I never met A.E. Symons, but I did go to his funeral.

A.E. Symons was a prolific letter writer to this newspaper who had his opinions and expressed them, for which I admired and respected him, even though we had a good crack at each other on hot-as-hangi-stone issues, many of them Maori.

A.E. Symons stood tall on his beliefs and I am sure would have agreed with the editor of Charlie Hebdo magazine, Stephane Charbonnier, in his famous quote when threatened by terrorists to shut shop and shut his mouth in 2012.

"I would rather die standing than live on my knees."


Shooting from the lip and not the hip was for A.E. and is for me, the weapon of choice, as it is for columnists and cartoonists up and down the country and across the world.

Pulling a trigger is easy and takes seconds. It is a cowardly act and it changes nothing other than to confirm the shooters are senseless shallow cowards.

Shooting from the lip like Charlie has done for 40 years is clever and calculated and unconditionally courageous.

Here in Aotearoa / New Zealand we enjoy and mostly take for granted the freedom we have to express our opinions, a freedom that our forefathers and ancestors fought for in wars overseas and battles in our own back yards.

Freedom of speech comes in many forms across our country and we are all beholden to protect and advocate for the weak, the poor and the oppressed, who may not be able to speak for themselves.

By doing this we hold the powerful to account and fly the flag of freedom and democracy.

I have been humming Bob Marley's song of freedom all week for Charlie and his whanau.

The whanau of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical comic publication in France, paid a terrible price for freedom of speech and now the question is being asked, "What are the limits to the freedom of speech?"


Here, far away from freedom fighters, we tend to draw the line around name calling and tongue-in-cheeky-darkie cartoons - all pretty tame on the global racial Richter scale in my opinion.

Locally we have letter writers who carry their causes and believe in them and that is the beauty of democracy, something I have learnt over the years as a columnist from letter writers such as A.E. Symons.

Other countries do not have this freedom of expression and now those that do are being held accountable in ways that can never be tolerated or glorified, as this gives fuel to their terrorising causes.

Even by writing this column I question if it is giving them (the terrorists) undue recognition, so not naming them is the least I can do. What we all can do is to understand the motivation of what happened to Charlie and why, and by doing this we overcome the fear of their acts and take away the sting of their self-centred, nothing-to-do-with-God grievance - and everything to do with exacting vengeance on those who question their beliefs.

We can be assured they (the not-to-be-named bad buggers) will be watching how the world reacts to their barbaric acts, hoping it will achieve the intended backlash on Islam and glorify their "God is great" cause. Ironically the opposite is happening and a new-found freedom of speech is carrying the candle of Charlie across the globe.

Charlie is alive and could very well be the satirical straw that breaks the bad buggers' backs.

There are two quotes that come to mind that counter the cry of Muslim extremists who believe they can silence the freedom of speech.

The first is Voltaire who said: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The other quoted on behalf of A.E. Symons is, "The pen is mightier than the sword, or the AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades."

Perhaps the wise words of the patron son of peace and father of the Rainbow Nation, Nelson Mandela, can be recalled and remembered as we try to make sense of the senseless killings in Paris.

"No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if people learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite".

Je suis Charlie, I stand with you, ko Charlie tenei.


-Tommy Kapai is a Tauranga author and writer.