Disclaimer: 12 people were killed in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters perpetrated by religiously motivated terrorists. Their deaths were senseless and wasteful, the perpetrators hiding behind a motive unfitting of murder as a solution. A death should almost always be mourned, regardless of circumstances.
I. Consuming While Blind
In our current age of technology and interconnectivity, it’s easier than ever for a movement to gain momentum. All one needs is a catchy tagline to throw out en masse onto the social media of your choice along with a message that a group of people feel comfortable getting behind in order to send any particular movement to the darkest folds of our planet Earth. Folks get behind the sporty taglines of these movements because they encompass the spirit of something they believe in without throwing an overabundance of words in their faces. While those attractive lines can succeed in drawing an audience to a particular message, the brevity of them can fail to deliver all the details and hidden secrets behind the situations at hand, including those of the parties standing behind them. Charlie Hebdo is not being regarded as a publication with a history in their campaign, but rather is being taken at a certain face value as a vanguard of free speech as it is seen spread across Twitter and Facebook. They are victims of a tragedy, for better or for worse.
II. Implications and Confusion
People are quick to get behind the “Je suis Charlie” banner because it is based around two things that folks are quick to support: their advocacy of free speech and their hatred of terrorism. As is usually the case when it comes to social issues, a populous is quick to turn a massacre of this kind into a black-and-white scenario: either you think that those killed deserved what happened to them and that you side with the terrorists against free speech, or that their fate was unjust and horrible and yet another notch in the assault on freedom- as though these two options are the only ones free speech allows. This is, of course, not the case. The matter of objectivity is an important one, providing the luxurious right to say what you please based on your own thoughts and deductions. As it can be seen, Charlie Hebdo is an organization responsible for some tasteless, xenophobic, generally awful art, but that still does nothing to subtract from the tragedy that took place at their expense. It does, however, mean that the average consumer can stand to split hairs, reject the “Je suis Charlie” moniker, and stand for free speech in a different way: their own way that does not support their publication.
III. Before The Incident
Context: France is a fairly xenophobic nation, especially when it comes to their Muslim population. Yes, the nation that has garnered a reputation as a haven for certain minority groups in the past has also gained a reputation for unfair treatment of various groups of people. There is a law that stands in France, for example, forbidding the open adornment of clothing connected to religion, including turbans and hijabs, in various public spaces. For religious faiths that contain rules regarding the act of wearing certain clothing as a part of their practices, this is a massive violation of their right to express their religious freedoms. After a specific decision made by the French government regarding this issue, Charlie Hebdo released an issue with a cover openly mocking the issue entirely with a naked woman dashing about their front page with her sacred head adornment shoved up her ass. Such an image hardly raises any sort of debate, and also seems to display a certain brand of bias regarding the situation.
This cover sits alongside many a Charlie Hebdo image portraying various awful caricatures of Muslim and Jewish figures, including an unflattering image of pregnant sex slaves portrayed as indignant “welfare queens” angrily demanding state support, as well as various crude depictions of Muhammad, an act regarded as a big no-no amongst many Muslims. Of course, in the interest of avoiding a one-sided thrashing of Charlie Hebdo and in the effort of providing context, their higher-ups claim that they are “equal opportunity offenders” that saunter about insulting everyone, proven by their “satire” of other famous figures like Jesus, the Pope, Michael Jackson, etc. all stuck in quite unfavorable positions. Despite this, the particularly offensive subjects at hand don’t seem to lose any impact by comparison. In all, Charlie Hebdo has shown a history of dumping on Muslims, not just the “fundamentalists” or “terrorists,” but the average French Muslim as well via a method involving the trivializing of their issues and the mocking of their beliefs.
IV. After The Incident
Thanks to the recent attack, Charlie Hebdo has been martyred: paraded as a victim of the assault on free speech and being represented by a slogan that asks the world to stand with them in their, and really everyone’s, trying moment. The magazine has embraced the “Je suis Charlie” tagline, utilizing the phrase on their first cover published after the killings, and there has been a massive reaction representing a united solidarity with the magazine. In the meantime, a renewed wave of anti-Muslim sentiment has been seen in France, with attacks on a number of French mosques taking place alongside other displays of hate in the wake of the killings. Large anti-Muslim showings and public displays of sentiment are due to pop up after a controversial event that displays ties to Islam (Americans reading this surely recall such post-9/11 sentiments) and these feelings will likely persist into at least the impending future. Muslims will continue to struggle in France, as Charlie Hebdo gains traction and support.
V. The Future and You
If you’ve ever found some kind doubt in your ability to stand behind the “Je suis Charlie” movement, the good news is that it’s not necessary to support it at all. The phrase emerging and its apparent synonymy with the support of free speech does not mean that it’s the only way to show any support. Feel free to drag the “Je suis Charlie” chant through the mud, whether it’s publicly or within your own head, at your leisure. It doesn’t mean that you’re not an advocate for freedom or that you think that the deaths of those involved in the attack are being falsely mourned, but rather shows something called “objectivity.” With objectivity you can offer a unique stance- one for free speech, but against Charlie Hebdo’s images and stances. You don’t have to stand behind a xenophobic or self-martyring entity to support free speech. Your free speech can mean more than possessing the ability to taunt the followers of Islam.