Manitoba·Opinion

Urgent dialogue needed on how best to deal with Charlie Hebdo attack

The vicious terrorist attack in Paris that left 10 journalists and two policemen dead is not just a French or even a European issue, but one that has import for each and every one of us, whether we’re shovelling snow in St. Vital, or getting soaked by cold rain in Tel Aviv, or just trying to make ends meet anywhere.

It demands that we break from our daily rhythms, no matter how far away we seem from the scene of the crime

Montrealers join the international vigil paying tribute to the victims of the attack at the offices of the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. (REUTERS)

The vicious terrorist attack in Paris that left 10 journalists and two policemen dead is not just a French or even a European issue, but one that has import for each and every one of us, whether we’re shovelling snow in St. Vital, or getting soaked by cold rain in Tel Aviv, or just trying to make ends meet anywhere.

There is no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all solution, only a continuous, fearless struggle of trial and error to strengthen and defend freedom and democracy.- Zev Cohen

It demands, I believe, that we take a break from our daily rhythms and chores, no matter how far away we seem to be from the scene of the crime, and give some thought to where we all go from here in our democratic societies.

The tragedy in Paris falls in the same category as the recent murderous attack on Parliament in Ottawa, as well as other well and lesser known terrorist events over the years. Each specific attack may have its own unique and even local characteristics.

Sometimes the perpetrators are so-called lone wolves with personal psychological issues wrapped in religious ideology. In other cases, terrorist organizations send and support the murderers. What they all have in common is that they are aimed at exploding the precious bedrock principles and freedoms of our way of life.

The attacks take place one at a time, and except for the direct victims, the effects gradually fade into the background noise. Not much changes and everything seems to go on again as usual. But over time, as they continue, they threaten to develop into a critical mass that can eat away at and destroy our delicately balanced social, economic and political systems.
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      Perhaps one of its most corrosive manifestations is mutual mistrust, fear and antagonism between people of different beliefs and customs who are all citizens of the same country. This may lead to discrimination and even violence and the undermining of the social contract.

      This latest insidious development cannot be shrugged off as just another awful event, seemingly one of many that came before. I believe that it calls, first of all, for a heightened public awareness of what is happening around us, and to the dangers that can appear anywhere, anytime. 

      In addition, an urgent dialogue is needed on how best to deal with these dangers, between the public that benefits from our way of life and those whose responsibility it is to defend it.

      There is no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all solution, only a continuous, fearless struggle of trial and error to strengthen and defend freedom and democracy. There is no choice but to wage this fight. After the Ottawa terrorist incident, ordinary Canadians of every stripe must surely know that the country is not and will not be immune.

      One of the malignant things that I believe is already happening is a tendency toward self-censorship in the Western media that manifests itself in different ways, including shying away from reporting and analyzing what may seem like sensitive and even dangerous subjects, taking political correctness to absurd and pathetic lengths, giving in to perceived and even real threats.

      Obviously there is a significant element of fear in the atmosphere, but I want to believe that there is enough journalistic intestinal fortitude in our democracies to fight the good fight. Otherwise we’re doomed. 

      Charlie Hebdo was an iconoclastic beacon in the growing darkness and its heroic journalists paid the highest price. People of all beliefs and opinions should mourn their brutal assassination.

      We are all Charlie Hebdo.

      Raised in Winnipeg, Zev Cohen now lives in Israel.

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