Why You Won’t See Me Posting “Je Suis Charlie”

"I am not Charlie" from The Citizen

“I am not Charlie” from The Citizen

Like most people I know, I was absolutely horrified by the Charlie Hedbo killings earlier this week. Killing journalists for what they publish violates fundamental democratic commitments.

But you won’t see me posting any variation of the “Je suis Charlie” meme.

The years I spent living in Paris with dark skin, a recognizably Muslim name, and an interest in feminist politics taught me a lot about Islamophobia in France and the ways progressive political causes can be used to foment it. My point is not that Charlie Hebdo was itself a racist publication—though here is a post that argues just that.

I want to say something more specific about why, even as I support free speech rights, I do not want to be associated with the specific politics of that magazine—or the political agendas that defenses of it are likely to advance.

There is a strong tradition in the last twenty years of French politics of selective alliance with progressive causes. Mainstream French support for some of these causes pretty reliably tracks whether they are associated with Muslims and/or blacks. This was apparent in the French headscarf ban in public schools; suddenly everyone was a feminist when it was an opportunity to stigmatize Muslims. (Not that this is specifically French–remember Laura Bush’s speech about Muslim women immediately after September 11?) As Joan Scott persuasively argues, mainstream discussions of veiling made clear that patriarchal dress practices engaged in by white French women—high heels, for instance—were impervious to criticism, veiling became the symbol of patriarchy par excellence. If you expect the Charlie Hebdo case not to bring up right-wing nationalist sentiment in France, I invite you to consider the fact that Marine LePen is already asking for a referendum on the death penalty.

Underpinning this selective support for progressive causes in France is also a certain way of framing the importance of women’s rights, rights to free speech, rights to education, and so on. Another name for France is “le pays des droits de l’homme.” According to this framing, human rights are part of (white) French culture. Attacks on human rights are attacks on French culture, and those who do not have French culture are opponents of human rights. This makes the slip from “those who oppose freedom of speech are our enemies” to “cultural others are our enemies” all too easy to make.

The fulcrum in this argument that “others” are opponents of human rights is religion. As French opposition to immigration has swelled, so too has the popularity of arguments from laïcité. These arguments say that religion—especially public displays of it—are inconsistent with support for human rights. Displays of religiosity that are part of white French culture are not recognized as such—it’s fine to have a public Easter vacation and to wear a “small cross” to school. But French Muslims are often seen as attacking human rights by virtue of having a religion, and having one that many of them seem intent on visibly marking their adherence to.

What that allows, in a nutshell, is for arguments against religion to serve a racist function. If Muslims have a religion, and white French people do not, then mocking religion plays into the hands of those who would portray Muslims in general as a threat. A number of viral posts right now are arguing that Charlie Hebdo’s politics were not racist because they criticize religion. I think those posts are missing a reality of the French context—criticisms of religion function to stigmatize Muslims without ever having to say the word. (Much as, in the United States, the word “welfare recipient” immediately conjures up an offensive image of a woman of color without having to mention race.)

So, even if I stand in favor of freedom of the press, I’d prefer to do it without identifying myself with a publication that participates in stigmatizing Muslims. And part of my reason for declining to identify with Charlie Hedbo has to do with other democratic values—like commitments to treating others as equals. I’m in favor of freedom of expression, and I’m in favor of democracy, but je ne suis pas Charlie.

40 Responses to “Why You Won’t See Me Posting “Je Suis Charlie””

      • Je Suis Charlie

        Je suis Charlie means that like charlie you stand for freedom, It has nothing to do with Muslims, you are missing the point.

        You should be happy tio ba able to say and think whatever you want, this is freedom if you are not charlie that means that you are against freedom.

        Like Voltaire said:
        “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire

        Reply
        • Serene Khader

          I have said many times that I support the magazine’s right to publish such cartoons, so I’m not sure how the Voltaire quote is supposed to be informing me of something. I agree that many people who post the meme are not trying to support Islamophobia. But words and strategies can have unintended meanings.The phrase is at least ambiguous about what is being supported, as is the celebratory spreading of their cartoons. And there are political forces, inside of France and outside, that are ready to seize on that ambiguity.

          And your telling me that I’m against freedom reminds me a lot of this quote, from a fellow American, of whom I am not a fan: “You’re either with us or you’re against us.”- George W. Bush

          Reply
        • Juje hammer

          i agree with him because liberty of speech isnt saying anything. If you say some racist stuff, you can go to jail, for example. and if you put the quote: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire” Then why don’t you respect HIS opinion?

          Reply
  1. Rahaf Harfoush

    Serene, I feel like you completely missed the point on this. Charlie Hebdo targeted everyone not just Muslims. Politicians, celebrities, countries, the Pope. So I’m not sure I agree that they stigmatized muslims. More like they didn’t hold back on anyone under the protection of free speech. If you support free speech you should be saying JE SUIS CHARLIE because it means giving all opinions the equal weight even if you don’t agree with them. While I didn’t agree with many of their cartoons (I am also an Arab woman living in France) it makes our support of their publication more important.

    You might not want to associate with them specifically, but i don’t think this movement was that nuanced, and to be honest, I feel it is a bit disrespectful at this time to be pulling in your own agenda when the country is still in mourning and the suspects have yet to be caught. You talk about Charlie Hebdo’s agenda, but I find myself questioning your own.

    #jesuischarlie – even when I don’t agree with them, I stand with them because I believe in the UNEQUIVOCAL freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

    Reply
    • Serene Khader

      I agree that the movement isn’t nuanced; my point is that it needs to be more nuanced. Rather than trying to pull “in my own agenda” my post began from a desire to express solidarity in a way that doesn’t end up playing into the hands of racists. Most of what I am saying is that I want it to be possible to support the cause of free speech without saying that I support the politics of that particular publication. As I say in the post I support free speech, and I believe Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish those cartoons. I just don’t see why saying “je suis Charlie” is the only acceptable expression of solidarity.

      Reply
      • Stephane

        This is one thing to write: I just don’t see why saying “je suis charlie” is the only accepable expression of solidarity and it’s another to write Charlie is a racist publication which is probably the most idiotic thing I read in a while.

        You lived in France but you have absolutely no clue about what Charlie is about neither you know anything related to the cartoonists.

        Saying Charlie is stigmatizing Muslims is at best deeply stupid. Charlie is stigmatizing extremism, the jewish, muslim, christian, politics, social… extremism.

        Freedom of speech has been used here to write a non sense.

        Post less think more especially when the topic is a country or a publication you don’t know.

        Reply
        • Serene Khader

          My whole point is that Je Suis Charlie shouldn’t be the only acceptable expression of solidarity. I am expressing solidarity without endorsing the content of the publication.

          Reply
          • Stephane

            The point you are making in your reply is absolutely valid but extremely different of the long post of the thread.

            On a side note, #jenesuispascharlie is already used by a bunch of extremists glorifying and supporting the two guys who killed 12 people. We should all be careful when posting opinions in the heat of an event and also be extremely careful when using a line like #jenesuispascharlie that is being used on a very different manner than your intent.

  2. Y. H. Yannakis

    Many thanks for your comments Rahaf, I do rather agree with you point.

    I would add that it is difficult to understand how come that a philosophy academic could be able to voluntary make, in such situation, a difference between freedom speech assassination worldwide condemnation and support in a political view.

    Under these circumstances, where killers carry on on killing innocent people (Christian, Atheist or Muslim), your position, your own experience and personal view on France is not appropriate except if you feel happy that French people has got a good lesson on tolerance from coward criminals . The subject is and should only remain the freedom speech.

    Sorry for my poor English, I am neither native English speaker nor American, but even if I found that Buch Jr was the most ignorant president that the USA has never had, I yelled “We are all American” when came up the 09/11 disaster.

    It is sad that some intellectuals take this opportunity to advertise their own person. I did not know you before checking who was writing down “je ne suis pas Charlie” but now, I am afraid, I would not believe that I could read your publications or even recommend the Stony Brook University philosophy department.

    Reply
    • Serene Khader

      I am absolutely against the killing of innocent people and I make that clear in the post. I just want to express my problems with killing innocent people without identifying myself with the content of the publication. My argument is against the specific meme, and ways of opposing the killings that are likely to feed into the hands of right wing extremists. The question is how to express solidarity with the cause of free speech without fomenting Islamophobia.

      As for the ad hominem attacks, I’ll ignore them, thanks.

      Reply
  3. Y. H. Yannakis

    Ad hominen attacks ! Not a wise laguage for a philosopher, Serene.

    However , I do respect your point of view. In Europe, we do make a strong diffecence between islamism and muslim. Charlie Hebdo ( I was not subscriber) uses to critisise only the extreme from all religion and polical opinions.
    As far as I know, designing Muhamad is not an offence either for the muslim shiite, so the problem is not even there.

    May be, would it better to debate on tolerance versus respect, certainty/ belief versus questioning/reflexion or humanity versus faith. These are the real world issue, I beleive…

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  4. Cam

    Can’t thank you enough for writing this. A lot of what you wrote is what a lot of people I know (and myself of course), have been thinking about.

    As for using the excuse that ‘they made fun of all religions!’ is a tired expression just like xenophobic saying of ‘im not really racist, i hate everyone!’ that is creeping conservatism disguised as ‘liberalism’ right there. As Serene has put it, it is ok to step back and examine the big picture of what is going on without it making it seem like the end all be all of it is ‘freedom of speech’ because sorry, islamophobia is a thing, and it’s rampant.

    Reply
  5. David

    Great post. Articulates my feelings about the whole shit show. Thanks Serene. Also agree with Cam above.

    Reply
  6. Y. H. Yannakis

    Thanks Cam, I would fully agree with you but the problem of islamophoby is a proof of ignorance of our fellow countryman.
    A shortcut is always easy if you do not take time to read books on Islam and other religions in general. (+philosophy obvioulsy)
    It requires too much effort, the strenght of images are more eloquent… like it was the case in Eruope during the middle age with the catholic church…

    Reply
  7. Travis H

    I couldn’t agree more with what Serene says in this comment. I was so sad to hear about the shooting in Paris for so many reasons, but it was almost dystopian to watch well-intentioned friends ally themselves to an objectively racist magazine and politics without hesitation. And all somehow for a “progressive” or “cosmopolitan” cause.

    Here’s what everyone should know: French and European political coalitions have their own architecture, and so many discerning French people’s immediate response to Charlie Hebdo, after profound grief, was profound worry: How do we make sure that this act does not give the very effective far right coalition in Paris ammunition to popularize their assault–including many actual, physical assaults–on foreigners and especially Islamic people, not to mention to win elections and institute all varieties of policies?

    It’s hard to overstate the role of xenophobia in terms of how the French right builds coalitions and wins elections. In fact, every time I’ve lived in France it has been marked by anti-Islamic fervor of the right: the deep anti-African xenophobia in the south of France (regardless of its colonial history), the anti-minaret policy debate in 2009, or “debates” about a young muslim boy in Paris who was beaten to death in 2013–the fact that it was even being “debated” on television should raise worry from sentient human beings.

    Khader shows how seemingly “liberal” or “progressive” causes are used in France are used to encourage racism and win elections for the far right: http://www.secondshiftblog.com/…/wont-see-posting-je-suis-…/ Khader writes: “[E]ven if I stand in favor of freedom of the press, I’d prefer to do it without identifying myself with a publication that participates in stigmatizing Muslims. And part of my reason for declining to identify with Charlie Hedbo has to do with other democratic values—like commitments to treating others as equals. I’m in favor of freedom of expression, and I’m in favor of democracy, but je ne suis pas Charlie.” I think Khader’s argument is really smart for a lot of reasons, one of which is the parallel with how the Iraq war was sold to many thoughtful Americans as “advancing freedom.”

    Another article here argues that “Je suis Charlie” has permitted Islamophobia to march in the streets: http://quartierslibres.wordpress.com/…/ca-faisait-longtemp…/
    And others think ‪#‎jesuisahmed‬ is a smart, inclusive move that pays tribute to the Muslim officer who died protecting the offices at Charlie. It offers plurality and it decriminalizes the image of young muslim men.

    This article shows the sexist, homophobic, and anti-islamic nature of the magazine. Even in shock and grief, it’s good to be very clear about this: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2015/01/in-the-wake-of-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-does-not-mean-freedom-from-criticism/

    I’d like to ask my well-intentioned “Je suis Charlie” friends to reflect and consider revising their words.

    Reply
    • Stephane

      Another american trying to explain what Charlie Hebdo is or not….

      Charlie Hebdo is racist against extremism nothing else. I laugh also at the sexist accusation.

      Charlie Hebdo is part of a very very long tradition of the French culture of provocation nothing more nothing else. French artist, writers etc… have a long tradition to pult salt in the wounds… It is what it is. If you think Charlie is racist or whatever try Desproges, Coluche, Leluron and put them in the context of the 80’s… You all don’t get it.

      This kind of post is already a proof terrorists get what they wanted. I have nothing against questionning Charlie like all other publications but not now. Now it is now time of that, now it is just time to stand up against those who want to kill freedom of speech.

      Reply
  8. Josh

    You can not post meme and such as everyone has free will or at least it seems free. but to post “je ne pas charlie” is of something else.

    Reply
  9. gabriella_c

    Serene,
    I do believe there are strong manifestation of racism in France (albeit also strong opposition to it) and I do think France has yet to set the record right in terms of human rights. But I have never read a discourse with so many sentences put together with so little logic, with so many generalisations and that in effect reflect the very same logic held by the extremists.

    Let’s start with: ‘Attacks on human rights are attacks on French culture, and those who do not have French culture are opponents of human rights.’ Really??? How many people in France have you surveyed that have supported this statement? Anglo-Saxon culture differs on many levels from French culture, yet I don’t believe any sensible French person would ever stipulate that Anglo-saxons that are not particularly versed in French culture are opponents of human rights.

    But may be could we equally jump to a similar generalisation and conclusion – as one has heard extremists say – by stating that ‘those who do not show respect for the figure of the prophet Mohamet are against Islamic culture and those who do not have or are not part of Islamic culture thus are opponents of Islam’??

    Likewise with another statement: ‘This makes the slip from “those who oppose freedom of speech are our enemies” to “cultural others are our enemies” all too easy to make.’
    So we could equally say – as the extremists have stated loud an clear: ‘This makes the slip from “those who show no respect for the prophet Mohamet are our enemies” to “non-Muslim are our enemies” all too easy to make’???

    I shall say that I am not a believer therefore I do not hold the conception of any prophets as sacred (as Charb had said), I am not specifically an opponent of Islam, I just do not buy into any religion. To me they are just ideologies and philosophies and I shall say whatever I want about any of them. But we certainly know, with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, how extremists feel I and other people like me should be treated.

    Except that we also know that these extremists are just that, extremists that have little knowledge of Islam and only those can make such slippage.

    Yes, France has a strong and proud tradition of laïcité even if it is only a century old but Christianity is part of French culture that spread over millenia – many would tell you that whilst they are not practicing, i.e. whilst they do not celebrate Easter religiously, whether they like it or not, Christian traditions are part of their culture because they have been passed on from generations to generations.

    However we are back to the generalisation “French Muslims are often seen as attacking human rights by virtue of having a religion, and having one that many of them seem intent on visibly marking their adherence to.” It is not French Muslims that are seen as attacking human rights, it is the perpetration of certain practices carried out in the name of Islam by people who say they are Muslim that the majority of French people see a breach of what has been gradually recognised as universal human rights issues over decades. Until Muslim scholars reconcile themselves about what constitute legitimate muslim practices and what do not and express these loud an clear via every possible medium in every corner of the Muslim world and beyond (FGM is one case in point), you cannot blame people for associating the religion with some of these practices.

    What you can blame though is leaders, scholars and others who consider themselves Muslim to take advantage of the fact that many people born Muslim are illiterate and help perpetrate malpractices through their discourses.

    Lastly on another generalisation “What that allows, in a nutshell, is for arguments against religion to serve a racist function. If Muslims have a religion, and white French people do not, then mocking religion plays into the hands of those who would portray Muslims in general as a threat.” Not all white French people do not have a religion (there are Catholics, Protestants and Jews and even Muslims). Second, this sort of logic could also lead me to write ‘If white French people do not have a religion, and Muslim people do, then pointing to the non-religion of white French people plays into the hands of those who portray non-Muslims in general as a threat”. Which is a reality for the extremists as said before.

    In other words, any arguments against any form of identity or culture can serve as a racist function as racism is not a one-way street and certainly not just confined to ‘white people’: hatred of western civilisation is as much ingrained in some spirits as is hatred of non-white people, and racism is also widely prevalent amongst African or Asian (or may be we call this by a different name, tribalism? cast system?).

    Besides what appears a differing interpretation of what Charlie Hebdo was about as others have already commented, having read your text, other people’s comments and the subsequent justification for your posting, I am really questioning your academic credentials if really you are an academic. In my reading of your text, none of what you wrote provides a strong argument for your declaration that you did not want to be Charlie.

    Je suis Charlie for sure. And French. And White. And Female. And not Religious.
    Surely that must make me a racist?!

    Reply
  10. Serene Khader

    I am going to be away from the internet for the bulk of the day. I’ll continue to approve comments when I do happen to be in front of a computer. For other articles criticizing forms of solidarity that dissolve into identification with Charlie Hebdo, I’ll recommend the following:

    http://bit.ly/1Aze314 from Democracy Now (my critics might be interested in knowing that the interviewee, who says many of the same things I do, happens to be an academic working in France)

    http://bit.ly/1s9jKlY from Feministing

    http://thebea.st/1I2EP5u from the Daily Beast

    http://politi.co/1tTkhUA from Politico

    http://bit.ly/1zYQg81 from Paper Bird

    Reply
  11. Tiphaine

    Visiblement vous n’avez absolument rien compris !!!

    Je suis Française j’ai vécue en direct ce qui s’est passé cette semaine et des articles comme le vôtre me révolte vous avez vécu à Paris et vous pensez que nous sommes islamophobes ? Oui j’ai raison vous n’avez absolument rien compris, et vous n’avez toujours pas compris que Charlie Hebdo s’est TOUJOURS moqué de TOUTES LES RELIGIONS et de beaucoup de personnes publiques.

    NOUS NE CONFONDONS PAS MUSULMANS ET TERRORISTES !

    Alors quand on ne comprends rien comme vous ON SE TAIT !

    Vous avez peut être vécue en France mais vous n’avez absolument rien compris de la culture française ! On peut dire que les français sont raleurs etc mais il me semble que ce qu’il se passe en ce moment en France montre à quel point NOUS SOMME TOUS CHARLIE NOUS SOMMES TOUS JUIFS NOUS SOMMES TOUS AHMED NOUS SOMMES TOUS LA REPUBLIQUE !

    Reply
    • Serene Khader

      The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

      Or, Tiphaine, you are engaging in a wonderful act of satire, and I love it, and you are awesome.

      Reply
  12. Serene Khader

    Yup, I get it, guys, I’m not French. But please stop pretending that there are not people in France making the arguments I’m making.

    Also, a lot of the critical comments here that criticize me for not understanding the French enact the very type of mentality I am trying to avoid supporting. If anyone wants to learn more about that mentality (one that treats moral rightness as the property of a certain (white French) culture, uses moral universalism as an excuse not to acknowledge social difference and inequality, etc.), there is a large body of scholarly work, by both French and non-French scholars discussing it. People who want to learn about that discourse could begin by checking out the Joan Scott book I link to in the post–as well as the many sources she cites.

    Reply
  13. Lauren

    This is a great piece. Thanks, Serene, for articulating a lot of what was bothering me about the immediate response to the horrific shooting.

    “French Muslims are often seen as attacking human rights by virtue of having a religion, and having one that many of them seem intent on visibly marking their adherence to” is exactly what’s going on, and exactly what several commenters here seem to be overlooking.

    Also “I’m not racist towards [x group], I’m racist towards everyone” — guess what, you’re still an unpleasant person to be around.

    I suppose I also have to say that of course this doesn’t mean anybody should have been killed over some crappy racist cartoons. That should be a given.

    Reply
  14. Utter Jibberish

    Whilst I respect your decision, you have proven where the problem lies. Muslims are not seen as speaking up against it, and therefore you will NEVER integrate into society. It really is that simple and you only have yourselves to blame.

    I am Muslim living in the UK and we are far more vocal, and rightly so, on issues that go against our beliefs. People fear us as much as we fear them so it is partly down to us to publically denounce these activities and be SEEN to denounce them with the people of ALL other religions.

    Staop yourself from denouncing it, and you are only making matters worse for everyone. Lets hope you see sense one day.

    Reply
  15. Christian Shaw

    “For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.”- Donald Williams

    Perhaps the phrase “je suis humain” would have been a more uniting one?

    Reply
  16. Celina

    Thanks Serene!

    You articulated beautifully a lot of what has been bothering me these last few days. Mostly, the form of “selective alliance to progressive causes” brought about through this horrible event and yet another way for the French to hide their racism behind the support of secularism.
    I think that one of the things that most bothers me is not calling things what they are. Maybe what you expressed above about this whole thing not being nuanced. I’m bothered when people talk about unrestricted free speech in France, when the State regulates a whole host of speech.
    It also bothers me when people refer to what CH publishes as political satire. I am under the impression that the point of political satire is to delegitimize power– it’s symbols, language, etc. But it seems like CH is the power. Didn’t the 68ers win? (Hollande, Segolene Royale, etc). So I don’t think that poking fun of the downtrodden is political satire. Has anyone read anything intelligent about political satire in relation to CH?

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  17. Marcia

    Thank you so much for this. I have been struggling with many of the same issues. I believe in free speech but it certainly isn’t the only value I hold dear. Unfortunately, this event has turned from a tragedy into a sports event where everybody has to suit up in the same uniform or you’re considered the opposition. I love free speech but I also hate racism. My burden is to figure out how to integrate those two beliefs in a way that makes it possible for me to look in the mirror.

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  18. sara_mh

    I find it amusing that you did not respond to the commentator “Gabriella C” – but then again her points were so well argued that I think it would have nulled your entire post.

    Though I can’t be 100% sure of course, I’m going to guess that you are very well fit or equipped to write about Charlie Hebdo and neither is that hoodedutilitarian.com you linked to. (like they write: “Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.” – how does he know that? Based on what is this true? Does he read the magazine often, in America – like does someone send him copies of it every week? Does someone explain to him each cartoon and their meanings in great detail? If so, Bravo – though I think it would be information worth mentioning.)

    First of all, I know it’s hard to take, but not all countries are like the U.S. – and we don’t want to be. There is no way you can judge France – or Charlie Hebdo – from your American standing point, without having a deeper understanding of the cultural framework.

    Second of all, although you have lived in Paris, ok and experienced Islamophobia, I still think it’s fair to ask, to which point do you understand the cartoons discussed? To which point are you aware of the context, the cultural nuances, the thematic interlinkages, the intertextuality, the cultural references? Could it be that the cartoons themselves are a separate issue?

    Political satire and cultural commentary cannot be taken at face value. You have to understand the references, otherwise it does not make sense. In most cases, when I’ve seen these cartoons covered, they have been completely taken out of the context, without explanation.

    So many commentators talking about the publication without ever having actually seen it, without ever having read it, without ever having lived in France or without understanding the “contents” shared on the internet. Just a little link (there are plenty more on the internet if you are interested) to tickle your fancy: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/11/1357057/-The-Charlie-Hebdo-cartoons-no-one-is-showing-you#

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  19. gabriella_c

    Just wanting to expand a bit more to the whole debate. First Serene, I remain puzzled about your lack of substantiation and discernment when you are still referring to what the ‘white French culture’ as if it constituted a ‘whole’ body of thoughts and practices that can be simply summarised in a single narrative Likewise for ‘Celina’ who refers to ‘yet another way for the French to hide their racism behind the support of secularism.’ All French? Generalisations again that have no place in a constructive argumentative discussion but are more alike the racist discourses of all corners of this world (French included) who refer to the Jews, Muslims or Africans or East Europeans as if they could all be bundled into a unity of actions and being.

    I have trawled the internet since Tuesday with all articles I could find to understand people who want to say they are not Charlie and there is indeed a lot of interesting stuff about all sorts of things relating to issue of identity, integration, religion, the meaning of satire, the representation of Islam, you name it. All these are valid in their own right and I have not waited for the Charlie Hebdo crime indeed to follow them closely for a number of years (especially as I lived more of my life outside of France in North Africa, Middle East, Africa and the UK and I have in the past worked in the field of human rights) but these arguments still fail to address the essence of what happened on Tuesday last week and recognise it for what it is.

    When people think they can eliminate someone because s/he has written or drawn something offensive, it is an act of sheer barbarism that reminds us in Europe as we can go back that far in our History of the European dark ages. You may not remember these witches burnt by Christian fanatics? These men beheaded or dismembered by the crowd in 18th and in one case at least 19th century France because they simply did not take off their hat to show respect in the context of a particular Christian event?.

    Regardless of the act committed would you like to live under this kind of self-sanctifying mob-culture justice today in your country? Certainly the Malian people didn’t when they faced that threat last year (we heard that’s what France has paid for too with their military intervention). Should we not all thrive to live under the laws of Magna Carta and Habeus Corpus??

    More importantly may be I really do not care what is the nature of the offence especially if it is committed in a country under which laws it is indeed not considered a crime simply because, like gender (and all issues around gender issues) what causes offence is a social construct and evolves with age and time. As for the other countries where the converse laws are in place, I chose not to live there for that very reason as it would threaten me as an individual product of my culture.

    In the past Europe has witnessed the same frame of mind as fanatics today – then they could call them religious people because they were the majority and their acts were indeed endorsed by the Church. It took us centuries to evolve to recognise that we would rather live in a different world than what based on the premises of beliefs only as opposed to reason.

    But if we are going to allow people of a different culture to dictate what constitutes an offence to each and every one of us as a minority or individual, we might end up self-destructing our own cultures. There are many things in the Western and French culture and socio-political contexts (let alone that of others) that as a woman and a feminist I do find offensive. Others that make me real real angry (the mere fact of the possibility of trafficking of women and children for sexual and other forms of slavery springs to mind…). Yes if I would listen to my emotions I would react the same way as the murderers of Charlie Hebdo. But it is my cutlure that has evolved over centuries that whilst not perfect has helped me shaped my reason so that I understand that such acts are despicable. This is why I can only be Charlie, or at least that’s what it means to me, and that’s what a lot of people have said it meant to them to (many have expressed on cameras their dissociations with some of the cartoons produced).

    As it is waving the flag of human rights France is in my view as mentioned before taking some time to recognise its deeds. In parallel, lack of integration and racism are still a reality in France although not all non-white living in France feel the same. But does that explain – as the instant emergence of parallel discourses like yours and others on such issues seem to want to do even if they stir clear of justification – the attempt to eradicate a French cultural icon? Not in the least. Those self-sanctifying their acts and threatening our freedom of speech are the same people who think they have been provided the same sanctity to send seemingly a young-girl or young women loaded with explosives in a busy market area in Nigeria. What narratives do we want to indulge to ‘explain’ these acts?? Or for that matter for all the acts that we have witnessed with abject horror committed by the ISIS group against thousands of Muslims? I fear for them that they will loose faith in their own religion.

    French people and people all over the world have demonstrated they will not allow barbarism to become the rule of law again at least in this part of the world. Not all of them hide a racist agenda. If you are a Muslim and not able to react simply against barbarism and demonstrate that insight, be glad and respect that some other people in the world are able to do so on your behalf.

    I am Charlie even more so today than yesterday.

    Reply
    • Serene Khader

      Gabriella, Excuse my cursory response; it’s been really time-consuming to respond to all the comments on this post on social media, but I wanted to at least acknowledge your comment since you obviously spent time thinking out your comments. Briefly, of course I would not appreciate people killing people for expressing themselves in my country, and I repeat that multiple times in the post and the comments. I in no way meant to diminish anyone’s grief or impugn the commitment to basic democratic values. I believe strongly in freedom of the press.The point was always to say that I wanted to express solidarity with the cause of free speech without reposting the meme/ cartoons, because I’ve never been a fan of Charlie Hebdo’s content. I initially wrote the post targeted at American friends who were sharing the cartoons and meme without a great sense of what the magazine was about. I think a lot got lost in translation when European friends started posting it.

      So I think you and I agree about much more than it appears. What I don’t agree with is the framing of this as a fight against “barbarism” or “people from another culture.” That’s the part I take to be feeding into Islamophobia.

      Reply
  20. giorgia

    You are not Charlie, that’s why you’re a muslim. libertarian rights and self expression don’t belong in your culture. For you don’t belong in Europe

    Reply
  21. Adam Fitzgerald

    Beautiful and intelligently written piece. “I think those posts are missing a reality of the French context—criticisms of religion function to stigmatize Muslims without ever having to say the word.” – spot on, though I would argue the problem is one the extends well beyond France (certainly to the US) and that the religious criticisms are so often a thinly veiled racism directed at the entire Arab population.
    http://qo-da.weebly.com/adams-blog/are-you-charlie

    Reply
  22. Shelley Park

    In addition to the critically important points you make here, Serene, see also the argument from “Je Suis Nigeria”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-shammas/je-suis-nigeria_b_6486518.html
    While some of the stereotypes of terrorism/terrorists persist here, the central question posed is critical: Why does the western media care more about the lives of a dozen Parisians than about 2000 Nigerians? Granted that “all lives matter,” the question remains why don’t black lives matter?

    Reply

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