Why I Don't Have the Courage to be Charlie

Harmesh Bhambra '16

Harmesh Bhambra '16

By Harmesh Bhambra '16

One of the most powerful scenes after the Charlie Hebdo attacks was of the remaining journalists returning to work and producing the next edition of the magazine, which went to a record print run. Their commitment to the principle of freedom of expression, after the startling realization of the risks they faced, is something remarkable and something I cannot comprehend. Those journalists are Charlie.

We see Charlies throughout history. These are the people who commit to a cause without fear or favor — and it is these people who push the world forward. We know who they are — “The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes,” as described in Apple’s “Think Different” campaign.

William Tyndale, the English scholar, was Charlie. In the 16th century, Tyndale bravely translated the New Testament in a direct challenge to the papal hegemony. The point was that the ordinary person could read the English, not Latin, New Testament, where there was no talk of popes, monks and purgatory; the ordinary person could interpret the gospel in his or her own way. Tyndale completed his translation while exiled from England and his enterprise eventually cost him his life. But he changed the world: by spreading the Reformation ideas around the English-speaking world, Tyndale helped to force the schism within the Church, reducing the influence of Rome in Europe and liberating the minds of many. Further, his Bible’s impact on the English language lasts, with Tyndale coining memorable phrases such as “seek and you shall find” and “a moment in time.”

Tyndale is but one example of Charlie; Galileo, Gandhi and many others are Charlie. Unlike these esteemed people, I do not have the courage to be Charlie. I would rather self-censor than face the risks they confronted. The trade off is too extreme, too real; the feelings of my friends and family are too front of mind. I could not defy death threats, cope with exile or toy with incarceration. I cannot commit to the absolute principle of freedom. I am comfortable not being Charlie because I have made that choice.

So while I write this article in the comfort of the Harper Center, exploiting the freedoms that people like Tyndale fought for, I am grateful that the human race has produced people who are Charlie; because I know that I could never be.

The writer is a first-year MBA student.