Why I am not Charlie

“Nothing is quick, nothing is easy. No solidarity is secure. I support free speech. I oppose all censors. I abhor the killings. I mourn the dead. I am not Charlie.” Like a lot of people, I’ve felt paralyzed by the news the last few days (and not just this piece of it.) If we want to think of the Paris murders as related to a free speech issue, this pieces comes fairly to close to what I’ve been thinking lately. (That I am not convinced that the way to understand this incident best is through the venue of free speech is perhaps a matter for another time.)

a paper bird

imagesThere is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it.  Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive; but they exist on a different plane from physical violence, whether you want to call that plane spirit or imagination or culture, and to meet them with violence is an offense against the spirit and imagination and culture that distinguish humans. Nothing mitigates this monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not…

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~ by Servetus on January 10, 2015.

15 Responses to “Why I am not Charlie”

  1. Thanks for linking that post. The writer touched on many interesting points, not all of which I agree with. The concluding paragraph was the best. And I say that, even though I did tweet the hashtag…

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  2. Interesting thoughts but I think it’s overinterpretating (is this a English word?). I considered sharing the work and following Charlie Hebdo on Twitter but I absolutely loathed the cartoons. I shared a Uderzo-Cartoon instead… I wrote “Je suis Charlie” on one of my black&white flower photos and shared this (on two other social media). I shared the speech of a German comedian about the theme on another social media.

    Why did I do this? Because I was shocked and affected and wanted to show my affection. And I am affected because this was an attack on my serious beliefs: freedom of speech, freedom of press, rule of law, separation of powers, non-violence!

    My fear is, that the worldwide affection will be used to create fears, alter laws, reduce freedom for security… Right now politicians in my country (Germany) are discussing data preservation… people are demonstrating on the streets anti-islam and this will be grist to their mills…

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    • I think one issue the article points at is the different between motivation in retweeting a hashtag and the effect of a hashtag trend. People pass on a hashtag for all kinds of reasons. But it seems to me that one effect of passing the hashtag on could be to create fear.

      This is why I say I am not convinced this has much to do with free speech issues at all (side point: if it does, we have to query the relative power positions of the victims and perpetrators, because the victims had a level of freedom of speech in France on an order of magnitude greater than the social group from which the perpetrators come). But I don’t think this was about free speech. I think that it was a political act designed to strengthen the National Front and similar movements precisely so that reprisals would occur and thus strengthen the political position of the perpetrators and the people they claimed to represent. To me, this is much more troubling than the free speech issue involved — that the perpetrators intentionally called down the potential of reprisals upon their own oppressed constituency in order to accomplish their political goal.

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  3. Thanks for this (and reblog this post ).
    Je crois que je vais continuer en français: ce qui s’exprime ici, est exactement mon ressenti en ce moment.
    J’ai été profondément choquée par la brutalité et violence – des assassinats, ni plus ni moins.
    J’ai une pensée pour toute les familles des victimes (dessinateurs, collaborateurs, policiers, otages).
    Mais: “je ne suis pas Charlie”.
    Ceci pour plusieurs raisons dont j’ai discuté avec des ami(e)s et mon compagnon.
    1 – Je n’ai jamais apprécié le journal “Charlie Hebdo”. Oh, je sais que c’est très “politiquement incorrect” de le déclarer ceci (j’ai eu des problèmes sur FB, d’ailleurs) mais les caricatures de Charb, Wolinski et autres ont toujours été très choquantes à mes yeux. Je ne suis pas la seule dans ce cas. Combien de français qui, aujourd’huin arborent le “je suis Charlie” disaient hier que c’était juste un sale torchon”? Bref….
    2- Il ne s’agit pas de la iberté d’expression.
    Il y a dans mon pays une montée de différents extrémismes qui ne sont pas seulement issus de l’Islam. Bien sûr, je pense à la récupération par le FN (National Front) pendant que le gouvernement Hollande est critiqué par une majorité (un gouvernement auquel on a laissé très peu d’opportunités de s’en sortir dans le contexte actuel).
    3 – Pour finir, hélas, c’est toute la communauté musulmane qui est montrée du doigt. Hier, des Juifs qui habitent près de l’épicerie casher où a eu lieu la prise d’otages disaient: “mais ici, on a toujours vécu tranquilles! Les Juifs, les musulmans, les chrétiens….les autres”. Oui, effectivement, c’est dans cette France que j’ai grandi.
    Quand j’étais gosse, on s’en fichait que tu sois musulman (et musulman ne veut pas dire : arabe) , juif, chrétien ou athée.
    Apparemment, ce n’est plus le cas en 2015.
    Le “je suis Charlie donc je suis” a l’air d’être la grande tendance mais pour combien de temps?
    Je pourrais en écrire encore beaucoup ……
    (mais je squatte tes commentaires)^^

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    • Great comment!
      1) on the self-deception of suddenly identifying with the writers of a magazine you’d never normally read, this is interesting: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/adam-shatz/moral-clarity/ — argument is that #jesuischarlie allows people to feel innocent about the real social problems in the West between majority and immigrant populations (not only in France)
      3) Same article makes the point that the identities of north Africans or “Arabs” living in France are more complex than the label “Muslim” suggests. That was the most interesting part of the article to me. It’s absolutely not us vs. them in this context, and the unbridled self-identification with the victims in this case might serve to obscure that state of affairs among some people. The “terrorists” were Westerners, too.

      I wonder sometimes if it’s really that bad. I know from living in Berlin on the border between Neu-Kölln and Kreuzberg that day to day relationships between Germans and Ausländer are not that strained. Interactions works; there is toleration. And then I see these people marching in the street and I think — how does that work? The same people who are buying their fruit from a German-Turkish grocer and smiling at his kids, are they in these demonstrations?

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    • I want to clarify that last statement — I know that what “Assia” in that article talks about is true in Germany as well, police harassment of the non-ethnic-German population. I guess what I am asking is — do we really get along that badly with each other when we’re left to ourselves?

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      • Je vois ce que tu veux dire. A vrai dire, tout pourrait se passer tranquillement. J’ai vécu 20 ans en banlieue parisienne (Seine St Denis) travaillé avec des gens venus du monde entier….Parfois, il y a des conflits, certes. Mais ces dernières années, le chômage, la pauvreté, que sais-je encore? Des groupuscules d’extrémistes (de droite – Le Pen et cie – et de l’autre côté, les salafistes, ce mouvement d’un Islam qui pourrit tout) ont profité de la détresse des gens.
        Rajoutons la peur, l’ignorance (il n’y a rien de tel que l’éducation, dans les banlieues) et voilà….
        Ici, hors de Paris, ce n’est pas mieux. Il y a une forte communauté turque par exemple. Je trouve les gens très intolérants.
        Comme d’habitude, je me pose beaucoup de questions: comment en sommes-nous arrivés là?
        En ce moment, c’est vraiment mal vu d’être musulman ici. Mais l’année dernière, avec les histoires de Dieudonné, c’était les Juifs qui étaient visés. Sans compter la communauté LGBT (même si je n’aime pas parler de “communauté” mais d’individus…) avec les troubles de La Manif pour Tous (anti-mariage gay).
        Mon compagnon me disait : “Les gens disent toujours la même chose “je ne suis pas raciste/homophobe/antisémite/islamophobe….MAIS…….” Et ils se justifient eb racontant qu’ils connaissent UN noir ou Un arabe,etc, etc… (“mais il est BIEN, celui-là….”)

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        • http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/adam-shatz/moral-clarity/
          Yeah, I do know what “assia ” is talking about.
          My father looked like a north african when he was youger and he was arrested several times.
          Same for me when I was in my 20’s.

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        • Anecdata, as we joke in English. But that’s the same here. My brother is really negative about African Americans, I think mostly due to having a Black roommate whom he didn’t like for the first year of college. It’s certainly not because there are tons of African Americans where he lives. And that kind of thing puts an immeasurable pressure on members of minorities in case they might potentially offend.

          It’s a good point about how all of this is exacerbated by poverty — I wonder if the profiteers of the world realize this, or actually are seeking it?

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  4. Hello
    I will speak in my native language because it’s easier for me.
    Pardonne moi si je ne comprend pas tout avec la traduction mais je ne vois pas si nos avis s’opposent.
    Depuis 5 jours mon pays, pour ma part, ne sera plus jamais le même! Je ne lisais pas Charlie Hebdo mais il représente une certaine âme de la France.
    Ce pays qui est le mien symbolise la résistance, l’irrévérence, la pluralité et c’est dans ces valeurs que j’ai été élevée… aujourd’hui je suis Charlie car c’est mon âme identitaire de française qui est attaquée et j’affirme que je n’ai pas peur, que le libre arbitre, la liberté d’expression et que croire en soi est la plus grande de toute les libertés.
    Je parle surement sous le coup d’une immense émotion mais il n’y à que mon coeur qui s’exprime ici.
    En conclusion, si je dois me méprendre sur tes propos, je m’en excuse par avance, car loin de moi l’intention de donner des leçons à qui que soit mais si tel était l’inverse alors je ne me vois plus fréquenter cette page.
    Dommage pour le beau Richard^^et tes infos et commentaires souvent passionnés!
    (Enfin, mon anglais est bien lointain donc si ça se trouve tout cela n’est qu’une méprise de ma part, alors Oups!)

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    • As-tu bien lu le post que Servetus a reblogué?
      Tu sais, tout le monde ne peut pas dire “je suis Charlie” …..
      Chacun peut l’exprmer de différentes manières et ….c’est justement ça,comme tu le dis, la liberté d’expression.
      Quant à savoir si, depuis le 7/01, la France ne sera plus jamais la même, c’est peut-être s’avancer beaucoup. Seul le recul nous le dira….le retour au calme, le fait de rester unis et d’éviter tous les amalgames, voilà ce qui nous aidera.
      ^^

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    • Even though I am a fairly avid newspaper reader, I try not to say too much about the politics of countries in which I have not lived for a significant length of time, so I tend to limit myself to comments about U.S. and German politics. I am aware that the tradition of “laïcité” in France along with the tradition of freedom of expression makes understanding this a very different task for me than it is for French people. Having lived through the 9/11 attacks I also can appreciate that one feels wounded, attacked in one’s identification with one’s patriotism / nationality.

      It’s just hard for me, based on what I know and what I have read about them, to believe that these attacks really touch a freedom of speech issue except tangentially. I can believe that the attackers wanted to push that particular button because they knew it would generate a certain kind of reaction that would benefit them. I am heartened by the number of French people in the streets expressing their solidarity with the values of openness, toleration and freedom of expression for everyone in France. I just cannot say “je suis charlie hebdo” for myself.

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      • Ok now I’ve got what you’ve meant more precisely! And I understand your point of view. Thanks for being more specific to me.

        Nothing to do with this ,but where is Richard? He’s nowhere to be found recently!^^

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        • he was skiing a few days ago 🙂 It’s really kind of odd that we’ve had this much info about where he is. We used to go weeks, even months without knowing much.

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          • I don’t want any of these weeks or months anymore^^ I just can’t get enough of Richard, looks like I’m a little bit obssessed recently! He put a spell on me! Poor me^^

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