Were the victims of the charlie hebdo massacre martyrs of free speech, or provocateurs whose aggressive mockery of Islam sometimes amounted to xenophobia and racism? Or were they simply bullies?
The question is not an easy one to answer, and it gets even harder to answer when one’s not able to put oneself in the shoes of the other being bullied. But isn’t that what bullying is all about?
In USA, we have laws against bullying. Bullying is more common for children or adolescents but it has become a huge problem in american schools, and is taken quite seriously. We teach kids from the get-go that if someone says something that hurts them you ask them to stop, and if they don’t, then they meet some form of discipline. Lately, when bullying has been causing children, teens and young adults to be shamed into commiting suicide, the law has taken matters into its own hands to deliver punishment on the bully. Bullies are put in juvie if under a certain age, but later, when they grow older, it can be real jail. In the Clemente case, for example, the offended killed himself while the offender got jail time etc. In other cases those bullied seek vengeance on others not by killing themselves but by killing/ or shooting or harming others.
Charliehebdo could be reinterpreted along this line: offending another, or non stop bullying. In France and the world, bullying against Jews is called antisemitism. Antisemitism is unacceptable and punishable by law as a means of protecting Jews from harassment etc. If France and the world got rid of Jewish bullying, why not Muslim bullying? Why aren’t anti Muslim images as unacceptable as antisemitic images? Why is slander of someone else’s belief system acceptable if it offends, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu? Why do we have injunctions for hate speech and hate crimes if they weren’t a crime and if they didn’t seriously offend the one offended?
It is OK for Muslims to not want their prophet identified with barbaric acts, sexually vulgar depictions or adolescent fantasies even if Christians & others don’t take offense to the same level. Perhaps religion is not the center of the christian world. If France is secular and killed off their god in the postmodern movement making man the center of the universe, does that mean every other creed and race must follow? The Islamic people haven’t killed off their gods, and they don’t place themselves at the center and their god is still alive to them. As a result, they, as well as their god, deserve respect if they are offended. It is Ok to poke fun at taboos in order to break them, like fadela amara has done as a means to providing a platform to open a forum to question whether women are forced to wear the hijab. That is religious, too but not offensive.
In 2001, hip hop artist Sniper sang a song called “la France” which sarkozy -not yet president -called for to be censored, along with all hip hop bands, saying they had “violent, racist, abusive lyrics”. In short, the lyrics “offended” the french. The rap song – put into music, another artform like satire – exposed the injustices committed against minorities by the French political system and Arabs and Africans poorly represented in politics. What is racist, violent and abusive about that from another’s perspective?
Before that, there was bataille d’algiers (pontecorvo, 1965) which was banned for 7 years in France for showing France in a negative light, as was Henri alleg’s book, which did the same as pontecorvo’s film; it described French torture by French military during the Algerian war.
If we’re not asking the right questions about Charlie hebdo, we’re being unwitting agents of its power to bullying. When we frame the charlie hebdo narrative in the same context as freedom of speech we are disconnected from seeing that the paper was a bully to 5 million people already stigmatized in France since they were invited to set up shop in that country to help rebuild France after world wars. Asking the right questions however is crucial to understanding terrorism, or the reasons why extremists might have massacred the charlie hebdo victims, or what was it that ‘so’ offended the killers that they killed. The issue must not be mistold or untold under free speech narratives or islamic intolerance even if there is intolerance within that religion. If Christians are not offended by caricatures of their god being sodomized that does not mean that other faiths think like them. Freedom of speech is not equal everywhere, just like style or sexual preferences or political parties one votes for isn’t.
It is important to not blindly disseminate super racist material [je suis charlie, nous sommes charlie etc] and think only from the position where the offender writes from or stands. Attacking or taking aim at people in power rather than ethnic or racial groups already marginalized is NOT the same as the reverse. It is bullying. It is one thing to be subversive in art a la picasso or gaspar noe, but quite another to be offensive, racist and bullying.
Some questions missing from the charlie hebdo affair: “is there a need to insult people, especially downtrodden people to make one’s point? Are the racist, ugly cartoons of Muslims and their god cruelty hiding behind the idea of free speech?
The answers are not that black and white, but deserve thought from the perspective of the ones bullied.