What I have to say today is, well, very likely to be unpopular. But I'm worried by what I'm seeing online - Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news websites, youtube. I'm talking about the rise of the "Je suis Charlie" hashtag. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I take issue with this rhetoric, and I'm going to outline my case below.
To begin, let me be clear that I do not support the use of violence against unarmed civilians. Frankly, most of you know that I'm incredibly opposed to violence in the first place. The attacks that happened in France were, in the words of many "cowardly" and "shameful". Twelve people were killed and many others wounded. It's shocking to see events like this happen, and my sympathies go out to everyone affected.
If we were to stop there, perhaps I could agree with the message. But there's more. So let's turn to Charlie Hebdo. First off, it's not a person, but a periodical. Hebdo is short for hebdomadaire, the French word for weekly. It has a high profile not only in France, but throughout many French-speaking locales including in the Middle East. According to many of the editors at the journal, the writers have targeted Muslim extremism because they are against any type of religious extremism. That's a fair point, and again I agree. They have then gone on, stating "we are not racist" which, if I'm not mistaken, should mean that you are not racist. Right? The satire is, quite clearly, aimed at extremism, but it always comes back to Islam, the Quran, Mohammed, and other symbols that reinforce Islamophobia. This harkens back to the offensive nature of Draw Mohammed Day.
The reality is that there is no objective measure of what constitutes racism: it's a judgement of value. That said, I would strongly encourage you to check out some of the works by Charlie Hebdo. They are full of references to the Quran being "merde" or Mohammed in compromising sexual situations. Perform a google image search (trigger warning). I'm not Muslim and I find that to be heinous at the very least, and most certainly a form of hate speech. Sadly, France does not have hate speech legislation and apparently there is a minimal amount of public support for moderate Muslims who feel, rightfully, that they have been targeted. They are caught between defending the people who make fun of their religion or being accused of being terrorist sympathisers.
Charlie Hebdo did not deserve to be attacked - let me be clear. I'm merely pointing out that this is more complicated than pinning it down to a bunch of fanatics. This is a sociological question. Let's think back to the Boston Bombings in the spring of 2013 where Stephen Harper made remarks about how it was an inappropriate time to be talking about sociology. How misguided is that? It's akin to trying to stop the conversation firearm safety in order to avoid upsetting victims of a mass shooting.
"Je suis Charlie" has been popular in the west, interestingly enough, by people across the political spectrum. I have friends in my social media circles posting with the hashtag or changing their profile pictures. I get the solidarity, I really do. I can see where conservatives are coming from and I'm not really surprised: this is akin to 9/11 and virtually any time that terrorism comes up as an issue.
Where I'm more concerned is my friends who are liberal, anti-oppression, or socialist. What's going on here? Many of the people condemning this attack and supporting Charlie Hebdo are the same people who, for example, criticise the Washington football franchise for its blatant racism. Why should Charlie Hebdo be treated any differently than than Washington's football team?
The central question to me is: should we stand for hate speech? Those condemning the attack have focused on it manifesting barbary, senselessness, and most importantly hatred all the while extolling the virtues of Charlie Hebdo's bravery. But why aren't we focused on Charlie Hebdo's promotion of Islamophobia? The attitude that this is about "freedom" or "liberty of the press" is a typical trope designed to absolve the paper of any complicitness in promoting hate. Newspapers have freedoms in order to prevent tyranny and should not use those powers to oppress. Again, I don't mean to say that France was asking for this type of attack. Far from it. But let's not be so quick to come to the defense of an organisation that is spreading Islamophobic attitudes - let's commit sociology. I look forward to talking with you.