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12 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Sunday 11th January 2015 saw an amazing gathering of over a million people in Paris.

It was a mass demonstration of great dignity, peace and solidarity against the disgusting murders of journalists, cartoonists, police officers and ordinary shoppers a few days earlier by four Islamic Jihadists.

I watched this awesome spectacle for several hours on the BBC News Channel, and I would describe it as a manifestation of Civilization versus Barbarism.

For one day, at least, Civilization smashed Barbarism. We must hope that it lasts for considerably longer than one day.

We saw, united in friendship and common cause, white people, black people, brown people, Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of no faith at all; people from all over Paris, France, Europe and beyond, including Prime Ministers and Presidents from all over the place, arms linked during a slow and dignified march from Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation in the cause of freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

I don't care whether or not Charlie Hebdo published cartoons that were offensive to some Muslims. That could never justify going on a shooting spree. And as Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation said yesterday, "When someone tells you a cartoon offends Muslims, what he is really saying is that it offends him".

I was moved by an interview with a Jewish man and his daughter in the crowd who were each holding a white rose. He explained that the roses had been given to them by his Muslim neighbour as a symbol of peace. A French woman standing next to a man from North Africa said, "I don't know this man, but he is my brother".

On a final note regarding the satirical magazine and its "offensive" cartoons, it is important to realise that it is not just Islam that has been the butt of their jokes, but Christianity as well. There was recently a cartoon depicting Jesus hanging on the cross, with the caption, "I'm a Celebrity - get me out of here!" No bunch of crazed Christians went on a shooting spree.

I believe whenever there is anything in our political institutions or our religions that are either stupid or ridiculous, then it is incumbent upon us to ridicule them. We survive by having a sense of humour .. something sadly lacking in most religious fundamentalists of whatever faith.