At any given moment, on this great mess we call Planet Earth, countless tragedies occur. But occasionally, one particular tragedy will grab you so powerfully that it keeps you up at night. For me, the shooting at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo magazine was this story.
I was born in London, to a Muslim family, and have felt first-hand the nourishing and destructive reverb of this culture clash, from both sides. I’m also a journalist, and feel an inexplicable sense of camaraderie with all of those who share the profession—even when its most toxic parts wreak havoc—because that’s just the irrational workings of the human heart for you. In the hours straight after the shooting, I was one of the people rushing to Twitter to express “JeSuisCharlie!” in an expression of shock, anger and sadness. Indeed, there was a moment where I was genuinely moved by the constant roll of the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag feed, convinced for a second we could all be united in the face of adversity.
That feeling didn’t last long.
A week later, and those words have been commandeered by people and organisations I’ve spent my adult life in polar opposition to. When it comes to politics, many of us know where we stand, and if nothing else, there is at least a comfort in the clarity. The shooting at Charlie Hebdo changed all that. Few events in recent history have split opinions in completely new lines, dividing us into sides we might not feel comfortable with at all.
There’s something truly revolting about seeing our Prime Minister David Cameron pledge #JeSuisCharlie and praise free press when in the same breath he’s stealing the Guardian’s hard drives.
There’s something truly revolting about seeing our Prime Minister David Cameron pledge #JeSuisCharlie and praise free press when in the same breath he’s stealing the Guardian’s hard drives. And the Attorney General of the US! Rocking up in France as though he didn’t know anything about police in Ferguson roughing up Washington Post reporters. And Fox News! And the Daily Mail! And so many other skin-crawling bigots ready to raise the placard. These people?! These are my ideological teammates?!
Needless to say, my conviction has wavered numerous times.
Charlie Hebdo isn’t the easiest title to support. Some people have the opinion that Charlie Hebdo weren’t islamophobic because they regularly mocked all religions, that they were equal-opportunity-assholes (as though that makes it better.) Just to make this clear: it’s never cool to kick a guy when he’s down, and kicking guys that are bigger than you too doesn’t suddenly make it okay. As many have pointed out in the last week, the first role of comedy is supposed to be that you always punch up.
Muslim people in France are second-class citizens, and they make up most of the prison population despite only making up around ten percent of the country. They are marginalised and penalised regularly by the state, and this is mirrored (and sometimes magnified) in public opinion and the media. Charlie Hebdo’s approach to this situation is irresponsible at best, hateful at worst.
But Charlie Hebdo’s relationship to Islam is not the point. The murderers who stormed into Charlie Hebdo’s office and shot the editorial team dead were as much about Islam as the KKK were about Christianity.
This was as much about Islam as the KKK were about Christianity
Put simply, they are fucked up people who are involved with some heavy shit. Dissecting the right and wrongs of Charlie Hebdo, trying to apply reason, as though the people who killed them were reasonable people, is ridiculous. They were terrorists, crazy motherfucking terrorists. Terrorists incidentally aren’t always Muslim—but some of the biggest victims of terrorists are Muslim. Even when the perpetrators claim to share their religion.
If you want to get to the bottom of why we have terrorists in the first place then you have to start asking complicated questions about western foreign policy, but remember: Charlie Hebdo is not a deciding factor in international foreign policy, nor are any of its editorial team. They make a magazine. They did not create the terrorists that killed them—and we need to stop the implicit victim-blaming.
More importantly, we need to stop the mass-blaming. Violent, anti-Muslim crimes have escalated in France since the attack, accelerating a trend of Islamophobia across Europe. The anti-Islamic Pegida rallies in Germany are only growing. Here in London, hate crimes against Muslims have increased by 65%. It’s sickening to see the death of innocent people used by notably racist organisations in order to push their agenda.
Have no illusions: Charlie Hebdo hated racism and in particular the French far-right. France has always had a very strong anti-clerical tradition and, rightly or wrongly, Charlie Hebdo continued that tradition. That’s not to say that their vehement anti-religiousness didn’t veer into Islamophobia and consequently racism (you can be anti-racist and still unwittingly be racist) but I’m sure the victims of the attack would be spinning in their graves to learn the Front National—France’s far right and undeniably, outwardly racist party—and their leader Le Pen are using their deaths to further their cause. The French far-right were Charlie Hebdo’s number one target, appearing on far more covers than any religious figure. Charlie Hebdo’s weapon was often hard-hitting hyperbole, using close to the bone, and sometimes unforgivable humour to attack what they believed to be a prejudicial French public. There was the cover whose headline read “Le Pen! The candidate that is just like you!” above a picture of a massive steaming shit, or this more straightforward criticism of police racially profiling North African Muslim Men.
But I guess what they wanted to say is forgotten now. Those lives have been reduced to pawns in an elaborate chess game for politicians, careerist assholes and fringe lunatics. And that is precisely why I am holding on to #JeSuisCharlie. I Am Charlie because I am a complex human being of multiple opinions who does not want someone else to speak for me. I Am Charlie because I want my voice and will use it as best I can, according to my own personal beliefs. We Are Charlie because we should have the opportunity to be heard, even if what we’re saying causes offence or is generally disagreeable. And I refuse to let anyone, from either side, take that away from us.