I Don’t Want To Be Charlie Hebdo

I am still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo killings, as are many others. For the life of me, I do not understand how a human being can be so consumed by anger that they feel the need to take a life, and must condemn the killings from my own conscience.

However, I do not have any desire to “be” Charlie Hebdo, or to condone their work, either. I cannot, in good conscience, join the #IAmCharlieHebdo trend.

Before I go any further, let me be abundantly clear: I do not believe that anyone deserves to be murdered, ever, under any circumstances. I do not believe that working for a satirical newspaper that made cartoons at the expense of a particular group justifies anyone’s death. I believe that the newspaper did have a right to exist.

But, for the life of me, I can’t condone the drawings they published, either.

As a Christian, if I had seen a cartoon of the Holy Trinity having a threesome, I would not have been thrilled. And I don’t believe that many other publications would have even considered depicting Muhammad naked, with an exposed phallus, in the name of satire. These cartoons are certainly protected under the guise of free speech, but the fact that they are being drawn to begin with, in a publication that is designed to offend by its very nature, brings up some questions.

Although Charlie Hebdo claims to be an equal-opportunity offensive publication, there is not much of a doubt that their choice of cartoons can be seen as showing racist, sexist, and homophobic tendencies, all in the name of humor. Some examples can be found here. Living in a nominally-pluralistic society such as France, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that these tendencies are thought of as harmful, and to be avoided as much as possible. So the question is: why is it that these cartoons are depicting those messages? Drawing disparaging cartoons that demonize a religious or racial minority doesn’t seem to me to be a political right as much as a show of power and privilege over an oppressed group.

Of course, people are going to read whatever they want into this tragedy–some will take this to be further proof that Muslims are too uptight about their religion, while others will take this as further proof of France’s xenophobia.  What frustrates me is the lack of careful, nuanced conversation surrounding the underlying issues of the attacks and their own roles in them, rather than blindly pledging their allegiance and solidarity toward something that arguably harms just as much as the attacks themselves.

To be sure, these issues are worth talking about, and I do not doubt that the vast majority of folks who expressed #JeSuisCharlie or other iterations of it wanted to sincerely express their solidarity with those who suffered from this incident. However, my question: is how much is this campaign reifying underlying issues that may have sparked it in the first place? What is our role in perpetuating these harmful ideas? How can we collectively think about how to resist them?

My deepest sympathies are with the folks who have been affected by this tragedy, and it is my hope that acts of violence stop, in spite of the underlying causes or the people who experience them. I support freedom of expression, and the right of those cartoonists to express themselves. But I cannot simply accept being Charlie Hebdo.  I have to believe that discussions of these incidents, and the systemic issues permeating them, can happen more carefully and critically, beginning with our own complacency in them.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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