Truth must not be the first casualty of war

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Derek Bateman reflects on today’s murderous events in Paris

America did not end with 9/11, whether it’s an evil empire or not. Nobody we know of stopped flying after the Glasgow Airport attack. Madrid commuters travel by train and London workers by Tube.

IMG_8166Resilient and pragmatic people get on with life and most know almost as soon as the horror has been disseminated that the terror will be absorbed, will take its historic place in the public consciousness and will not deter the drive to travel, earn, enjoy and fulfil.

We have learned to rationalise acts of terror and to inure ourselves to them. But there is a particularly insidious aspect to the intimidation and murder of journalists and artists that creates a debilitating sense simultaneously of dismay and fury. They are the messengers and the depicters who convey meaning and give shape to the ethereal and the abstract.

It doesn’t mean they are special or more valued than anyone else but they are, or are supposed to be, the embodiment of expression and freedom that forms the foundation of the modern state. Democracy is meaningless without the echo of the people’s voice.

This in itself is a reminder to the those who traduce the trade of journalism through propagandising and artful omission here are home that they belong to an aspirational undertaking that too often falls short of lofty ambition.

Charlie-Hebdo-logoIn Scotland we are not asked to die for our trade. Elsewhere this is a daily reality. In 1990 I knew an Indian  editor of a paper close to Kashmir and covering the conflict there.

In Washington he explained how the local warlord would send political tracts to his office each week and insist they were printed. When I asked why he didn’t resist, he said simply: They will kill me…and my staff.

Social media protest today.
Social media protest today.

To import a version of this uncompromising death cult into western society displays the fanatics’ heartless contempt for human life in general, for Muslims in particular (they are also indiscriminate victims) and for Islam itself. Our societies allow for and often encourage dissent, protest and challenge and it is open to anyone of any faith or outlook to demonstrate against the content of a publication. We just don’t do it through the barrel of a Kalashnikov.

This is the part that troubles most, that whatever the issue, for those embedded in the jihadist culture, the answer is always the same – death. This is a creation of their own perverted analysis which finds in the Koran messages which do not exist in the texts.

To claim, as they do, that they are acting on behalf of Allah to avenge the Prophet is to assume to themselves the powers of their God. Who anointed them? Who made these killers the representatives on Earth of Allah? By whose right do they act as judge and jury on mankind? They are not denied access to the airwaves or the print pages if they articulate a case within the law. They have social media fully available to make their arguments. Yet the bloodlust of the zealots directs them only to the barbaric and ancient instincts of the cave.

On to fellow Muslims they pour the unthinking scorn of the anti-immigration lobby quick to identify, wrongly, the murderers with the wider community of Muslims. How do you imagine this week’s We Are The People marchers in Germany will react to the Paris massacre? Look. You see. This all started with immigration. They are not like us.

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Stephane Charbonnier: Editor was among the today’s victims in Paris.

So the case for decent people is set back again and somewhere in the back of their mind journalists, cartoonists and programme-makers will ask themselves if an editorial idea is worth the risk. Do they quietly drop it in self-censorship and allow a kind of purdah to evolve in which violent shadows determine what we read and see and what makes us laugh?

Freedom of expression really is a pillar of our world with all the acrimony and accompanying grotesque caricature that implies because it allows us to be who really are and lets us see clearly the world around us. If this is a kind of war, we must hope truth doesn’t become the first victim. But if it is, it is a war worth fighting because victory for the disciples of death will diminish something worthy that inspires us all.