Charlie Hebdo isn’t dead. It has been hijacked.
The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is trending. About this surge in support, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonist Bernard Holtrop has said, “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.” He added that this newfound fame was laughable and was coming from people who had never seen an issue of Charlie Hebdo before the shootings shot it into Internet stardom.
Statutory Distancing From Terrorist
I try to imagine the horror of Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and editors in their last moments …and it sends a chill down my spine. I think of the newspaper office that I used to work in as a lowly sub-editor for a monthly salary of US$50. It was a matter of passion: to write, to report and to be read. And therefore it is bone-chilling, outrageous and hate-inspiring to think that dissenters would dare to physically attack me for mere opinions. I grieve for the murdered journalists and I hope all (Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim) terrorists die horrible deaths.
I can’t bring myself to respect or condone what Charlie Hebdo stood for in the first place. The explosion of Charlie’s cartoons all over the Internet has left a bad taste in my mouth. It is the first time I’ve (accidentally) laid eyes on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad …viciously unkind ones at that. And in a Free World, I shouldn’t have had to. (Read the response to this post at Carl’s blog).
It is probably unfathomable to the high-and-mighty, liberal, progressive, pretty and White people of France, USA or UK – how deeply offending the caricatures are. Suffice it to say that in our prayers, we pray for the Prophet first, and our parents later. Yet, I hear, it is the essence of their Freedom to be able to hurt us again and again – by making a unnecessary mockery of all we hold sacred. Good job, Ahmed Merabet on defending that largely-White privilege. We’ve seen how viciously Muslims are jeered for exploring the life of Jesus in an academic fashion. God forbid one should try ridicule or satire.
Is Hate Speech the Essence of Free Speech?
It is baffling that we have come to think that Hate Speech is the most essential cornerstone of Free Speech. And Muslims have inherited much of the hate left over from the plates of pre-World War 2 Jewish peoples. We’ve forgotten that there are much more important and substantial bastions of Free Speech operating around us and their freedoms are constantly under threat from widespread surveillance, sovereignty-undermining drone attacks, state-sponsored extra-judicial killing of citizens or baseless edicts.
Bigots’ right to Hate Speech isn’t really the most urgent issue of our times. And transforming the written word to sketches and caricatures doesn’t blunt the dagger of division that Hate Speech is driving between communities. The numerous attacks on mosques, Muslims and their affiliates have made clear how Charlie’s malignant contents have wedged apart and isolated the Muslim community in France.
The #JeSuisCharlie groups, when they purport to support Free Speech, are actually defending ‘the Right to Offend Muslims’: the greatest Others in Europe. Anti-Semitism, they will condemn. Anti-Black content, they’ll deem Racist. Anti-France lyrics, they’ll sue. Anti-homosexuality content, they’ll label homophobic. But malign or insult Muslims …that’s fine. They represent the only legitimate, sufficiently-weak and marginalized group that can be mocked without socio-economic repercussions.
Consider this: the objective of depicting a naked Muhammad is to offend. But to what end? To anger the radicals? To taunt them? If so, the massacre is the height of Charlie Hebdo’s success. They enraged extremists elements to such an extent that they were driven to this bloody shooting. I want no part of this filth or this carnage.
But if the objective is to offend all Muslims, then I don’t see why it doesn’t qualify as Hate Speech. After all, Charlie Hebdo did fire journalist Maurice Sinet for anti-Semitic remarks. Is it then okay to taunt and hurt Muslims, but not so okay to link Judaism and financial success? Hate speech is “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”
Can you imagine how we would react if Charlie’s vicious satire was targeted at homosexuals? Or disabled veterans? Would people still think it funny if it hit that close to home? Probably not. But insulting Muslims is fun …because they react so viciously. Then tragedy strikes and some lunatic takes things into his own hands and goes on a shooting spree.
“Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims,” Tony Barber, Europe Editor, Financial Times. “France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.”
The fact that Charlie operates in France, gives it even more specific context. Furthering of Free Speech and Freedom of Expression in France has often involved antagonizing the Muslim minority: a minority where 80% are of Algerian descent / origin; an oft-oppressed and massacred religious minority. For 132 years, France occupied and pillaged Algeria; it tortured and murdered Algerians Muslims by the thousands. If this had been done to any ‘Western’ nation, France would’ve earned a rightful place beside Hitler’s Nazi Germany. But narratives of colonization of pauperized Muslims in the hands of a mighty, White European is largely normalized in our world. It is this colonized, pauperized, robbed and murdered minority that Charlie Hebdo had valiantly taken on. The same Charlie Hebdo that is now receiving Google and possibly government funds to spew their venom. Imagine if it got that funding when it was accused of anti-Semitism in 2009!
Selective Freedoms for Elective Speech
In 2006, France’s most popular rapper was charged with anti-Semitism and offending public decency. Rapper Monsieur R. had referred to France as a “slut” and vowed to “piss” on Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. “France is a bitch, don’t forget to fuck her till she’s exhausted/You have to treat her like a slut, man” he sang. Laws were proposed to ban this content and hundreds of lawmakers voiced their opposition for such lyrics. So, it is not okay to demean the ‘Dignity of France’, but perfectly fine to take a piss on Islam, its last Prophet or to ban expressions of religious affiliation in the name of Lacaite. France’s notions of Free Speech is messed up to say the least.
While it makes me deeply uncomfortable and sad, I understand why Charlie chose to depict the Prophet Muhammad under the sword of an ISIS thug. It sends a powerful message: Muhammad or Islam aren’t the source of ISIS’s hateful ideology. But a graphic orgy of the Holy Trinity or other explicit images may be needlessly provocative. It gives rise to Otherization of minorities and prevents assimilation of any kind. That, in turn, leads to hate crimes and a realization of a Clash of Civilization narratives.
Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorist attacks. The Charlie Hebdo shooting wasn’t even the most deadly attack on January 7, 2015. A car bomb killed 37 people in Yemen on the same day – but the demography of the victims failed to attract any notable media attention. Still, I feel for the blaspheming victims of Charlie Hebdo. It’s not up to me to judge their intentions or actions. But it doesn’t mean I stand by or endorse what they were doing. Let’s not confuse support for Free Speech with support for the actual contents in question.
I am not Charlie.
And unless you’re a bigoted, xenophobic, racist, hate-breeding, minority-taunting neophyte …you shouldn’t be either.