An unidentified woman holds a "We are Charlie" sign during a unity rally on Sunday in Washington, D.C. (AFP Photo/Getty Images/Gabriella Demczuk)

Desi Anwar: Which Charlie Will You Be?


JANUARY 12, 2015

The unity rally in Paris and other cities condemning the recent massacre of journalists and cartoonists of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, indeed shows that the pen is mightier than the sword. That love is stronger than hate. And that for France, freedom of expression and the motto Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are values that they can no longer take for granted, but instead should once more be resurrected by the entire country in the face of terrorists' attempt to obliterate them through blood and fear.

The sight of millions taking part in a peaceful march of solidarity, putting aside for the moment all differences in religion, ethnicity, ideology, united in grief and horrified by the violence and brutal murders committed by their own countrymen, is an important and symbolic moment that would hopefully put the country on the path of healing and reminds the people that at the end of the day, only through the upholding of our common and basic humanity can we live together harmoniously.

That murder and violence in the name of anything against anybody, whether journalists, police officers, ordinary citizens, are unjustifiable goes without saying. Let alone a massacre committed in broad daylight in an office in the middle of Paris. Indeed, the atrocity of the killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists is such that it is met with universal condemnation including by regimes who normally make a sport of suppressing and censoring the media and by countries where freedom of the press is barely enjoyed.

Violence never fails to shock us out of our complacency. To remind us what is most precious to each and everyone of us, namely the preciousness of human lives and our dependency upon each other for our survival and happiness. For a brief moment of terror, we find our common humanity and cling to each other for reassurance. Human fear is fear itself, and in getting together we find safety in numbers. After all, are we not one human family?

And yet, what comes after the grief is spent and when the mourning is over? After the message is already conveyed loud and clear — that people are not afraid, that freedom shall be defended and that everyone is united against terror.

For what happened that fateful morning at Charlie Hebdo's office, unspeakable in its brutal simplicity — two masked men entered the editorial room with automatic weapons to assassinate select individuals — was anything but simple. It is an act whose causes, whys and wherefores go deep into the complexities of France's history itself and will no doubt produce more questions and complexities in French society well into the future.

When the millions of demonstrators go home, each returns to a different reality. A reality where the values which they proclaim during the march from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation, most likely take on other meanings as words such as Liberty, Equality and Fraternity ring hollow in the face of human drudge, economic hardship, social exclusion, discrimination, different beliefs and distrust of one another. Which Charlie will they be?

The common humanity invoked in times of fear and distress will no doubt once again be subsumed beneath the cloak of differences, the suspicion and objectification of the other, as well as the caricaturing of those regarded as strange and foreign for not conforming to a preset ideal in the name of integration and shared values.

Thus, even as we condemn the murders of the journalists and fight to defend freedom of expression, we should never lose sight of the complexities that a plural and multicultural society presents.

As we expect those who have influence through their pens to bring down corruptors and abusers of power, to shed light on injustice and oppression, to give voice to the voiceless, so most of us of rational mind will balk at the idea of the pen being used to poke fun at those who are already marginalized, poor and at the bottom of the social and economic heap.

Because for a crazy few, anger is also a mode of expression.

Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV. She can be reached at or