A bloody epoch in the history of humankind continues: New York 2001, Afghanistan, Bali, Bagdad, Madrid, Falluja, London, Pakistan, Gaza, Stockholm, Utöya…now Paris. Near the Bastille, near the symbolic and actual centre of the Enlightenment – the birthplace of the values that puritans and extremists hate: open society that makes life worth living; open to tolerance, to dialogue and debate; to the ability to look around and see through. The fanatics´ lack of humour is significant; they do not understand that although human beings may be insulted, a religion cannot.
For the last few weeks I have been living in Paris. The morning of the attack I bought the new energy-saving lightbulbs in a shop a block or so from the offices of Charlie Hebdo. May they light up the letters and images that remain my daily sustenance!
That very evening, at the Opéra Garnier, I attended the Swedish Royal Ballet´s “Romeo and Juliette”: the regime of violence against a defenceless loving couple. So emblematic that day. The head of the Opera stood in front of the curtain, and in a forceful speech said freedom of expression unites all genres of art, from the wildest satire to the movements of the dancers below that ceiling by Chagall. We stood for two minutes’ of silence while the flags were lowered to half-mast.
The following day we were all Charlie, the lights on the Eiffel Tower were extinguished in sorrow, and across L´Arc de Triomphe they projected “Je suis Charlie.” France was united in shock and resistance, realizing that without the freedom to insult, freedom ceases to exist.
Per Wästberg: President of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee for Literature; President Emeritus & former President of PEN International