On Charlie Hebdo, Travel and Aviation

Reactions to the attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris have been quite impressive over the past week. I’ve read many stories and OpEds, tweets and Facebook posts. I’ve swung through a range of emotions and I’ve contemplated two specific tweets probably far longer than I should.

One is relatively easy; I just happen to think it is a classy move.

The other one, however, I’m a bit less comfortable with.

I suppose that’s part of the point. Still, I’m not so sure just how “right” it is.

And then there’s the NYTimes OpEd about the incident which belittles the work of Charlie Hebdo a bit. Not such that it condones the attacks or even gets anywhere close to that. But it does suggest that the satirists are sitting at the “kids’ table” in the world of reasonable discourse, that they are “not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.”

As for me, I mostly just shake my head in a mix of confusion and frustration. We live in a challenging time in so many ways. I travel the world in large part to explore and experience different cultures and learn from them. But I also cannot help but wonder about some of them. Tolerance and respect are tightly intertwined. One need not agree with another to respect their viewpoint. And certainly violence is not the correct reaction in any scenario.

And yet I still struggle to reconcile internally what I see as the intended goal of many religious doctrines and how they are implemented in real life. And not only by fringe groups but by large swaths of populations. I struggle with that a lot. So I continue to travel, to explore, to wander. In hopes that maybe it will make more sense next time, that people will make more sense to me eventually.

Or at least that I’ll have some fun in the adventures along the way.


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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. It’s hard to know what to think anymore – the world is a crazy place. On the one hand, I don’t personally believe in trying to offend people when there isn’t a reason to do so…and that respect is key when dealing with others’ beliefs, even if one debating those beliefs.

    Yet I believe in freedom of speech and don’t want to start down a slipper slope, so I’d still err on the side of legally protecting even offensive speech. And I’m 100% firm that being offended doesn’t give one the right to resort to violence no matter who it is.

    The speed of communication nowadays I think has exacerbated all of these issues. The whole world knows in minutes about things that once would have been barely known outside of a very small area or population.

  2. The twin towers cartoon is indeed designed to make us feel uncomfortable, and for you and I, Seth, who were there to flee, to see and to smell, even thirteen years later the emotion about 9/11 is still raw. But the hate and intolerance of our freedoms that drove the 9/11 attacks is absolutely the same as what drove these hateful attacks. And it doesn’t matter how inflammatory the satirical writing was. In fact, if we are offended, if we hate the speech that these writers published, then it is even MORE important that we defend it. Because, as we’ve seen it doesn’t take much for people like these attackers or like Gwayrav to pivot their hate to people or topics we DO care about.

    Je suis Charlie.

  3. Nice job Seth. I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness on the subject. Too much of the blogosphere is filled with mindless pandering and thinly veiled commercials.

    While I suspect David Brooks and I would not agree on a lot of things, I suspect that he doesn’t appreciate the more nuanced sense of “je suis Charlie”–at least as I understand it–and the spirit in which many are using it.

  4. I’ve seen the cartoons – some of them are indeed insulting and juvenile. And they have every right to be published in a free country. An interesting thing to observe will be the extent to which fear of becoming a target of terrorism will lead to self censorship. That’s a goal the bad guys have, after all.

  5. “the hate and intolerance of our freedoms that drove the 9/11 attacks”

    Yeah… “they hate our freedom”. Keep telling yourself that.


  6. It means that if you think that’s why people commit terrorist acts (because they hate our freedom), then you must be getting some of that good stuff they’re growing in the world’s largest narco state that we just left.

    Terrorism is bad, and so is letting ignorance or an ideological viewpoint prevent you from understanding it and therefore preventing it in the future.

    1. Ok, so then if it’s not because our way of life somehow infringes on their quasi-religious fanatical view of how the world should work (i.e. a world in which no one would even think to insult the holy prophet by saying something that they might disagree with even a little), then what is the motivation in your view?

      That is, assuming you’re open to a civil discussion without telling me I am high or ignorant…

  7. It’s not that our way of life infringes on their world view (though they may not like it I have yet to see that put forth as a reason for taking action). It infringes on their lives as a whole (and I’m not speaking of just terrorists, but more so their recruiting pool). We support/supported the dictators that keep/kept them from having the same freedoms that we do (like Mubarak or our wonderful friends in Saudia Arabia who are intimately entwined with the Wahhabi sect that is considered to be the most extreme thread of Islam). So do they hate our freedoms, or do they hate us for helping ensure that they don’t also enjoy them? Do they hate our freedoms or do they hate how sometimes their family members are murdered with drone strikes or during no-knock raids? Do they hate our freedoms, or do they hate how we invade their country under false pretenses and then turn it into a smoldering ruin? Religion is often used as a rallying cry, but I doubt you’d find any serious scholars in this sphere that say that’s what overwhelmingly got them to the point of putting words into action.

    In the end, none of that justifies killing an innocent human being. But lets not kid ourselves and act as if these people come forth from some vacuum where their extremist views exist solely because of religion. It’s hard to tell why any one person decides to kill, but to play it off on religion 100% of the time seeks only to absolve us of our potential or partial responsibility in getting them to that point (directly or indirectly). The only way to stop people from killing is to find out how they get to that point in the first place, and I feel I can pretty confidently say that they don’t get there because they “hate our freedoms”. It usually involves a mix of factors: education (or lack of), poverty, autocracy, a lack of functioning institutions, a feeling that they are the target of a new crusade, etc. So I think rather than taking the easy way out, I think we should take a long hard look at all the factors that might be at play.

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