Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

Charlie Hebdo is a French “satirical” newspaper that is known for, amongst other things, it’s unsavory depictions of Muhammad. While in Christianity we have countless icons or images of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, it is not so in Islam. It is considered offensive to depict an image of their prophet and Allah because they are believed to completely transcend human understanding and so drawing them into something we can comprehend is to demean them into something less than what they are. These images are why the newspaper was attacked.

The terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo were a disgusting act of violence that cost twelve people their lives. While this was a horrific act of violence, I have also been disgusted with how social media has handled the attack. Instead of grieving the loss of life they have used it to defend Charlie Hebdo for being intentionally offensive. Even one of the original founders, Henri Roussel, stated that the murdered editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, had crossed the line, both before and after the attack. Still, people try to defend the newspaper’s ideology.

“It’s satire!”

"Blue Racist Rally"

“They don’t just make fun of Islam! They make fun of all religions!”

"The father, the son, the holy spirit." 


"The sexual slaves of Boko Haram are angry. Don't touch our welfare!"

“Je suis Charlie.” I am Charlie. But are you really? Do you portray black female politicians as monkeys and make rape jokes about the child victims of Boko Haram being welfare queens?

The problem with “satire” is that most of what we see labeled as such is not truly satirical. It has become a blanket term in order to cover humor that is racist, sexist, and above all, offensive. True satire does not resort to stereotypes because, in its true form, it seeks to shatter these stereotypes. Claiming that you’re using the stereotype to make fun of the fact that there it even exists isn’t acceptable because, in the end, you’re still perpetrating the stereotype.

Does this mean I think that saying these things should be illegal? Absolutely not. Free speech is vital, but we must look at what it actually is. Free speech is the practice of forbidding the government to block speech, press, etc.; they cannot make saying something illegal. But if your best defense for saying something is saying “I can say what I want. Freedom of speech!”, then essentially you’re saying that your only justification for saying it is that it’s not illegal. It’s also important to look at the context for which the freedom of speech was granted: to allow people to speak against their government. Obviously, it has been applied to other situations with equal merit. However, I am quite confident that this right was not granted with the sole intention of allowing people to be offensive for the sake of being offensive.

In short, under no circumstances do I consider the writers and artists for Charlie Hebdo to be admirable heroes for the cause of freedom of speech. I do however, consider one of the victims to be a true icon for this cause: Ahmed Merabet, one of the policemen who was killed in the attack. He also happens to be a Muslim. He died trying to defend the writers and artists for a newspaper who disrespected his faith. He is the embodiment of the Voltaire quote all the “je suis Charlie” proponents are quoting: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In response to the “je suis Charlie” hashtag on Twitter, another hashtag, used mainly by Muslims, has emerged: “je suis Ahmed.”

I truly am sympathetic with the victims and their families, although I admit that I cannot even begin to comprehend the weight of agony they must feel. However, I refuse to participate in the cultural phenomenon of praising the dead, no matter the circumstances. Tragedy will not change my mind on the quality of the newspaper and I will not quiet my opinion during this time of loss. It’s worth noting that Charlie Hebdo certainly didn’t care about a tasteful waiting period after a disaster.

Because, you know, freedom of speech and all that.


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Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Sources: 1, 2, 3