Anyone who ever saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier or the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (or even read the source comics all the way back to the sixties) are aware of H.Y.D.R.A., Marvel's version of SPECTRE from the James Bond series of films. It's a fictional evil organization whose motto is succinctly put: "Cut off one head, two more grow in it's place." This underlying conceit of motto is what makes that particular organization so insidiously effective ... the idea that an ideal cannot be killed. You may kill one agent, but two others will have taken that agent's place.
A tragic situation took place in Paris yesterday. Three armed Islamist terrorists stormed the office of the satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" and killed 12 people and wounded 10 others, among them an two unarmed Parisian police officers, as retribution for the cartoons the magazine published satirizing Islamic extremism. Like all other terrorist attacks, it was meant to create an environment of fear and contriteness.
Instead, the opposite has happened.
Chances are many of you did not know of Charlie Hebdo (Admittedly, I never knew about it until the attack). Take a good look at the Internet; particularly social media. You know about it now. I'm sure your Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pheed, etc. feeds are littered with not only stories of the attack, but statements from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. The unknowns and the celebrities, all decrying the attack and, further, posting ad infinitum the satirical cartoons (some censored, but mostly not) that provoked the attack. Instead of being suppressed, its being disseminated while political satirist cartoonists are producing new cartoons in the same vein as of this writing in solidarity and protest. As violent and tragic as the terrorist act was, it has provoked a response completely, exponentially, opposite to what was intended.
"Free speech" is not a uniquely American concept; it's a universal desire, especially to those who live under dictatorial regimes. But free speech, as made explicitly clear yesterday, is NOT free. It's a right that has to be claimed, asserted, continually fought for, otherwise it would be eradicated by those who would see it expunged from the proverbial face of the earth. But freedom (whether political, religious, spiritual, or what have you) is not a tangible thing that can be cut down by an AK-47; it's an idea that is worth living for, fighting for, and, as Stephane Charbonnier and his staff unfortunately learned, dying for. However, it doesn't perish with the martyred idea holder...but instead promulgates and radiates outwards to others who carry the torch and push the idea. Kill the one, and two others take it place. Or, as that old shampoo commercial asserts, "you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on..."
This is why terrorism must ultimately fail. While the purveyors of an idea may perish, the idea cannot. The current cultural awareness and response to these attacks is evidence of fact. The great irony in all of this is that the terrorists, in trying to promote their cause, have only undermined it further.
To paraphrase a pop culture icon, "Stay free, my friends."