Je ne suis pas Charlie

14 01 2015


I am not Charlie Hebdo… for many reasons.

First… I blog. I write about whatever I want, whenever I want. If nothing strikes me as interesting or worthy of opinion, I don’t write. I’ve always said that I write for me, and don’t really care if anyone reads it. But I’d be lying if I didn’t get juiced when people comment on a post. I look at my “view” numbers with interest, but I maintain that this blog is really for my personal growth and education in the medium. So I answer to no one, and I personally determine the level of controversy I could possibly create with a post.

mfew5tp0igaf1ukkanvmI have given my opinion here and people have disagreed. And when I wrote some of those posts, I knew I would receive some flack. That’s okay… a little spirited conversation is good for the mind and soul. I’ve also steered clear of some subjects for a variety of reasons, mostly because I alone choose the battles I want to fight. I believe that purposely inflaming passion about certain volatile issues creates barriers for real communication. I’ve often held back commenting on social media posts because I could predict the response.

Finally, I never use Freedom of Speech as a justification for my behavior, or anyone else’s. I’ve seen that one wielded like sword lately. People need to really understand that right before they say that it protects them. And I certainly can’t say that I am protected by freedom of the press, because that isn’t what I do.

Charlie Hebdo is a business. Like any business, decisions are made with both eyes firmly focused on the bottom line. Unlike me, they care about their numbers. The readership courted by the owners, investors and advertisers is reflected in the cartoons and editorials they publish. Clearly, the financial success of this magazine is largely due to the level of controversy they create.

Again… I am not Charlie.

Terrorists entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo last week with one mission – to silence them. After years of perceived humiliation by the pens of editors and cartoonists, a minute percentage of the insulted acted on their anger. Two men stormed the offices, killing 12 people and wounding 11 others. Among the dead were a maintenance worker, a guest at a meeting, two police officers, and eight columnists/cartoonists – including editor Stéphane Charbonnier.

The cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were frequently off-the-charts inflammatory. They attacked the teachings and icons of all religions, but concentrated heavily on Islam. Even the non-radical Muslim was justifiably insulted by some of the cartoon depictions of their prophet. What the cartoonists called satire, they called blasphemy. The insulted remained insulted as the editors continued to voice opinions they felt were guaranteed by the rights of a free press.

This is the main reason I am not Charlie.

1420733297778I admire a nice piece of satire. I admire using it to take on oppression, and to hopefully right wrongs. I fully support the notion of a free press, but I believe that right requires a certain amount of responsibility. My view of freedom of the press is the right to question and put forth challenging, intelligent opinions without fear of prosecution. But a free press has the responsibility to inspire, not incite. In many ways, Charlie Hebdo promoted as much hate as their targets. Editor Charbonnier gave this interesting quote to Le Monde newspaper in 2012 while discussing threats that had been made to him and the magazine. “What I’m about to say is maybe a little pompous,” he said, “but I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees.” That bravura is fine for him, but others were killed that day. I don’t forget who pulled the triggers, but Charbonnier gave no thought to putting others in harm’s way. He made decisions to go for the jugular when thoughtful, forceful commentary was probably a better course.

But that probably wouldn’t have sold as many magazines.

Of course, there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of retaliation. I’m sure that someday we all will learn that the killing of innocents is not a solution, but how many more have to die until we figure it out? It’s certainly a positive that so many people around the world have joined together to support the families of this tragic event… in peaceful, unifying demonstrations.

There is an extremely fine line between satire and hate. So before you slap that “Je suis Charlie” button on your chest, please take a close look at their cartoons. Real support of the right to a free press would be to denounce violence and killing with truth and inspiration.

Don’t be Charlie, be better than Charlie.

From Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj – a Muslim.