by Derek Scarlino
Almost inevitably, there has to be something said about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris by the likes of Love and Rage. As a media initiative rooted in part by deep convictions on freedom of speech, and on a personal level, a rigid opposition to censorship, insight should be shared.
Personally, I can’t say that I stand with the theatre associated with the aftermath of the attacks and there are principled reasons why, the least of which, though still provocative, being the linking of arms by heads of state, in solidarity with the people of France, of Paris and the ideal of free speech by individuals whose governments actually repress it. That sort of thing can ruin it. More specifics on that later, though.
Let’s back up, though. The attacks themselves. The United States is often the butt of jokes because of its tendency to make itself the focus of the world. We can kill millions in dirty wars over several decades, but we’ll be damned if you forget 9/11. Hell, many Americans feel that there’s still plenty of revenge to dish out despite illegal invasions that led to many more times the number of innocents killed in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (to speak nothing of the other countries that the War on Terror has expanded into) than were lost on September 11th, 2001. But those were Americans, damn it!
Exactly. And these were Parisians. And while there’s no animosity here directed at the citizens of France, and while the attacks are solidly and rightly condemned around the world (including my own condemnation, for what it’s worth), there has been, in the aftermath, a continuation of Western primacy over global happenings. That is, when something happens to the US, or the UK, or France, or Germany, the entire world must take notice. Must make statements. Must declare solidarity. Must decry the crimes committed against these Western entities.
Simultaneously, a massacre has unfolded in Nigeria at the hands of another extremist group, Boko Haram. The group has claimed at least 2,000 lives during this latest series of attacks, but the killing of twelve French journalists is abundantly more high profile. Why? That’s merely several hundred victims shy of 9/11. While it has been covered by many mainstream outlets like CNN, Fox News and the BBC, it’s quite clear that the juiciest story is Paris. So there’s that.
Freedom of speech is another aspect and while Charlie Hebdo should be applauded on its anti-fascist, anti-racist past, it does promote both of those things when it goes after Islam due to the currents of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment growing in Europe. The magazine has routinely criticized Christianity and Judaism, too, but known is the strong Muslim stance against idolatry, and more specific, images of Muhammad, the final prophet sent by God in the tradition of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others before him.
That Muslim extremists have for years threatened death and violence in response to images depicting Muhammad is another angle to consider. Charlie Hebdo’s editors knew that they were kicking the hornet’s nest. They were being antagonistic, often to a point, as said by many observers, beyond the French sacred cow of satire.
Freedom of speech, and freedom itself, is much more than a doctrine reinforcing a do-as-you-please approach to life. There is also a degree by which one’s freedom may infringe on another’s. This is taboo even for anarchists and can be fairly identified as the limit of one’s personal freedom.
While I appreciate satire greatly, and I abhor censorship, there are still such things as nuance, tact and context. That one was attempting to piss off fascists with Qu’rans in one hand and Kalashnikovs in the other is fine with me to the point that it also brews resentment against over four million French citizens who are themselves Muslim. No great esoteric undertaking is needed to understand Muslims. They’re everyone. Part of the whole. Concerned with the exact same matters as you and I are on a daily basis. There is, though, beyond Paris, this divide propagated by media and published works and polemicists, between Islam and The West.
It’s funny that this should be the case due to the millennia of considerable, history-shaping interaction between Muslims and The West. A Muslim isn’t a swarthy figure, shrouded in mystery from some barbaric land beyond ours. These are people who have inhabited the crossroads of East and West for longer than that concept has existed. Our medicine, our science, our math, our faith; all rooted in the land where Islam developed, the Near East. In trade, treaty, war and so much else, we have been dealing first-hand with Islam for over a thousand years. And now there’s a cultural conflict? No. Where there is talk of conflict of that sort, there is only voluntary ignorance.
The other aspect of this #JeSuisCharlie stuff is how laughable the attempts at masking Charlie’s cartoons as freedom of speech are when coming from the same magazine that fired a cartoonist for a joke about Jews and the son former French President Nicolas Szarkozy. The same Sarkozy who linked arms with so many other world leaders in a very ironic photo-op. Leaders like Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s commitment to free speech is evident in the killing of 17 Palestinian journalists, as well as others who held jobs in the same offices, just this past summer during the war against Gaza. Or David Cameron of the UK who ordered The Guardian to destroy Edward Snowden documents. Many other repressive initiatives have been undertaken by several of those leaders who linked arms in Paris.
And while that was of their own volition, it proves the greater point that many in the West, from government officials to the actual people identified by the term, would much rather think of themselves as enlightened and fair. Hospitable to multiculturalism, openness and democracy. But this is not an accurate depiction of Western culture. Surely, it’s a gesture, but it is not who The West are on the whole. For those who claim to be Charlie, it works for them. It’s safe. It’s quick. But there’s a blindness there, that appeal for simplicity. An insensitivity. Perhaps it is unintentional, but it’s there.
I don’t stand for gestures. I stand for the real thing. If Je Suis Charlie is that gesture, then Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.