When ink was reprimanded with bullets, when a working sanctuary became a hunting ground for savages, and when brave and innocent individuals lost their lives to radicals for a very domestically-entrenched value, Paris was metaphysically removed to a faraway battleground where a few dictate with guns and a majority sit oppressed, silenced.
A greater current is at stake than what certain individuals ascribe to the seemingly insular Parisian terror attacks of the past week; this is not a debate where we decide the credibility of Charlie Hebdo, but one where we truly the address the question of immigration and the clash of cultures. We, I stand forward, as a united, democratic society must strive to hold our self-evident truths, such as the freedom of speech, in line with the self-evident truths of incoming minorities, in this particular case, that the Prophet or the Qur’an cannot be mocked so crudely and openly. Without a fair compromise between ours and the notion of those we welcome within the democratic West, we will somber in constant provocation-retaliation, claiming the lives of brilliant individuals like those who died on January 7th at Charlie Hebdo.
In a recent New York Times Op-Ed written by renowned columnist David Brooks, the author claimed that “it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo,” because we do not participate in the sort of inflammatory publications the satirical tabloid is known for – most prevalently cartoons that defaced Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an in sexual, extremist, or simply abrasive manners.
I respect the opinion that some do not want to be associated with a seemingly Islamophobic, racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic magazine, but no. Perhaps a jingoist sentiment of French nationalism prevails in me, but no: Mr. Brooks, like me, like you, like anyone that participates in the intellectual debates of the Western world, like anyone that enjoys the more-often-than-not unabridged freedoms of our society, like anyone who writes, expresses and publishes under the notion of freedom of speech, is Charlie Hebdo. We are all Charlie Hebdo. We are everything from The New York Times to Charlie Hebdo, because those are the voices we allow to be published in the hope to reflect or educate our population. Those are the voices we celebrate as shepherds of truth.
To offer our support to a certain range of the spectrum of speech, which goes from docile to radical, is hypocritical – every opinion, even the sometimes insulting ones of Charlie Hebdo, is one to protect. Democracy is nothing if not a cacophony of perspectives.
To be part of such a secular, democratic society immigrant peoples need to stop clinging to past traditions and beliefs like life rafts as much as those societies that welcome them must accept the responsibility of assimilation: We must all espouse values that pitch themselves somewhere between each other. We cannot be Arabs in Paris or Jews in Paris or Americans in Paris, we must be French (in the case of France), culturally as much as societally. Sometimes this intimates subscription to beliefs that are completely counter to our formers, but that is the line we must straddle together, united, without gunfire. I absolutely and unequivocally condemn the depiction of the Prophet in a pornographic manner, or the depiction of the Qur’an as a faulty bullet-shield; the irresponsibility in publishing cartoons like this is hard to excuse, especially in a nation struggling to assimilate thousands of incoming immigrants. But nonetheless, response by AK47 is counter to every value France and the West and Islam holds dear – on paper, at least. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, LGBTs, immigrants and all other minorities must participate in civil debate to shape our countries as what they very much are becoming: Melting pots, rather than homogeneous groupings. And the first step is to accept that we are the values we espouse, we are freedom of speech, we are Charlie Hebdo.
At the same time however, a very real duty falls on the individuals of those lay countries: To assimilate as equally and apprehensively as needs be. France can ban the burka in public spaces if it sees the need to, but it too must ban the offensive representation of the Muslim Prophet and the Qur’an – middle grounds must be achieved before we tumble off both sides of the cliff. When Jews and lay people wanted to silence an anti-Semitic French comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the use courts and appeals were adhered to to shut down his shows – no bullet was fired, and none of his hate speech was published. This was a success for a democracy of minorities.
The minority in most Western countries today has become, or will become, the majority: To ignore their desires as counter to society is ignorant, backwards, and begging to the dissension we saw in the Parisian suburbs last week. But once again, desires must be voiced, refuted or approved by ink and words and not by bullets or violence.
What occurred at Charlie Hebdo is the perfect example of where French society and politics faulted on both fronts: We passively accepted Charlie Hebdo publishing cartoons that obliterated any sort of standard we imposed on others like Dieudonné, but we also allowed for a handful of men to respond with targeted terror attacks across the capital. We cannot alienate immigrant minorities like we did, just look at the numbers, almost everyone I know constitutes a part of immigration – this can soon amount to greater civil contention. But at the same time we cannot supplant our values of dialogue with those faraway of machine-gun preaching, and no one can impose those on us.
When the Kouachi brothers, the now-dead gunmen, slaid in cold blood the cartoonists and writers of Charlie Hebdo, they were forbidding any criticism laid on the sanctity of Islam’s divine entities, most particularly the Prophet and the Qur’an – and perhaps their irrational, barbaric, disgusting, putrid and vile actions do point to a notion of double standards we have allowed to prevail in countries in Europe and America. They were arguing for an extreme, Charlie Hebdo for the other, and so as a responsible society we must find the correct medium (which is maybe Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue’s cover of the Prophet holding a sign of Je Suis Charlie, titled “Everything is forgiven”). We must protect all minorities and their beliefs equally to achieve a unified nation where capital cities are a center of conversation rather than warfare; by depriving Muslims of protection from religious profanation, we were going down a hypocritical path. The gunmen violated a freedom espoused for centuries in a nation that welcomes droves of religious and ethnic majorities, a nation that prided its multiculturalism but now has been brought to fear it. But we too violated any notion of sensibility by portraying the Prophet like a pornography actor.
The terrorist attack on Wednesday, in all, claimed not only the lives of brazen citizens but also dealt a barrage of messages at institutional democracy: We, as various secular entities, are not allowed to satirize Islam and the issues that have sprung from its radical fundamentalist branches. Islam demands the right to immunize its divine entities from crude criticism, a demand that should be accorded to any faith, but to resort to sharia punishment in a country that forbids sharia law – albeit welcoming Muslim citizens – is backward and barbaric. That is an extreme no society should ever bow down to, and I am proud to say as a Frenchman that my country hasn’t. In the West, in a democracy, we are allowed to criticize everything, and we will continue to criticize everything, and we will continue to support anyone criticizing anything – what we must not allow, however, is criticism to stray lines of sensibility.
Democracy, and not the inflammatory content of Charlie Hebdo, was curbed on that day. Our very ability to speak, to bring attention to, to criticize and eventually reform, was curbed on that day. Western societies and global democracies saw their most primal right, that of lawful right of expression, abridged by Kalashnikov fire; a right that enables us to be an integral entity which effectuates change as per the voiced demands of its people. We were deprived of that right.
As American writer Finley Peter Dunne once said of the purpose of newspapers, Charlie Hebdo was “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted” – though much more of the former, and much less of the latter. In a very particular issue, with the cover reading “Intouchables 2”, after international hit movie The Intouchables, the cartoonists attacked the sanctity we give some groups for fear of repercussion (such as Muslims and Jews). We didn’t heed them then, but now, 6 feet under, millions of people around the world march together for them – citizens, journalists and leaders alike; presidents and prime ministers from France and Germany to Israel and Palestine donned a driven look as they mourned the dead in Paris. It has been a success for democracy and the West when millions of people convened in cities around the world to protest. It has been a proof to our solidarity, as world leaders and international news outlets have lauded it, when everyone rallied behind the lives of a few controversial individuals.
Democracy was violated last week, repeatedly, when minorities were subjugated to the radical will of other minorities by gunfire. We were silenced, or at least, an attempt was made to silence us. The conduct with which we function in the next few weeks will communicate a point to the cancer that taints our countries: Will we retreat and adhere to their rifle policies or will we come out a strong, united front, one which recognizes its failures in assimilation and one which stands immobile on certain unalienable rights, such as freedom of speech? I would say we have hinted towards the latter, though I would encourage a greater push by the oppressed minorities for what they desire, such as the removal of the Prophet from obscene depictions, before pens are broken by guns.
I will do my piece today by saying Je Suis Charlie Hebdo but that religious minorities should not be marginalized like that again.