Today Charlie Hebdo published its first issue since the massacre. As I look at my own and others’ struggles to make sense of what happened, our reactions seem surprisingly varied for an act so easy to condemn. Opinions diverge as we debate the inviolability of free speech and the demise of civil discourse; the “delicate balance” between legal tolerance and social restraint; the difference between skewering the powerful and bullying the downtrodden; the dangerous delusion of pitting civilization against barbarism; the political role of art. I find myself agreeing with people who disagree with each other. I have argued for more civil discourse in our own politics, and yet nobody ever accused Charlie Hebdo – whose tagline is “journal irresponsible” – of civil discourse. I believe that ridiculing each other ultimately debases us all, and yet I know no more effective way than satire to prick the (al)mighty. The problem is not simply external: we can’t reconcile our own beliefs.
Today’s cover features a cartoon of Muhammad, a tear falling from his eye. He holds a sign that says “Je Suis Charlie.” Above his head are the words, “All is Forgiven.” It’s not clear, at least to me, who is the forgiver and who the forgiven. So I infer that the journey toward reconciliation must begin with forgiveness, not of murder, but of each other. It is Charlie Hebdo’s most courageous cover, standing firm and reaching out. It will inevitably, even intentionally, be misunderstood. In fact, it is already under attack.