Identity and Dialogue

Do we all have to be "Charlie"?

Do we all have to be "Charlie"? Jan. 21, 2015


Millions of people, including Muslim leaders and other religious leaders, heads of states or their representatives, journalists, scholars from all domains, celebrities, peace activists, etc., condemned the attacks. But more than that, millions of people went into the streets to show even greater solidarity and sympathy. Many Facebook profiles changed into a slogan that will become probably one of the most famous of the history of solidarity in our decade: Je Suis Charlie, a French sentence that means: I am Charlie. Now, as emotions have faded away a little bit, something humanity seems to be doing much quicker nowadays than in the past, maybe it is the right moment to discuss about the whole issue. Do we all have to be Charlie and ignore its controversial past and apparently its future of provocative statements? Should we say, as did Olivier Tonneau in his On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends, that “[e]ven if these sense of humour was apparently unacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience […]”?

Some would argue that as soon you start addressing issues outside your culture, you have to be aware of other people’s cultural views. If you ignore them and use only your ways and talk about other people’s behaviors, you are no longer talking only to your people; you are talking to everybody and it may sound insulting. Charlie Hebdo’s journalists know that they are read by other people than French people. And they know they offend and insult them. Those people have the right to say: “I am not Charlie” because it would be insulting themselves. It does not mean that they support the Islamist terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo, and we have to precise this because all Islamists are not terrorists, the same as all the fundamentalists Christians are not members of the KKK or devotees of the Anti-Balaka militias in the Central African Republic. Those who say that they are not Charlie, they want to say that it is not because the cartoonists were attacked that it means what they drew was not insulting and racist.

Mehdi Hassan, the Political director of the Huffington Post UK, in his article As a Muslim, I’m Fed UP With the Hypocrisy of the Free Speech Fundamentalists, wrote that ‘[w]hen you say “Je suis Charlie”, is that an endorsement of Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the French justice minister, Christiane Taubira, who is black, drawn as a monkey” Of crude caricatures of bulbous-nosed Arabs that must make Edward Said turn in his grave?’ Hassan carries on addressing these words to Charlie Hebdo: “Has your publication, for example, run cartoons mocking the Holocaust? No? How about caricatures of the 9/11 victims falling from the twin towers? I didn't think so (and I am glad it hasn’t)” (Idem). The whole article is worth reading.

It was amazing and encouraging to see all those who gathered to support Charlie Hebdo when its journalists were cowardly assassinated. It is also abhorring to see that some Islamists, the violent ones, still think they would be avenging the prophet Muhammad by killing those who mock him. It is obvious that when he forbade people to make images of him or images of other prophets, he intended to avoid some sort of idolatry towards him. Those terrorists are the ones who do that idolatry. However, nothing would ever justify the fact that a group of people from a nation, under the alibi that it has a culture that allows satire (which might have its double standards as we said), can go on and insult other people’s beliefs. As soon as those people step outside their culture and mock other cultures, which they often do not understand, they are insulting. Maybe, we do not all have to be “Charlie”.

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