When your beliefs inspire you to kill civilians, it's time for a new set of beliefs

Before you get upset, this post is not tech or science news related, but as a member of the free press, I feel it's important for all independent news sources to stand united against terrorist attacks on the media and suppression of free speech.

This morning a unit of heavily armed terrorists carrying machine guns and even an RPG launcher (reportedly) stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo a satirical newspaper/news magazine whose style bears a resemblance to a more politically vocal version of America's Mad Magazine or Cracked.

The jihadists moved with military precision killing four of the paper's top cartoonists and editors. The attackers also killed six other staff members and two police officers.  The attackers jumped in a car driven by a third terrorist and escaped.  After hijacking another car, they appeared to leave the city of Paris and remain at large.

Charlie Hebdo was offensive at times -- to many groups.  The same has been said of many American cartoons, including South Park.  But the ultimately irony is that in provoke such a violent and extreme reaction, the cartoonists showed that their criticism of Islamic extremism was truly on the mark.  

The bottom line is this.  Today 12 brave souls lost their lives in the name of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  There deaths -- and the hateful actions of those who killed them -- should not be forgotten.  Joe Randazzo, a former editor of the U.S. satirical newspaper The Onion puts it well when he writes:

This is a loss for all of humanity. The victims, people who believed with passion and intellect that humankind can be better, were struck down in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the movement from which the modern world emanates.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen also shot a police officer in the head as he lay dying on the sidewalk. These people are not just enemies of cartoonists or the ideals of the West. They’re enemies of human life. They care for nothing, believe in nothing worth believing in, and therefore their ideology, whatever it may be, is worthless. Moot. Not even worth our consideration for a moment.

They cannot kill everyone who disagrees with them. There are not enough bullets in the world for that. The most responsible thing we can do is be aware that the most likely threat to freedom will now come from within. We cannot, should not, police our own thoughts – or the thoughts of our fellow citizens. Because the First Amendment does not just protect our free speech; it protects all expression, including religion.
Before we lose our sense of optimism, however, try to keep some scale in mind: The idea of human rights is a relatively new one to human society, only a few hundred years old. It’s a part of our intellectual outlook now, inextricable from our daily lives, but it is still making its way into our hearts, our DNA. I can only hope that tragedies like the one in Paris would make our ideals stronger, not weaker.

Is that an ideal worth dying for? I think it is. Should anyone ever have to pay for it with blood? I pray to God not. And it doesn’t really matter that I don’t quite know how to believe in God. Today, I’m praying anyway

Members of the social media are using the phrase "Je Suis Charlie" or the hashtag #jesuischarlie to express their solidarity with the Parisians. Not only as a journalist, but as a strong proponent of free speech and free expression, as well, I encourage any of my readers who are comfortable doing so to repost that phrase online.

Je Suis Charlie
[Image Source: Sky News]

The Charlie Hebdo magazine was edgy -- downright offensive at times -- surely.  But that's no excuse for murder.  As the old saying goes, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

As a member of the media, I'm compelled to share this as a reminder of how high the price of free speech still is in the "modern" era.  And as a human being, my heart goes out to the families of those who lost loved ones.  

I say that when your belief compels you to go out and murder a dozen innocent civilians then it's time to get a new set of beliefs.  

I can hardly imagine a clearer textbook definition of evil than one who would kill to try to force someone else into their way of thinking.  

Sadly there's evil people in the world -- today surely showed that.  But no matter how many people those with darkness in their hearts kill, they won't win.  To quote Obi Wan Kenobi, "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

Sources: The Guardian [liveblog], MSNBC [commentary]

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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