Je Suis Charlie, mais Je Suis Tout le Monde aussi.
It has taken me a few days to gather my thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and I’ll admit that the proceeding blogpost will show that they are still discombobulated and forming. I have a lot to say, so please bear with me. I will in fact be dividing the topic into two posts; the second one will more explicitly critique the Muslim response to the attacks.
I was in Paris on 7 January, the day of the attacks. The Hebdo offices are in the 3rd arrondisement, which is where my walking tour du jour ended on that grey afternoon right next to the Hotel de Ville. However, it wasn’t until I got back to the apartment I was staying at on Avenue Bosquet that I found out what I had happened when I logged onto my Facebook. Unbeknownst to me, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi had stormed the infamous offices of French weekly satire Charlie Hebdo and massacred 12 people for insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed through their lambasting caricatures.
Later that afternoon I went back out and walked around the Champs Elysees. People were calm, there were still throngs of tourists on the avenue; I didn’t notice an intense security presence. In fact, it almost seemed like nothing had happened. Walking back across the Pont de l’Alma as night fell, my friend and I noticed a young man wearing a long black coat that reminded me of a vampire, or the trench coats the Columbine massacres had worn. He was studying a map on the side of a bus stop and had a suspicious manner. He made us both uneasy, and we were happy when he finally turned in a different direction.
The next day I took a taxi to Orly Airport to return home. Besides a battalion of police cars at one location on our route, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The airport even seemed calm, although the headlines at Le Relay bookshop said otherwise.
I have followed the news obsessively ever since January 7th. I’m afraid that the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the deaths of the police officer in Montrouge and 4 hostages at the Vincennes Hypermarche at the hands of Amedy Coulibaly, has become France’s version of America’s September 11th. This distinction was underscored by the fact that the anti-terrorism rallying march in Paris was held on January 11th. Although both attacks were perpetrated by Islamic extremists bent on punishing the West, the responses, public’s reactions around the world and the link to freedom of speech has distinguished the French attack from its American predecessor.
I feel that the Charlie Hebdo Massacre is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Unlike the United States, France isn’t about to go start a war in Iraq or Algeria, but I do believe this is going to change the tide in terms of the French relationship with its Muslim population. Whether this will be for better or worse is hard to say, but I have this strange optimistic feeling that, despite the instances of Islamophobie that have increased over the past few days throughout France, that overall the tragedy will mark a better change in this long-troubled relationship. I feel that the shooting will be a decisive moment in Franco-Muslim relations. In grief people will either unify and realize that all the mocking, othering and hate is wrong, and has consequences, or it will go the other way and Muslims will be ostracized and harassed worse than they are now. In a history of oppressing Muslims, I hope the French will not turn to blind anger, and I hope the French Muslim population will rise to the occasion and embrace their home.
3.7 million people rallied in Paris against extremism, including a Who’s Who of world leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania. Talk about history! When does this ever happen: French, Christians, immigrants, Jews, Muslims and world leaders all marching the same route? Royals walking with commoners, leaders coming together in solidarity and support?
To hell with those who criticized the hypocrisy of the situation, saying that Russia and Turkey are ranked among the worst countries to be a journalist and express one’s right to free speech. They were still there, weren’t they? And where was the USA representative? I am ashamed that the USA did not see the need to send a higher-ranking official than our (no doubt wonderful) ambassador to France. It makes me wonder what would have happened if the attack had happened in the States.
Oh wait, I do know what would have happened. Despite freedom of speech being an American value, our country is not highly ranked in terms of journalistic freedom. Despite freedom of speech being part of our Bill of Rights, American news sources blocked out the covers of Charlie Hebdo when reporting on the shooting. Despite being land of the free, we allowed North Korea to censor a movie made not by our government but by independent artists. I think America would have swept this under the rug. I certainly don’t think world leaders would have jumped to come march in the streets of Washington DC or New York. Our Politically-Correct-obsessed culture would probably never have published Charlie Hebdo, which proves how far America has strayed from its values.
I value freedom of speech as the greatest freedom one can have, besides the right to live (freedom to believe can never be taken away from anyone because belief is in your heart, even if you can’t ‘manifest’ it). I do not believe in hate speech nor hate crimes; I do not believe in Islamophobia or racism. I admit that I have critiqued Charlie Hebdo on this blog in the past, such as in this post:
But in this case, I feel that Charlie Hebdo’s satirists did wrong. They only set themselves up for catastrophy. We already have ample proof that mocking Mohammed can have disastrous results thanks to extremists (not normal Muslims); the deaths at the Libyan embassy are an unfortunate example. Had the extremists in Paris been able to successfully bomb Charlie’s office, it would have been a much-more noted disaster.
Yes, it is true that Charlie’s cartoonists were fully aware of the ire their paper inspired, but I don’t think they set themselves up for catastrophy. After all, they lived in a country where freedom of speech is sacred. They did not deserve what they got, nor should we sit here and say “but they had it coming.” Did they focus on Islam a lot? Yes. Were some of them against Islam? Apparently yes, but it does not make them bad people. I’m against the mentality of people who don’t vaccinate their kids, among many other beliefs and mentalities, and I don’t think it makes me a bad person.
I also found myself disagreeing with the following quote from another post:
From the French front comes yet another Charlie Hebdo cover, or make that two: one is a white cover with only the words “Journal Irresponsable,” the other is the image you see at left. I kind of wished that Charlie would just get over the whole episode–they apparently won’t let a topic drop–but it was kind of an interesting idea, that humor comes from pushing the boundaries of an already-incendiary topic. I couldn’t help but think of the MTA ad and how, whereas the MTA ad declared Muslims savages, Charlie Hebdo actually appeared to be calling themselves irresponsable savages who didn’t know that adding oil to flames will only increase your fire.
Charlie definitely knew how to provoke. I thought their last cover, of Jesus being born from between Mary’s legs, was crude and gross like several other covers. Their pens were their swords and they were always drawn, no pun intended. Did they have a death wish? In some ways it would appear so, and I hesitate to say that some ideas are worth dying for when that’s the exact mentality that terrorists have, but in this case the Charlie cartoonists weren’t literally killing anyone. They were standing up for freedom.
However, my post “There is No Fun in Islam? Charlie Hebdo learns the Hard Way” from November 2011 announced my support for the Hebdo cartoonists and I think it is worthy to copy the reasons here, for I still believe in them.
- The magazine wasn’t saying that Islam or Muslims were stupid or wrong.
- The cartoonists weren’t blaspheming, since they are not Muslim
- If we can’t poke fun at life, than we are going to end up like Iran (or Saudi Arabia; at least women drive in Iran and have water fights).
- Christianity-poking cartoons are produced without full-scale international clamor and bombing; learn to take a joke, please!
- Violence is never, ever the answer. Protest all you want; but turning to violence is wrong. The cartoonists weren’t trying to destroy Islam, they hadn’t hurt anyone, but if someone had been in that office, they probably would have been dead. I never condone violence unless it’s self-defense (self-defense of your religion does not count).
I want to see photos like the one of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande above, which is so touching. I want to again see Israel and Palestine’s leaders together at the same event, united. It was unbelievable to witness (alas only in photos, if only I had been there!) and fills me with warmth at the possibility that maybe one day, not now, but one day maybe peace will come to the People of the Book. Even Iran condemned the attacks, although it was also quick to point out that insulting religion is unacceptable.
Rest in Peace Stephane Charbonnier (editor), Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski, Elsa Cayat, Philippe Honore, Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verlhac, Bernard Maris and Mustapha Ourad, Charlie Hebdo’s team.
Rest in Peace Michel Renaud and Frédéric Boisseau, victims of their association with Charlie Hebdo.
Rest in Peace Franck Brinsolaro, Clarissa Jean-Philippe and Ahmed Merabet, who died doing their jobs.
Rest in Peace Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and François-Michel Saada, the Jewish victims at the Hypermarche.
The pen is mightier than the sword.