Sunday, January 11, 2015

#CharlieHebdo: An Ongoing Draft

On the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, free speech, PC, religion, and t3rrorism. An ongoing draft because there are too many things to say. An ongoing draft because these random thoughts I've been having since January the 7th are too raw and I need to work on them. The first step is to jot them down. Then: a ton of research.


I'm starting to think we've all been incredibly myopic about what has happened in Paris this week. This attack has very little to do with a bunch of cartoons and everything to do with t3rrorism. I mean, what is the purpose of t3rrorists? To create a stable, safe society where everyone thinks alike? No. Their only purpose is to spill more blood, to cause more t3rror. Why? I have no idea why. Why do men (and now also women) from supposedly civilized countries join the army knowing that at some point they might have to kill another human being, that the drone they control from a safe distance might kill innocent civilians? Maybe because we still buy into the good guys / bad guys binary?

Artists and journalists are easy targets. Their death is supposed to be a message. They also rank higher in "the hierarchy of death." The outrage caused by their death will be huge and the t3rrorists are counting on that. They're also counting on the fact that nationalist a-holes will not repress their growing hate of Muslims. As a consequence: a few Muslims will grow sick and tired of putting up with this hate, become radicalized and eventually join the ranks of a t3rrorist group. And it only takes a few to cause so much damage.

Context, context, context! Context is everything. In this case, if we really want to understand anything at all, we have to look at the bigger picture. We have to look beyond Charlie Hebdo, beyond "the right to offend."


The self-sufficiency with which some people have been expressing their opinions these days (on FB - b/c that's where I've been for the last three days) is simply depressing. AFK, I'm surrounded by toxic mediocrity and I would hope that at least online I can exchange a few ideas with people (who share some of my interests) in a smart and interesting way. But no. Sure, part of that failure is my fault. But when all I see is arrogant mansplaining and dismissal of different opinions as irrelevant or just stupid - all this from people who are, in general, way smarter than me - I dunno... I simply refrain from commenting. Or I write the FB equivalent of a subtweet. Or this: bring my thoughts to my safe corner of the Internet.


"Nothing is sacred.
Except: free speech."

"We have to defend 'the right to offend' everyone and anyone.
Except: the dead."

Well, make up your fucking mind about it already.

I didn't adopt the "Je suis Charlie" slogan for a very simple reason: I wasn't following this publication. I guess I first heard of it sometime in college when I had to research the controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons, decided I didn't like their style, and didn't return to their website. Later on I mentioned it in the chapter on political satire in my thesis and then completely forgot about it. So: wouldn't I have been a hypocrite to suddenly declare "moi aussi je suis Charlie?"

But why the need to declare "Je ne suis pas Charlie?" Because instead of taking a stance against t3rrorism [period], people were going on and on about free speech, about how these people died for free speech. Because a ton of idiots on social media were already calling for the death of all Muslims in the name of Charlie. Because, normally, we all should have waited for their bodies to get cold before having these cultural wars, but by now we know how the media works. We know the conversation needs to happen NOW, before the media will have moved on to next tragedy or controversy.

We really want to believe these journalists died for something bigger than themselves, bigger than all of us. Admitting that they died simply because their killers had a death wish and they were so selfish and so filled with hatred that they wanted to take innocent people with them, or because they were victims of an invisible war (invisible at home) - that would make this whole thing incomprehensible. It wouldn't make any sense. So we believe the "you've offended the Prophet" excuse and tell ourselves that the journalists died for free speech. That is a narrative we can make sense of.

And then comes the irony: the "Je suis Charlie" people who argue that the freedom of speech is absolute - they become so inflexible that they'd wanna silence anyone who disagrees with them. If I can't say "I stand in solidarity against t3rrorism, but 'Je ne suis pas Charlie'" b/c it's not the proper thing to say out loud, then the "Je suis Charlie" people n'ont rien compris and I'm afraid these people have indeed died in vain.

I suppose the frustration from the part of the "Je suis Charlie" camp comes from the fact that others do not share their level of outrage. And gosh, don't I know how frustrating that can be. As a feminist who occasionally expresses her outrage online, I've gotten used to people not only not sharing my outrage, but simply ignoring it.

What bothers me about some of these "Je suis Charlie" people is that they've flooded their FB feed with posts, but when Ferguson happened: nada. Crickets. My feed was instead drowning in posts about the stupid ice bucket challenge.Yes, there's a "hierarchy of death" and I don't have any illusions about it dissolving into thin air. Empathy is not an infinite resource. You just can't care about every single death you hear about. Besides, there are days when you just don't care about the news, no matter how tragic and horrible. Responding differently to different deaths doesn't make you a monster. But at least let's not act as if this "hierarchy of death" doesn't exist. Let's be honest about it.


It was just a few days ago that I remembered I had a chapter on satire in my thesis. The thought of flipping through such an old, silly thing was scary. Only today I've finally taken out my thesis because I've been kinda curious to see what I had written about Charlie Hebdo. Turns out: not much. Like I said above, I merely mentioned it. However, I was surprised to see that I had included a Charlie Hebdo cartoon in my chapter on Sarkozy. Not only that but it's also a cartoon by Charb. And it's a good one. I laughed so hard that for a moment I thought I might've been wrong about them. But as soon as I caught that thought, the Boko Haram cover popped in my head. That cover (which I've recently seen for the first time) is utterly disgusting. A lot of cartoonists have made this point more eloquently than I could: satire is supposed to be about "punching up," not about "punching down." It's just like rape jokes: if you really must make them, the punchline needs to be the rapist / rape culture, never the victim. Unless you know, you really wanna prove you're scum.

Sarkozy protects his private life
Sarkozy: "Three steps behind!" The woman: "Mais, minou..."

But I have laughed out loud. That cartoon is freaking hilarious. And yes, it doesn't just make fun of Sarkozy, it makes fun of Muslim fanatics as well. I cannot tolerate intolerance. I can't tolerate Muslim fanatics who treat the women in their families like their personal property just as I can't tolerate Christian fanatics who are misogynistic, homophobic, racist, hate-mongering a-holes. But let's get things straight: there are Muslim fanatics, there are Muslims who follow religious rituals just to please their parents, there are Arabs who - if asked - declare themselves Muslim but don't actually practice the religion (there was a time when I used to declare myself a Christian Orthodox even though I sure as hell wasn't stepping in any churches), and there are Arabs who are - ah, gasp! - agnostic or atheist. I am beyond disappointed that some people (again, people whom I generally consider way more intelligent than this moi) seem to make no distinction between Arabs and Muslims. I mean, are you fucking kidding me?!


I'm starting to regret taking a position on Charlie Hebdo. Should've remained neutral because the truth is I feel caught b/w the affirmative and the negative. Just as "Je suis Charlie" has its idiots who wanna see Muslims dead, "Je ne suis pas Charlie" has its Christian fanatics / cry babies who are obviously always offended by religious jokes, always against any other religions but suddenly Friends of Islam? (Don't get me wrong, if this were the beginning of an interfaith dialogue, that would  be great, but this hypocrisy is simply insulting).

I guess what pushed me towards the negative was the insistence on free speech above anything else (and that "anything else" is responsibility for the Other, which in my book is: not contributing to a pattern of discrimination), and the refusal of all "buts" (therefore: the refusal of nuance, like: yes, some ppl have suggested "they had it coming" and fuck those ppl b/c victim blaming is despicable BUT by blaming or merely suggesting that ALL Muslims are to blame for this you are just as despicable; put the blame where it belongs: t3rrorism).


In order to understand why non-religious French Arabs turn to Islam and become radicalized (some more than others) it might be helpful to look into why so many African-Americans converted to Islam during the Civil Rights Movement. I first read about The Civil Rights Movement in my senior year in high school, so ages ago. It's about time I started reading about this again. I need to dig deeper, go beyond the facts.


Yet another distinction people aren't willing to make these days is that the ones who lack humor are fanatics, and not ALL Muslims. (I already feel ridiculous repeating "not ALL Muslims" b/c no one should have to say smth so obvious; I didn't need to read a book on a cognitive-behavioral approach to depression to know that absolute generalizations like "all [insert group of people]" are indicative of a flawed logic; but maybe some ppl could use such a read? anyways.) So, this inexplicably super-popular blogger (also a writer and a filmmaker? ugh, who gives a sh-- ?) who seems to be an expert on everything under this Sun and beyond (not a  generalization, a hyperbole *wink*) made a HUGE discovery: he looked up the equivalents for humor, irony, and sarcasm in a Persian dictionary and - lo and behold - he didn't find them. (And what am I supposed to understand from this? That Muslims have no sense of humor?) Maybe he should look up "ridiculous" cause I'm sure he'll find this word. With his picture next to it. How can you conclude these words don't exist in a language just because you couldn't find them in a dictionary? Wouldn't smth like oh, IDK, logic (?) require you to first question the source, i.e. the dictionary that is surely incomplete, and then do more research before you draw your conclusions?! Seriously! Besides: satire is a special kind of humor - it's about mockery, and as this guy pointed out, there is an equivalent for this in his little useless dictionary. Moreover: just because you can't find linguistic equivalents for words like humor, irony and sarcasm, that doesn't automatically mean that the concepts are unknown in that culture. I take Satrapi's graphic novels as an indication of that (yes, her education is very French, but most of the hilarious dialogues in her graphic novels are b/w her Iranian relatives in, you know, Iran).

(Also: making assumptions about an entire culture based on your encounter with that culture is not only intellectually dishonest but also dangerous. It's the type of thing that - when compounded - leads to failure after failure in the intercultural dialogue. If you experience a cultural clash, keep in mind that about 50% of that is a failure on your part. I should know it.)

This is the best random find at this moment: When Satire Conquered Iran. I still can't get over how perfect this is for the point I've tried to make above. More and more convinced racism / misogyny / homophobia etc. come from an unwillingness to bother reading a few lines that challenge your preconceptions about the Other.


This little exercise of mine is already wearing me down. It is already a failure. Instead of doing my research, I keep getting fixated on and responding passive-aggressively to random stuff I see on that stupid FB. Sigh.

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