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(The views illustrated in this article are that of the writer)
No. Not at all. In fact, I doubt whether the millions of people posting this hashtag on social networking sites would really stand for the racism and discrimination that Charlie Hebdo normalises in the name of satire. If you do, open your eyes to the damage that is caused when mentally unbalanced radicals encounter provocation from an intolerant culture that allows for bigotry in the form of Charlie Hebdo. All in the name of humour.
As you have probably heard, the gun attack carried out by three masked men tragically left 12 dead at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. I would like to make clear that I do not condone these murders in any way. A pen is no match for a gun. While a pen can be used as a weapon, to hurt and to taunt with words, taking a life as a form of retaliation is by no means comparable and indicates a clear loss of humanity from those who did not pause once or hesitate to slaughter innocent people while they begged for their lives. While I stand against the heartless killers that have turned Paris into a war zone and have dragged innocent civilians into their military bloodbath, I cannot fully stand for the message of their victims either. I cannot give them a voice and spread their message that provokes such violence and aggression.
President Francois Hollande has claimed that ‘the country’s tradition of freedom of speech has been attacked…’ The French notion of freedom of speech becomes highly questionable and makes their ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity seem hypocritical when they allow for speech that kindles hatred, prejudice and violence on account of race, religion, nationality and sexuality. Does anyone remember the film ‘Africa 50’? Probably not. It was the first French anti-colonial film that was banned for 40 years and caused the director, René Vautier, to be imprisoned when he came into conflict with the authorities for denouncing the crimes and atrocities that were carried out by the French army against the natives of French colonies.
Still believe that France is the birthplace of freedom of speech?
It seems like France is eager to test the limits of free speech until it starts to portray them in a bad light. The right to silence free speech is only deemed acceptable when it affects the white majority.
I believe firmly in the importance of satire. Satire has banished those overcome by their own pride and power, given a voice to those who do not enjoy the same privileges as the rich and to those who felt wronged by their government but were too afraid to say it. Satire helps us to laugh at our strong views that we have held onto too tightly and shakes us up when we take ourselves too seriously. Of course when religion is satirized, it also takes strong religious faith to be able to take a harmless joke about something that you believe to be sacred.
But there is a fine line between satire and prejudice. Despite its claims that it attacked people of all backgrounds equally, it is clear that Charlie Hebdo’s primary aim is to deliberately insult 1.6 billion Muslims globally as well as those that are already marginalised in French society. The-editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo said that the publication would continue to encourage the mockery of Islam ‘until Islam is just as banal as Catholicism.’ Well that sounds just like the kind of thing you would say to instigate those who are blinded by religious fanaticism to the extent that they have lost their humanity. Isn’t it better to let sleeping dogs lie? It is clear that the predominantly white group of writers and editors of the Charlie Hebdo magazine has been trying to pass off racism and discrimination as freedom of speech. To argue that these white cartoonists have a right to free speech is to oppose the right to make complaints against xenophobic and homophobic attacks. Turning a blind eye to discrimination becomes as easy as claiming, ‘Je suis Charlie’.
Portraying black people as animals and the rape victims of Boko Haram as benefit seekers is not a harmless joke. These disgusting representations are in no way humourous and do not hold the strong political message of satire. They are in fact solid proof that prejudice is so deep-rooted within society that such degrading words and images that cause people from black and ethnic groups to be treated as sub-human are a perfectly acceptable way to exercise freedom of speech.
Charlie Hebdo’s insults seem like high school humour that has escalated out of control. Only they are far more dangerous and are costing lives. It is comparable to the time when it was seen as acceptable to laugh in the face of those who were different-before you grew up and realised that you wanted tolerance for your differences too-but one that is encouraged and not condemned by any sort of authority.
In a world where black people are being murdered daily in the streets by policemen who are walking away from the crime scene without being persecuted, where closet racists are coming out following the announcement of a black James Bond, where white privilege still exists, it is imperative to create a culture of forgiveness and acceptance. A world where our beliefs, race and backgrounds, however strange or different, are celebrated rather than turning us into targets.
There is no better way for you to insult those who have lost their lives in the Paris attacks than to use your freedom of speech to incite and breed more hatred in society. Learn to differentiate between satire and outright prejudice against those who are already misrepresented and misunderstood. How many more innocent lives will it take before we learn that freedom of speech does not mean that we are free from the responsibility and consequence of that speech?
Words: Yashi Banymadhub
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham