Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.
I have waited.
I have waited because I wanted to see the reactions of individuals in various forms of media to the killings of twelve employees of Charlie Hebdo. I have waited, and the result is this blog.
Let me be clear. Murder is wrong. Whether one thinks himself at war or not, murder is wrong.
Having said that, I must reiterate that unlike those who chant “Je suis Charlie,” I do not adhere to the position that freedom of expression allows someone to do this:
The magazine is poking fun at the massacre of some 1000 Egyptians by a brutal dictatorship supported by western countries. The French says: “Massacre in Egypt. The Coran is shit. It does not stop bullets.” This cover, and many others by Charlie Hebdo, promote only xenophobia, colonialism, and discrimination. Only the recent scandals by the US, in which soldiers posed with dead enemy soldiers or victims of torture, comes close to the racism and disrespect that cover represents. Did those soldiers, many of whom were convicted of crimes, not have freedom of speech? They did, and those soldiers paid for their abuse of it.
Again; murder is wrong.
Freedom of speech is not to say whatever you want whenever you want. That is a fallacy long in the making and into which many people around the world fall. Or is it true that because I have the right to bear arms, and do so, I am free to shoot whomever I want? It is not. It is just as incorrect to think that because words don’t hurt people physically they are far less harmful than guns. Words do not hurt physically, true. They hurt emotionally, though. Most bullying in the US is defined as mental abuse, we condemn it, vehemently. However, does the bully not have freedom of expression? He does not. Not when it trumps the rights of others to live at peace. Abusing your freedom of expression has too long gone without one thing: consequences. We think of freedom of speech as a ‘get out of jail free’ card that we can use whenever we wish to say something offensive. It isn’t that. There is responsibility. We are responsible for what we say and to whom we say it as much as we are responsible for who we shoot and how, if we bear arms. I am not saying the employees of Chralie Hebdo were responsible for their own murders.
Because murder, is wrong.
I do love the fact that I can say whatever I want. I come from a country (Spain) in which liberalism is a fact of life. Spaniards have not yet forgotten that not 35 years ago they had no freedom of religion, press, or speech. They have not forgotten that men and women died because they spoke as they saw fit. However, they have also not forgotten that to speak carried with it a responsibility, sometimes one died for what they believed in. My grandfather spoke against Franco and his regime, and he went to jail. Martin Luther King spoke against US politics, and he went to jail. MLK never said going to jail was wrong, he understood the need to go to jail if he had gone against the regime, against the laws. What he did say was that the law was wrong at the time; and that the only way to oppose it was peaceful demonstration. He advocated for the opposition of unjust laws, defined by him as “a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal” (Letter from Birmingham Jail).
Are we, “westerners,” imposing a law on the minority that we are not willing to abide by ourselves? In 1999, many of the very countries supporting Charlie Hebdo gave their blessing to OTAN’s bombardment, in Belgrade, of one of the local TV stations for allegedly having called the body of nations “a ministry of lies.” There were very few complaints when a Spanish journalist was killed in Baghdad, in 2003, by US forces while filming from a hotel known to contain accredited press personnel. There were no complaints when Israel bombarded TV station Al-Manar in 2006 for “spreading propaganda.” How can we say that we abide by freedom of expression when we give none? Both the British and the French have debated whether or not to ban the burka in their countries. Is the burka not an expression of freedom to denote belief in one’s religion by wearing a particular form of dress? Would we ask Quakers in the US to dress “normally”? We want minorities to abide by a law that we are not willing to respect ourselves. I have read comments, many of those in this very forum, that go something like this:
“When you follow a false god you become a false human.”
“I am deeply shocked and angered by the killing of these poor, unfortunate journalists. The disgusting people who have carried out this attack have made me want to propagate the images that shock them everywhere, even though I originally thought they were juvenile and unnecessary.”
Fallacies have a way of propagating amongst the population that is only comparable to a virus. Here is the solution proposed by these two individuals: dehumanization, discrimination, and further abuse. Is it really that hard to see these are not the solutions? Let us consider that the employees at Charlie Hebdo were atheists. Are we now saying that the only thing that makes them human was the fact that they were murdered? Of course not. Religion is a form of expression, amen to the lack of religion. Any religion is as legitimate as the next, atheists are as human as religionists.
What is not okay, is murder.
So no, I am not Charlie Hebdo. I respect the right of millions of Muslims to believe as they see fit. I respect the rights of Palestinians to take to the streets and manifest peacefully. I, like Dr. King, expect freedom of speech to be applied to all, equally. If that is the case, if peaceful living of Islam is taking place, then we cannot decide which speech is equal; all speech is equally free. However, we do have to accept responsibility, both for what we do and for what we say. If I walk down the street and tell someone to stop smoking because it bothers me, I should expect some retaliation from the person smoking. If things get really bad, I may suffer a mental or physical attack – I have seen it. Speak freely; but speak sense. Responsibility is a duty bound to freedom and it cannot be undermined by xenophobia, colonialism, and discrimination.
But murder is not right.
I suffer with the workers of Charlie Hebdo who have lost colleagues, friends, and coworkers. I suffer with the families of those who were killed; they have lost, truly lost. I mourn with the police officers who had to watch their co-worker be gunned down by criminals, on the street, as he pleaded for mercy. I groan for a country that boasting the liberalism it boasts cannot comprehend the responsibility said liberty brings. Aeschylus, John F. Kennedy’s favorite poet, put it thus in the words of Prometheus:
1040 – Or ever his lips had let it go,
I knew this burden: that foe to foe
Should suffer evil is no new law.
Light on me now the writhen hair
Of a flame two-edged! Let all the air
Be lash’d with levin, with passion grieved
Of winds exasperate, earth up-heaved
From her roots by the inly-prison’d flaw!
Let him mingle a welter of bitter brine,
The froth of the seas, with the paths divine
1050 – Of the heavely stars! down quick let him fling me
Where the face of the day is blotted and blacken’d,
By a might that masters, and twirls unslacken’d!
To Death can he nowise bring me.
(Translated by Edwyn Robert Bevan)
Prometheus knew his punishment for speaking against Zeus. He expected it, for he stole fire from the god, made to him a double-edge sword; he never complained of his suffering. He, however, knew he was immortal. We do not. That is why murder is wrong. That is why the men who did this must pay. But pay according to law, not according to the xenophobic fears of the population.
That is why I am not Charlie Hebdo. That is why I still suffer with those that loved them and cared for the victims. That is why we must work to curve ideas that dehumanize others. Ideas of freedom for all are the ideas for which Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and many, many others died. Because they believed all should be equally free. No view is greater than another, no religion is greater than another. No god is greater than another.
Murder is wrong.
I hope the criminals responsible are found and punished according to the law. I also hope that we can understand that fear, in whatever form, only corrupts. Abuse, in whatever form, is wrong.