I was working, and then I procrastinated on Facebook, and then it felt like time to write something about Charlie Hebdo.
We live in a remarkable world where the internet allows us to connect with hundreds of thousands of people. And I have been lucky enough in my life to meet a wide variety of people with some great thoughts and fascinatingly disparate viewpoints. It didn’t surprise me at all to find that these were being loudly broadcasted, but it did make me feel strongly like also airing my views (of which I have many, not all organised yet).
Firstly, I don’t think there is any question that what happened at Charlie Hebdo is a tragedy. The ability of one human to destroy another will never cease to horrify me. Loss of life is always a terrible thing.
Secondly, the hashtag #jesuischarlie is trending across the world and huge events are emerging, not only in solidarity with the French people, but in the name of freedom of expression and protecting it.
Thirdly, I don’t think there is any question that some of the art featured in Charlie Hebdo over the years has been in slightly (and sometimes incredibly) poor taste. I am a great fan of satire as a way to explore the flaws in society and create something entertaining which forces people to take a good look at their own views – but it can be overdone, or simply done in a way which is ultimately offensive and not intelligent.
Now, put these three things together, and you get the explosion of arguments which I have seen across my Facebook feed all day. I honestly didn’t know much about Charlie Hebdo, but a few hours of research has brought me to the following final conclusion:
Freedom of expression is important, and it’s appropriate that it was the French writer Voltaire who came out with the famous quote “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. However, Charlie Hebdo did venture worryingly close to pure racism, and that isn’t something to applaud. The key thought here though, is that people using the hashtag #jesuischarlie aren’t applauding Charlie Hebdo. This isn’t a choice to support a racist publication. This is a statement of sadness at an unconscionable act of violence, and a statement in support of freedom of expression. Suggesting that people don’t use that hashtag isn’t valuable, it’s just an excuse to start an fight. Awareness rarely comes from confrontation on the internet.
This has all been a bit of a jumble, but I think the main point is clear. After what I’ve seen and read today, I’m not a Charlie Hebdo fan. But that doesn’t mean je ne suis pas Charlie. It just means #jesuischarlie and je suis ready to fight violence, hate crime, and limiting freedom of expression, as well as being ready to question a racist publication. That is what je suis.