaky foundation that we can all fight about what the government should look like or how the powerful should be held accountable, without dying.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

This is a civilization we constructed over many generations and many fights. I feel privileged and protective of that world where communication is so easy. The barrier to entry to challenge authority has been pulverized by technology.

And yet some folks hate that world that I cherish so much that they’re willing to murder on behalf of an authority that you are not allowed to challenge. That scares me.

I turned to El Jueves today, through the miracle of the web – of modern civilization – to see how they were making sense of it. And they put what I was trying to articulate very simply: “estamos ante un ataque a la civilización misma, que tantos siglos nos ha costado conseguir.” We are facing an attack on civilization itself, which took us so many centuries to achieve.

Salman Rushdie, the author also threatened by terrorists, put it like this: “When you commit murder because somebody says things you dislike, you cross the frontier between civilisation and barbarity.”

I’m comforted knowing that El Jueves and countless others will work to turn this wound into an inspiring, if ugly, scar. When you attack a concept – or a tactic – like satire or freedom of expression, you can’t kill it. By definition, it’s an idea. It’s in our minds – you can kill a few vessels carrying it but billions of others will move it along. (Unfortunately, this goes for the war on “terrorism” too.)

No matter how far from danger we get to be, it’s our duty to protect what previous generations helped build: the assumption that we can challenge authority and go home alive.

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    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    6 comments
    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    The murdered individuals should be honored as heros.  I wish that more in the media had the guts to post challenges to religious beliefs.   Although I can't fault someone for backing down to threats by zealots because they are so real, it is encouraging to see that some are willing to stand up to tyrants.  It is unfortunate though that our society is passing laws that leave us defenseless to those very real threats.   The French government disarmed its citizens and expected them to be protected by the police.  That wasn't a very smart plan at all.  Perhaps news organizations that want to publish cartoons of that nature should hire better security.  By better, I mean private security guards.  I wouldn't recommend relying on the local police.  I'd recommend hiring professionals whose sole job is protect your building, or arming yourselves for protection.  The police exist to investigate crimes, but can't be relied upon for personal security.  That isn't what the police are for.  They aren't security guards.  I'd like to see every news organization in the world stand in solidarity and republish what those brave people did.  In fact, do it every year.  Create a private holiday called freedom of press day, but be sure to take care of security and ensure that any intruder that wishes to do you harm is shot like a rabid dog.  

    Mike Steeves
    Mike Steeves subscriber

    "The targeting of journalists in this new style of jihad has frightened me greatly."


    I am of mixed views regarding 'journalists' being 'targeted.' 


    First, the term 'journalist' is laughable these days. I think 'media 'maggot' is far more accurate, as self-styled 'journalists' feed like blood-sucking leeches off the misery of others, and sensationalize that misery and misfortune.


    Second, now that the shoe is on the other foot - it isn't cops being 'targeted,' it's media maggots ... we're seeing all manner of fear and hand-wringing and angst.  Some would say that the enmity directed against cops is because of 'bad' cops, or 'police brutality,' or whatever the anti-cop reason d'jour may be, and that it's 'different.'.  I would argue that it is not all that different. Media maggots are among the most vicious of creatures, perfectly willing to ruin lives and shatter careers in the pursuit of a story ... and they are often not in the least confused by fact. While that may not be entirely the case with "Je suis Charlie" it is all too evidently true in a week's worth of watching of so-called 'media' sources, like FauxNews and CNN, where 'journalism' is clearly an unknown. The more it bleeds, the more it leads ... 


    Thirdly ... you are 'frightened?'   'Fright' is a childish emotion in this case, and though it may be a proper initial response, it should quickly mature into anger. You should be angry. Get a gun, and as as Sarn't Major Plumley once said ... "Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves." 


    "Frightened." 


    Seriously?


    OK. Lay there on the floor, then, bleating like a frightened sheep, waiting to be executed.




    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    After reading your comments it reminds one of how wrong it was of former president Reagon to shut down our nations mental health facilities.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    It is always sad to see people killed due to religious beliefs. This world has endured too many wars and conflicts based on religion. They continue. Perhaps if we aim more toward respectful disagreement and genuine dialog the cycle of violence will slow.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Nice piece Scott.

    What happened to Sony is troubling. What happened in France is Barbaric.

    Sad Day.