I am NOT Charlie Hebdo if that is the only choice I have.


I write this article today in the afterglow of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine, as well as the sieges that occurred in the aftermath around Paris. And let me state at the outset that I clearly think terrorism is awful, tragic and sadly inevitable for the foreseeable future. I in no way condone violence against anyone, but most particularly for something as inconsequential as being offended by something they say or write.

However, having said that, and in light of the worldwide response to the Paris attacks, I wanted to question the idea behind people voicing their anger at this bloodshed with signs saying Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie).

I am a supporter of free speech. Most people are. For me, free speech means being able to say, write or in this case, draw, whatever you want. I would draw the line at something designed to promote violent crime such as a paedophile recruitment notice or other such things. Equally, with that right to say what you want comes the responsibility to acknowledge that your free speech may offend some people. (Again, I reiterate that I do not condone murder as a response to free speech you do not like).

The artists and writers of Charlie Hebdo therefore can draw whatever they want and can offend whomever they want and, even if I disagree with what they draw, for me to be consistent with my beliefs, I have to agree with their right to do so. I stress here that I do not need to agree with their content. Speaking more broadly about other publications, just because you have the right to be racist, bigoted, homophobic or anti-Semitic does not mean you should be. Just because you can offend someone does not mean you should.

Satire serves a purpose to shine a light on absurdities and incidents in the civic square that need a light shone on them. When it works, it’s very effective but when it does not work, you just look like an arsehole. Or a bigot. Or a racist. Or an anti-Semite. In the rush to do something about terrorism, and I understand that rush, people are metaphorically standing next to Charlie Hebdo and saying, “yep, I’m with these guys. I am Charlie Hebdo!!”.

If our only response to terrorism is to passionately identify with their targets, regardless of the beliefs of those targets, then surely the Muslims of the world could do with us passionately identifying with them since there have been far more Muslim victims of Jihadist terrorism than non-Muslim. The solutions to terrorism are as complicated and nuanced as their cause. Simply jumping on a social media campaign to assuage our feelings of helplessness seems somewhat lacking and I think Charlie Hebdo would have had some choice words for those who suddenly found them acceptable who in the past did not.


5 thoughts on “I am NOT Charlie Hebdo if that is the only choice I have.

  1. I disagree with you.

    After having listened to and read a few commentaries about Charlie Hebdo, as well as previous commentaries regarding muslims reacting to any criticism about their belief system, I do not think the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo produced offensive cartoons especially as it relates to the depiction of their prophet.

    Most muslims get offended just by the mere depiction of their prophet let alone depicting him in a satirical cartoon.

    Here’s an intersting article that i recommend to you.

    I’m not here to change your mind but i urge you to consider some points about muslims and that its not simply because CH published offensive cartoons because in my opinion they did not.

  2. Hi Jeannie,

    Thank you for the link. I am not sure I got the whole article though as it was only 9 paragraphs or so but it explained the situation about the depiction of Muhhamed pretty accurately. In my time working and living in Malaysia, the Muslims that I encountered there (a minority of the Muslims in the world so my sample size is questionable) did not have an issue with his depiction. I understand that there are some who have different views and also some who have radically different views.
    I agree with you about the CH cartoons and personally don’t find them offensive but some do and I think the point that Philip Ross makes about who controls the agenda and depiction is a valid one.
    If the cartoons never happened and the attack had never happened, would so many people still feel comfortable saying that they are Charlie? I think probably not. Actually, considering the circulation numbers, I doubt they would even had heard of it.
    I guess my post was more a comment on people showing solidarity with a magazine that has been posting content deliberately designed to provoke anger amongst a minority without considering what standing with them means and came about due to comment in the media here condemning people who were questioning Charlie Hebdo motives.
    Should CH continue to post what they like? Does not really worry me but I know it upsets a minority who already feel disenfranchised.
    Should we all declare our solidarity with CH to the point where we declare that we too are Charlie Hebdo? Not if I have another alternative to show my outrage at this act.

    Thank you for your comment and the link. I feel this issue is complicated and there are no easy solutions.
    Hope you are well!

  3. Hey jeannie,

    Unfortunately my work internet policies wont let me view the Maher video link you gave me but I will check it out when I get home. I usually like most of his stuff. The second link was a good one. I expected some religions to come out and support the notion that you should not offend religious sensitivities. Having reread my post, I can see where it can be read in a similar vein which was not the point I was trying to make and the fault lies with me.
    If I could rewrite it, I would give more weight to the concept of being forced to declare solidarity with CH as a “with us or against us” ultimatum which oversimplifies the argument for me.
    There is a anti-censorship website (I cannot find the article again) that is listing the newspapers around the world that are refusing to republish the offending cartoons and asking people to boycott these papers. Ironic that a website that is against censorship and control is tar and feathering newspapers who are making their own decisions on publishing rather than doing what they are told by this website.

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