When a pair of state-sponsored bullies attacked and killed journalists and police officers at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, a large portion of the world picked up banners and declared:
Je suis Charlie Hebdo.
Every time a journalist is murdered, whether by bad guys with guns or bad guys with knives, that is an attack on all of us – on journalists, certainly, but also on those of us who depend on journalists to function as our representatives.
We cannot all go to local government meetings, or travel to the state or national capital to garner information from our elected legislators. Certainly, we cannot all travel to a war zone to see how many people were killed, and learn first hand about events we see displayed on our evening television news.
Journalists are the men and women we pay, with our subscriptions and newsstand purchases, to make the world, if not transparent, at least visible. What we do with that information is up to us, but without a free press, we would be blind.
At about the same time, a small army calling itself Boko Haram (In English, “Western education is forbidden”) slaughtered about 150 Nigerians in that west African nation. The best reports as I write this indicate the murders were accomplished with three suicide bombers, one of which may have been a 10-year-old girl.
The perpetrators were part of the same group that has kidnapped and sold into slavery hundreds of teenage girls in Nigeria.
Nous sommes du monde.
We are the world, attacked by bullies using religion as their cover. Whether the perpetrators are two gunmen killing a few journalists in Paris, or a small army of Boko Haram exterminating villagers in Nigeria, they are bullies. Some are convinced their actions are heroic, others simply want to kill. All attempt to coerce obedience.
There always are a few with a lust for power, and ability to convince others to follow them – the willing become killers of the unwilling. They use whatever ploy works – religion and patriotism top the list – to convince others to surrender their lives for the cause, while they fortify themselves and order their followers to their deaths, taking as many innocents as possible as they go.
When North Korea was accused of hacking Sony in response to a movie the nation’s leader the nation’s leader found objectionable, the company halted the release. A state-sponsored religion, in which the nation’s leader counts among his titles “Glorious General, Who Descended from Heaven,” came up against Freedom of Speech and, for a time, appeared to win.
When North Korean Internet went down, one of the revelations was how few North Koreans outside closely guarded government workers, even noticed.
Education does not guarantee the student will want what other cultures have, but lack of education does guarantee that the only source of information and its interpretation lies with a self-chosen few instructors.
I wonder how many tribal citizens living in the mountains of Afghanistan knew Charlie Hebdo existed. An awful lot of residents of the United States had no idea, before the slaughter by the Kouachi brothers executed most of its editorial staff.
We should be no less upset by the attacks of al-Qaida in Paris or Boko Haram in Nigeria than we are at the slaying of 3,000 of our citizens on 9-11 in New York City.
There are those who, from time to time, remind us that one of the early efforts of a despot will be to take away our guns.
But the first effort will be – must be – to control what the people know. An attack on the press, and a denial of educational opportunity, are equal – and an attack on us all.