Shoulder-to-Shoulder in Defiance: not for Charlie, and not against Islam, but for humanity against malevolence

IT HAS BEEN several weeks, and practically every working journalist, cartoonist, and media presenter with an eager pen in hand has thrown in their two cents on the Charlie Hebdo situation. The march in Paris saw a crowd taking a stance against Islamic extremists who blocked the fundamental Western privilege of the right to  freedom of speech, which made the revolution of 1789 look like a queue at a chemist’s. Nobody can really disagree that freedom of speech is a vital ingredient of a forward-thinking society; to refuse this is to invite suppression of individuality and a rejection of all criticism, which takes a right turn into Fascist Avenue. There are, however, limits to freedom of expression in any sensible self-sustaining nation governed by a basic sense of ‘going too far’. In the United States if you express a strong interest in radicalism you could be accused of rioting, taken to the cleaners by the ravenous media, jailed, or subtly assassinated if the government thinks you’re enough of a nuisance. In France, the publication of Mohammed being ridiculed to many people within France and around the globe is considered fair game, knowing full well that it is taken very seriously by Muslims who are insulted by it.

hebdo1The publication of lewd drawings depicting Islamic figures being sodomized (among other things) is not an expression of free speech; it is rude and plainly intended to offend. Satire is one thing, but turning an important figure into a laughing stock for yourself and like-minded people against a religious group with contingencies is not clever, it’s obscene and degrading. Especially against a religious group who have established time and time again that there are some things so important to them that they will not tolerate the defamation of their beliefs. Just think about the waning concept of ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ in which dedicated (but absolutely not ‘extreme’) Christians are riled by their holy figures being reduced to curse words. A small group of people decided that their way of life was under assault and the best way to deal with this threat was to march into an office and kill people for it. The common Western label of ‘extremism’ has been attached to the murderers, and this in turn has motivated brutal retaliations of its own against equally as innocent Muslim people. The cycle threatened to just go on as it always has, so what is the lesson to be learned from all this?

hebdo2The Charlie Hebdo staff either seriously underestimated the impact their content might have on some people, or it deliberately teases as far as it can stretch to elicit a reaction and attract attention. The attention it has received in the past few weeks is undoubtedly not the kind of attraction it was intending to garner, but the effect of the Paris march and the Western world rallying to its defense in a sign of uncommon solidarity provides us with a fresh look at what ‘freedom’ means to us in 2015. It also teaches us the age-old, constantly ignored lesson of not being a dick. Cartoonists intentionally ridiculing entire religious groups in the name of being edgy: that’s called being a dick. Don’t get me wrong, we are all guilty of being a dick at countless times in our lives and it does not define our worth as human beings. However, it highlights the point that we should think before we act, especially when it could cause hurt to others. Murdering artists and journalists and attacking mosques across France with innocent Muslims in are both acts of terror. A French mayor attempted to ban the Oscar-nominated film ‘Timbuktu’ because of the involvement of Muslim people in production and the film’s content in fear that it would spread jihadist sentiment to young people; another reason why humankind needs to stop stereotyping. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defiance with millions of people to announce your rights to the world against those who attempt to take it from breaks this vicious cycle; it is also perhaps the greatest lesson in non-aggressive communal commemoration and celebration that we’ve had in many years. It transmits a message of hope for humanity a century after unchecked violent responses against fanatical action brought us the first of two world wars. Maybe we are – very slowly – starting to get the message.