What one person finds funny, the next may deem insensitive and reprehensible. This is the nature of humour.
Humour can be used for the most trivial of reasons, or it can be used during times of bereavement and sadness as a means of lightening a moment. I firmly believe that no topic is untouchable in the world of humour so long as it is genuinely funny and original. This is not to say that people cannot be offended by humour, because its appreciation is as subjective as anything.
I've spent a fair bit of time living in France, in both the north (Lille), the south (Marseille) and in Paris, my favourite city in the world. It is a country that I love without restraint. I have seen first-hand the results of generations of racism and xenophobia, both glaring (the National Front party and its anti-semitic cancer of a leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and its absolutely frightening number of supporters) and slightly less glaring (the legions of unemployed Arab and Muslim youths who feel disenfranchised and without a nation to call their own.)
Racism, while a universal concept, is a different beast in much of Europe. In France, those like Le Pen claim that the welfare system, "Le Protection Sociale", benefits those moving from the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa because they have larger families and are often unqualified for many entry-level positions. As the economy worsens, many French people have grown to dislike immigrants for this very reason, drawing parallels between the poor state of the economy and the wave of immigrants who initially put a strain on social welfare securities.
This has created a division in the country, where immigrants, many of whom are left with no option but to flee their homelands embroiled in civil war or ethnic cleansing, come to France searching for a new beginning only to find that nobody will hire them. If you've been to the Eiffel Tower, recall the hundreds of Sudanese and other east-African children selling knock-off memorabilia and ask yourself why that is. This unrest was the backbone of the riots in Paris and other French cities in 2005, where Arab, black and second-generation North Africans displayed their discontent in a system that has left them behind. This unrest was also evident in the south, in Nice, where i spoke with a group of Algerian boys who couldn't find work, with many shop owners refusing to allow them in their stores let alone even spare a moment to have a look at their CVs.
The sense of nationalism in France acts as both a gift and a curse. Where one person uses it as a means of unity and pride, others use it as a tool for their hatred and xenophobic beliefs.
It's a sad state of affairs that unfortunately only seems to worsen. A city as wonderful as Paris, where the beauty of the arrondisements only paper the cracks that are the inequality that plagues the city's outskirts, where the Boulevard Peripherique surrounds the city, keeping what is deemed holy and French inside, while those who feel let down by the system live beyond it.
As cliché as it sounds, when I was in Paris, Montparnasse to be exact, I enjoyed nothing more than sitting outside of a bistro, enjoying a café élongée or a carafe of house red while reading the paper. One of my favourite things to read was Wednesday's Charlie Hebdo, which had the ability to make me laugh, cringe and ponder all at once. It was a left-wing magazine that challenged that which cripples modern society and refused to leave any stone unturned, no matter how many feathers it ruffled.
Today, i consider again my aforementioned stance on humour and both those who laugh because of humour, and those that are offended. Charlie Hebdo wasn't a means to mock others, it was a way of challenging that which we believe in - whether it be government or organized religion - in order to ask the questions those in the mainstream media were too afraid to ask. In 2011, when the magazine was widely criticized for trivializing Islam by having Mohammed as a guest editor with a caricature on the cover, the magazine wasn't mocking a people, but the negative consequences of organized religion and the fanaticism it breeds. The magazine has in the past taken a similar stance concerning the Catholic Church and the Vatican. It wasn't a publication for the elite, but for anybody that could seek refuge in its humour and its ideals. Charlie Hebdo was a publication that spoke for those who feel left behind, even if they didn't know it.
Perhaps tonight, after you've put the children to bed and have poured yourself a few fingers of something peaty, think about those around the world who feel unwanted and disenfranchised by the very countries they live in. Think about how their voices are being drowned out by radical fundamentalism and the lives it ruins, and think about how the narrow minded among us will paint all Muslims with the same brush because of the horrific and barbaric acts of a few. Finally, think about your rights and those of others, and how we have the rights to express ourselves, and the value to do so in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner.