For those not inclined to take an interest in these matters, it might seem the height of vanity to argue that what happened in Paris this week was a story in which we in Britain are deeply involved. But as an editor and a journalist, I think it would be naive to believe that we were not involved.
Wednesday morning was the latest, sickening chapter in a battle between everything I love – language, irony, democracy – and everything I hate – censorship, theocracy, violent menace. This battle is not optional. Yes, the brothers Kouachi were two individual agents of a terrorist ideology, attacking an individual publication for the thought-crime of blasphemy. But they were also just two more soldiers in a war against ideals – of free expression, tolerance and peace – that ought to be universal, but which they mischaracterise as Western. That war is one that every journalist in Britain, whether he or she likes it or not, is fighting.
When crafting Thursday morning’s front page, then, it was not from the position of disinterested, objective observer, but rather from that of participant, that we had to decide our approach. And that’s when Dave Brown’s cartoon came in. Naturally I am biased, but I think Dave is not only the best political cartoonist in Britain, but one of the best political commentators, too. “Genius” doesn’t do him justice; and when we saw his draft of a defiant middle finger, holding a pen dipped in blood, emerging from Charlie Hebdo, it struck us as perfect. I decided to put it on the front, but of course it was the wrong shape, so we had to go back to Dave late on and ask him to rework it – which he did, perfectly.
The reasons for putting it on the front were manifold. First, in a fast-moving story, it stopped us being overtaken by events. Second, this was an attack on cartoonists and satire, so giving our front page over to a great satirical cartoonist’s work was a way of showing we will not let them be silenced. And third, it was just such a stunning and strong image, which I knew would be endorsed by right-thinking people around the world. That is why Dave’s image went viral.
Finally, a word about all those who wrote in or – more abusively – said on Twitter that we should have had the guts to put a picture of the Prophet on our front. Well, that’s easy for you to say. I have to balance principle with pragmatism, and won’t endanger staff who don’t choose what goes on the front. In any case, Dave’s message couldn’t be more eloquent, as the original (above) shows.Reuse content