‘Je suis Charlie’ – I am Charlie – is the rallying call in Europe and even around the world but … am I Charlie? Can I really identify with the men who died and what they stood for? And if not, then who do I identify with?
We were all, quite understandably, shocked and appalled by the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent murders which took place in Paris. Every form of media outlet was awash with stories, claims, opinions and debates and the social media busied itself with endless shares of cartoons from around the world. Overnight #JeSuisCharlie became a household term and the largest march of solidarity in French history took to the streets of Paris joined by many of the world’s most important people.
No one, to my knowledge, is condoning the attacks (bar the rants of radical extremists)but the sound of reason is certainly being drowned out by those who would have us believe it is right to point the finger at Muslims and condemn them in every conceivable way. We seem to believe that ‘incitement to hatred’ is a one-way affair – that only Muslims are – and can be – guilty of this. If you’re white, Western and (preferably) atheist then it is quite reasonable and acceptable to mock, jeer and call for an end to whole ways of life for billions of people. My aim in this post is to highlight some of the important articles on the internet which tell a different story in the hope (possibly vain) that this might redress the balance a little.
Although I have, of course, been following the news regarding the murders last week and their effect on whole communities of people, it was after reading a post on Facebook by writer Nury Vittachi that I felt the urge to add my contribution. Nury asserts that though it is right to condemn the barbarity of the attacks this doesn’t mean it is right to condone the actions and beliefs of Charlie Hebdo itself. He points out that it is a lie to believe we have the right to uncensored free speech:
“EVERY country implants limits on free speech. Most commonly, defamation is banned… Hate speech is banned in almost every country. Material that can be seen as incitement to violence is banned… The publication of matter which violates “the offense principle” is prohibited to stop people causing a significant degree of offense to society or segments of society.
Does the material published by Charlie Hebdo violate any of these principles, in France, or in YOUR country, or in other countries? The answer is almost definitely yes.”
I shared his post on my Facebook and was immediately engaged in discussion with someone whose views worried me immensely. This man made it clear he considered all religious beliefs – particularly the concept of blasphemy – ‘ridiculous’ and was offended that people are ‘required to respect these fairy tales’. He spewed out commonly cited extremes of religious thought to back his claims and would not accept my argument that, for many people who have a faith, insulting their God or prophet(s) is the same as abusing a family member. ‘How would you like it,’ I argued, ‘if someone called your wife or daughter a whore and jeered at you publicly day after day, encouraging others to do the same?’ Call my wife a bitch and sooner or later I’m going to snap I said – and his response was chilling: “If you do commit murder because of it, you’ll rightly go to prison. That said, at least your wife is real…if you can’t see the difference, there’s no helping you is there?”
His intolerance towards religion is chilling because I see comments like his repeatedly – incensed and violent in language – all over the internet on every media platform and daily wherever religion is discussed. Atheists have taken such a stronghold in every social and political stream that people seem to be blind to their own intolerance. It’s a given fact that religious people hold silly, made-up beliefs and no argument to refute this is accepted.
A friend, over Christmas, shared a link to a small news item where an English church minister blurted out to children during a service that ‘Santa Claus doesn’t exist’. My friend was angry at her cruelty but then labelled her a hypocrite because of her own beliefs. I was a little shocked that he equated a belief in the words of Jesus (a man rooted in history) with the fairy-tale of the fat man who climbs down several billion chimneys every Christmas Eve. I was stunned that a woman telling the truth (for no adult believes in Santa to my knowledge) was condemned for it on the basis of her own faith alone. It was a silly thing to say – no argument there – and the article made it clear she regretted her words the moment she said them, giving an apology straight away. It was an offhand remark and one that drunken uncles are guilty of every year at family gatherings. It is, after all, nothing but a story to entertain small children with and adults forget this sometimes.
It wasn’t so much the news item as the unquestionable assertion that religion has no basis in reality which concerned me considering nearly 6 billion people on the planet believe in some kind of deity or spiritual realm. I maintain that it is this arrogance which is the root behind the religious motivated acts of terrorism more than any other factor. When your religiously-centred culture is under constant attack – in word and deed – from others who believe you ridiculous and even, at times, inhuman is it any wonder that some of the disenfranchised rise up and take matters into their own, bitter and angry hands?
Corey Oakley writes about these attacks specifically on Muslims:
“For the last decade and a half the United States, backed to varying degrees by the governments of other Western countries, has rained violence and destruction on the Arab and Muslim world with a ferocity that has few parallels in the history of modern warfare.
It was not pencils and pens – let alone ideas – that left Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan shattered and hundreds of thousands of human beings dead. Not twelve. Hundreds of thousands. All with stories, with lives, with families. Tens of millions who have lost friends, family, homes and watched their country be torn apart.
To the victims of military occupation; to the people in the houses that bore the brunt of “shock and awe” bombing in Iraq; to those whose bodies were disfigured by white phosphorous and depleted uranium; to the parents of children who disappeared into the torture cells of Abu Ghraib; to all of them – what but cruel mockery is the contention that Western “civilisation” fights its wars with the pen and not the sword?”
Oakley goes on to assert that we ignore facts like the persecution of Algerian Muslims by the secular French (the two gunmen last week were Algerian) and other secular attacks. In fact, if we were to score secularist against religious terrorism in Europe the secularists would win hands down. What the press doesn’t like to admit is that just 2% of terrorist attacks in Europe were religiously motivated!
This is a staggering statistic.
Beenish Ahmed asserts that Islamic-based terrorism in America is also all but non-existent:
“Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, has called Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.”
In his most recent report tracking Islamist militancy in America, he included this startling figure. “The United States suffered approximately 14,000 murders in 2013. Since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 37 lives in the United States, out of more than 190,000 murders during this period.””
One could begin to suspect that there is a conspiracy here to ghettoize Muslims in a manner reminiscent of Nazi Germany. That far right groups are gaining political ground in Europe makes this more than mere rhetoric. It wasn’t for no reason at all that Le Pen wasn’t invited to the march in Paris last week.
Elizabeth Plank takes up exactly this theme when she revealed that the Charlie Hebdo attack was not the only terrorist action which took place over the same 24 hour period. Yet why was only the Paris attack given considerable air time? she asks:
“On Tuesday morning, the NAACP offices in Colorado Springs, Colorado, came under attack when someone who is believed be a balding white man in his 40s dropped an explosive device that went off a few feet from the building. And on Wednesday morning, news broke of a horrifying mass shooting at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France that left 12 dead and several wounded.
Both acts were motivated by radical ideology, but only one of them is being covered by the 24-hour news cycle. What gives?”
She goes on to demonstrate how language is used completely differently to report the two attacks. The bomb planted by a white man was ‘isolated act of violence’ but the Paris murders was ‘an act of terrorism’.
It’s not the first time this has happened either, Plank points out:
“…after a white man in Texas purposely crashed his plane into a building known to house IRS staff and left a note describing his plans for mass murder in 2010, a police chief described his acts as “a criminal act by a lone individual” rather than terrorism. When Elliot Rodger espoused his radical anti-woman ideology and killed six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara last year, newspapers like the Santa Barbara Independent , described him as a “lone gunman.” And Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Rodger’s acts were “the work of a madman.” “
It really does seem the media want us to believe separate things about similar acts. But it’s not just the hypocrisy of reporting terrorism (or not) but the blindness towards our own acts which concerns me greatly. As Jared Keller notes concerning the political leaders found ‘linking arms’ on the march of solidarity with 3.7 million others on the streets of Paris, many of them had no right to be there.
“But as Reporters Without Borders points out, their policies at home are far from compatible with the solidarity for free speech on display throughout France.
The organization said Sunday that it was “appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th).””
He quotes the tweets of student Daniel Wickham which list the Human Rights record of 21 of the 40 world leaders who gathered in Paris for the march. The mind boggles at how easily we lay aside what we know about our leaders when we hear the rallying call to solidarity.
Human Rights records brings me back nicely to the issue of religion with which we started. The person who commented on my Facebook post seemed adamant that religion is responsible for so much inhumanity in the world and he’s right – it is. But what media and scholars rarely tell us is that secular states have Human Rights records just as appalling. Over half of the countries listed by the IHRRI at the bottom of the ranking are secular states. China, North Korea, Vietnam and many more have terrible records and we should not forget the awful death toll in communist Russia especially during Stalin’s time where some experts estimate more than 20 million people were killed in the name of secular government.
The final big lie we all seem happy to swallow is the one which implicitly suggests all Muslims are secretly condoning the terrorist actions of Islamic extremists. ‘Why don’t they speak out against it?’ we ask ourselves. ‘If they were really one of us then they would publicly condemn these actions. But they don’t’.
This, I believe, is our worst crime in many ways (speaking as a white westerner). As filmmaker Kamran Pasha reveals, every single major Muslim group in the USA has spoken out condemning terrorist acts. You can find a list of these here but Pasha’s article links to many other sources as evidence to his claims.
His addendum to the article fills me with despair. No sooner had he demonstrated that Muslims are active in their condemnation of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists than he was then accused of it being nothing but empty words:
“In response to this article, the new meme is being promulgated: “Muslims condemn terrorism, but it’s all talk! Sure, Muslims say they condemn terrorism, but there’s no action!”
Where do I begin to respond to this kind of nonsense? There are 1. 5 billion Muslims living their lives in peace, trying to put food on the table for their families. Over six million of them live here in America as patriotic citizens. They work hard, pay their taxes, and have ZERO contact with the criminal underworld where these terrorists breed.
I have never, ever met a terrorist in real life (it is ridiculous that I even have to say this). If I met one, I would turn him in to the authorities, as would every other Muslim I know. Since I don’t have access to this shadowy underworld, I live my life on the surface in broad daylight, working in my community to promote interfaith cooperation, peace and prosperity. It is that grassroots effort that Muslims do to promote good in this world that receives ZERO coverage in the media. I could list every single good thing I and other Muslims have ever done to make the world a better, safer place, but people who hold this attitude don’t care. It will never be enough. If I listed 1 million positive things Muslims are doing in their daily lives today on this planet, they would respond: “Why can’t you name a billion things you’ve done? See, you’re not doing enough!”
So I ask those who are outraged at this supposed Muslim inaction: “What have YOU done to defeat racism in this world?” List every single thing you have ever done to fight the Ku Klux Klan. List it here, right now. Times, dates and hyperlinks please. The response would be that I am crazy — average Americans have nothing to do with the KKK, and don’t need to justify their daily actions in support of righteousness to me or anyone else. But that same common sense response is rejected when a Muslim uses it.”
Which brings me to my final point (which in turn brings us back to my initial questions). Can I say Je suis Charlie? For all I’ve stated above, I do believe in the right to free speech and the right to live our lives in peace without fear of violent action against us. But I also believe that it is human nature that when you throw stones at people sooner or later they will hurl rocks back. The cartoonists and journalists at Charlie Hebdo are being hailed as heroes because they knew their lives were at risk and persisted with their work. The latest edition out today has sold in millions rather than its normal circulation of tens of thousands in part as people pay homage to the men. But I can find only one hero among the dead.
While #JeSuisCharlie went viral around the world, so did #JeSuisAhmed and rightly so. That a Muslim police officer died protecting the rights of others to offend him has not been lost on the world. This is the only man to come out of this unblemished in my opinion. He caused no offence, killed no one, committed no act of insult or terrorism – and was executed for his pains.
I don’t know to what extent I can say I am Charlie or I am Ahmed for I am too distantly removed to truly say I stand in their place. I don’t know to what extent I want to, if I’m honest. But I do know that the claim of secularists that ‘at least we don’t kill people for our beliefs‘ is a stupid and dangerous one. For while we choose to ignore one side and build up the other, while we dismiss one opinion and overstate another, while we consider it our right to abuse, ridicule and offend but cry foul when some choose to retaliate – while all this continues whatever flag we choose to wave will have blood on it and we’re all responsible for that.