As the news broke that ten journalists and two policemen had been massacred in cold blood on a rainy day in Paris last week, social media reacted in the only way it knew how. #JeSuisCharlie immediately began trending and tributes began to flood in for the victims of what was an unspeakable crime; although this initial response, positive as it is, may mask division.
France – and indeed their allies around the world – unified in the name of freedom of speech and liberty in the face of violence and oppression. An age-old battle between good and evil. While the initial reaction was mostly one of shock it has since morphed into a national unity movement. One that appears to embrace anyone, no matter what their religion – they are opposed to the terrorists who seek to undermine and threaten their hard-won liberties.
Now, this article doesn’t seek to criticise Charlie Hebdo for printing the cartoons that are reported to have instigated the carnage that gripped France for five days. While they may be considered offensive among certain groups the magazine has a history of lampooning many religions, including Islam as well as Catholicism and Judaism. This is an important principle, as to not criticise is to suggest something is sacred, beyond reproach and therefore cannot be scrutinised. This inevitably leads to an abuse of power and fundamentally a betrayal of principles. The fact that nothing is sacred must include religion. Furthermore, an unfortunate product of freedom of speech may mean that we end up defending things we may personally find distasteful or offensive.
However, the response of many to simply re-print the cartoons potentially causes further problems. While we can defend them being printed by Charlie Hebdo, we must be careful that it doesn’t turn from a symbol of freedom of speech into a symbol of chauvinism.
While the #JeSuisCharlie movement certainly seems altruistic at its outset, it has the potential to turn from being a unified organisation to one representing division. By advocating the phrase as a form of ‘national unity’ the movement may be unintentionally isolating those it should be including most. The only way to counter the politics of division is to promote inclusivity – and that can’t be done if a large portion of the population are purposefully seeking to offend those they claim to include.
In an interesting collation piece on Channel 4 News this week, some have begun pointing out the issue of offence within this debate. One man suggesting that the #JeSuisAhmed movement would be more appropriate:
I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed
— Dyab Abou Jahjah (@Aboujahjah) January 8, 2015
The need for unity is vital. One must question what France – or, indeed, any country in a globalised world – really is, as a nation. With France housing the highest population of Muslims in Europe, surely there is need for a wider conversation of what national unity or identity actually means. Simply browbeating those with certain beliefs, no matter how small, will just lead to further division. Meanwhile, these same divisions have emerged just over the border in Germany; the Pegida movement has been making headlines as a movement of ‘national unity’ which is overtly anti-Muslim.
Perhaps France, and indeed the rest of Europe, should take heed of these developments and seek dialogue before they inevitably lead to conflict. As that is the ultimate goal of the enemies of liberty.
Words by Greg Bianchi
Picture by Alexis Demachy
We should thank Charlie Hebdo for inviting Muslims to stand up against extremists – Hanad Mohammed Ali