"Daddy, see that man over there? And that one? And that woman? They all aren't really named Charlie, are they? And why are they all wearing name-tags that say "Je suis Charlie? Are these people all going to a first day of school or something?"
No, son. In fact, I doubt any of them is actually named "Charlie." And they aren't going to a 'Welcome Back to School' day at all. They are going to a march. A march in support of Charlie Hebdo, and to show support for freedom.
"Huh? Who is Charlie Hebdo?
Charlie Hebdo is the name of a satirical magazine; last week, some men went to their office with guns and attacked them because they didn't like what the magazine had printed.
"Oh; my teacher was talking about that this week in class. Our school had a moment of silence. I guess that this is what they were talking about. What did Charlie Hebdo print that made these guys so angry, and why did they shoot the cartoonists? And what is 'satire' anyways?"
Well, son; satire is a kind of political way of talking, where you try to show how silly ideas that some people are really serious about are. Remember Gulliver's Travels? Where Gulliver, a giant, is tied-down by hundreds of tiny people? It doesn't look like a serious book, but it was, and it was in this case not laughing about little people, but instead, it was pointing out how lots of people with small minds use hundreds of tiny rules to stop great people from doing things. That was a kind of satire of rigid society in England in those days.
Here, the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were using satire to make fun of a group of people who try to use their own religious beliefs to control others. The people whose beliefs were mocked got angry, and they decided to kill the cartoonists, partly to punish them, and also to make other cartoonists afraid so that they would not make similar cartoons in the future.
"I see. Do you think that it will work? Will cartoonists stop drawing cartoons because it may make these guys mad again?"
No. I don't think it will work.
THAT is why these people are marching. They want to show to those who think it is OK to control what other people think by threatening them that they will fail. Here, the French people are saying: "No. I am not going to let your threats scare me into being quiet. I have a right to think and to say and to draw cartoons as I like. You think that you hurting these people is going to control how I think, and I say to you that it won't.
"OK. So it's important then for all these people to stand together. But why do they say "Je suis Charlie?"
They say "je suis Charlie" not because they agree with Charlie Hebdo, or even like what Charlie Hebdo had to say. What they are saying is that, like Charlie Hebdo, we all stand up together for the freedom of thought. Though our ideas are different, our values are not. If you want to attack the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo because you don't like what they say, then you have to attack me, too.
"Hmmmm... OK. But you know, I've heard you complain when newspapers or other people make fun of your beliefs. My teacher even said that Charlie Hebdo in the past has made fun of our religon. They shouldn't make fun of people, should they? You don't think it's OK to say things that hurt your feelings, do you? You don't even like their cartoons, after all.
Son, this is the point. I don't like it when people say things that hurt me. I don't think it's good when they say things that insult other people. It's generally not a good idea going around trying to offend people, and the world generally is a better place if people try to be nice to each other instead of trying to be mean.
But this is important for you to understand. Because I don't like something, it doesn't mean I am going to tell someone else that they can't say it. I can ask them not to say mean things. I can control what I say and try to be nice - though I know at times, I am certainly going to say things other people do not like. But if Charlie Hebdo or anyone else writes something that someone is hurt or offended by, then that person should respond explaining why they think that Charlie Hebdo's comments are wrong.
If there are bad ideas, and you think your ideas are better, then let the other guy have his say, tell people why you think he is wrong, and then let people decide who is right. That is how "the market place of ideas" works.
If you do not like an idea, you pick up a pencil, you do not pick up a gun.
And here, this is why it's so important as it is for everyone to be at this march. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech means defending ideas that you don't like. It's easy to stand up for viewpoints you agree with - the cartoonists were not attacked because they drew nice cartoons about puppies. That sort of speaking does not need anyone to defend it.
No. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech exist to protect ideas that are not popular.
And never, never, forget this: what is popular now may not be tomorrow. If someone tries to ban speech or to attack a cartoonist that they disagree with today - even one you don't like or agree with - well, they might be coming after you some day.
So, it's really good then, that so many people are going to go out and stand up for Charlie.
Even if they aren't named Charlie.