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.

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Burqas, burqas everywhere. The Blue Chiffon Peril!!!

I have thought a long time about whether to write this post, not because I have any qualms about what I am about to write but over whether the energy is wasted. I mean, I can’t believe that I am having to write about this subject at all but sadly, here we are, in the 21st century and it’s still happening.

I refer to the recent news that the Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop and the President of the Senate, Stephen Parry, recently announced that all women wearing a burqa who entered the Australian Parliament would be segregated behind sound proof glass for security reasons. But wait, it gets better. You see, the sound proof area is also where the school kids, those pesky existential threats to Australian democracy, also sit when they visit Parliament House. So apparently, the people wearing the burqa are such a security threat that we need to put them behind glass but not such a security threat that we can’t put little kids visiting our nation’s capital on a school excursion in there with ‘them’. This is doublespeak of the highest order.

As Waleed Ali recently pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald, what most Australians called the Burqa is in fact a Niqab, or more usually a Hijab. The point is, in such a ridiculous discussion about an item of clothing, they cannot even get the terminology right when they are trying to tar and feather. This speaks volumes about the intelligence of Bronwyn, Tony and the rest of these fools.

Of course, what has not been mentioned by Bishop and Parry is that EVERY visitor to the Australian Parliament House goes through an x-ray machine AND the security regime at Parliament House already includes a protocol to identify people who have their face covered. So, to me, all the rationalisations supporting this abomination pretty much dissolve away at the first pass of the light.

Tony Abbott has already come out saying that he finds the burqa ‘confronting’ however being the Prime Minister, he cannot be seen to be getting down in the weeds and risk upsetting the newest members of ‘Team Australia’ which such an insulting segregation so first he sent out his Chief of Staff to blow the dog whistle for the true believers before asking Bishop and Parry to announce this rubbish from their supposedly independent positions. That way, they can hoist it up the flag pole and see who salutes before Abbott needs to jump off the fence. He waited a few days to test the wind before jumping down and commenting that the debate has gone a bit far.

I would suggest that there are far more drastic threats to Australia’s democracy to worry about, such as our supposedly independent Speaker of Parliament who still attends Liberal Caucus planning meetings, who hosts costly Liberal Party fundraisers in her speakers’ office and whose record of disciplining members of the house is farcically lopsided.

UPDATE: This ridiculous rule has been quietly revoked earlier this week when Parliament resumed. Coincidentally, the Speaker of the House was unavailable to comment due to ‘urgent house business’. Anyone who knows Bronwyn Bishop knows how unlikely that scenario is.

UPDATE 2: The tragic attack in Canada shows that there are genuine security measures that need to be implemented across many of our vulnerable places in the country. This fiasco makes the implementation of those measures that much harder to sell to a tired and cynical public.