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Declaring 'Je Suis Charlie' takes a stand against fear

(Tom Henderson/News-Register)  Je suis Charlie! Sort of.

Declaring “I am Charlie” in solidarity with victims of the Jan. 7 massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris does not come easy.

I find much of what the satirical magazine publishes to be obscene and hateful. Yet no form of expression should be punishable by death.

Would I be willing to say “Je suis Penthouse” or “Je suis Fox News” if the attacks were directed elsewhere? I honestly don’t know. Yet I am Charlie.

This attack strikes me more personally than most. I keep my head lower these days, but I have spent most of the past 30 years as an editorial writer and columnist.

I have been shot at, spat upon, burned in effigy and pelted with beer cans. I have been threatened with death or injury at least 20 times — invariably because I wrote something satirical.

Being young and perhaps stupid at the time, I laughed off these incidents. Charlie Hebdo impresses me with the thin, scary line between idle threat and psychotic action.

When I first learned of the attacks, I must confess, my response was subdued. They occurred in Paris, after all, and as near as I can reckon, Paris is 5,298.7 miles away. Plus, they were the work of Islamic extremists.

Mainstream Americans talk tough, but they generally don’t follow through on violent threats. Then three people were gunned down Jan. 10 in Moscow, Idaho — 33.5 miles from where I used to work.
I even knew one of the victims. We went to church together.

What if some unhinged individual hated my opinions? Would it really take much for him to turn a threat into an assault?

If these recent attacks happened when I was a paid smart aleck, I would have genuinely feared for myself and my family.
I hate to say it, but it probably would have watered down what I wrote.

It would have had what Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan famously called a “chilling effect” on how I used my First Amendment rights. And that’s fatal for freedom of thought and expression.
So, yes, Je suis Charlie!

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