Over and above issues of freedom of speech, what happened will raise questions about the wisdom of encouraging multi-culturalism, about how far society is divided by race, religion and culture, about the hatred that festers in the midst of civilised countries, about how human beings can be so merciless, about the proliferation of heavy weapons worldwide, and how to react as the violence of Syria is replicated in the heart of Europe.
The staff at Charlie Hebdo had been under threat for years for their mockery of aspects of Islam, but refused to be cowed. Other journalists and publications took a different view, carefully avoiding publishing anything that could offend or create reprisal, and indeed there have been other concessions to threats of violence in, for example, Sony’s initial withdrawal of “The Interview”, in the face of the anger of North Korea. Fear can compromise principle, and that is unfortunate. Believe in your truth.
For now there is unity of condemnation of the murders in Paris, but how long it will last is uncertain. Cartoonists, today, satirise the proponents of religious revenge, who are likely to continue to attack the heart of the society they hate, but whether their freedom of expression lasts is questionable. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been seen in Germany in the last few days, and this may develop into greater tension between different communities in all western countries with a Muslim population. Meanwhile, thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq need shelter - will they be welcome in Europe or the US?
Solutions to these problems are few, and it may be years before the world has reshaped itself to be a community of mutual support and caring, but I believe it will. What is important is that all of us, wherever and whoever we are, shun violence and encourage tolerance, and do what we believe to be right. There will be madmen always, but to fear them gives them power. They live in the shadows: flood them with light – and let the principles of Charlie Hebdo live on.