Just Who Is Charlie?

Photo: Reuters

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. I am not Charlie. These are the taglines that have been popping up all over the internet over the past few days in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack that left more than a dozens dead. 

There are those who identified with those in Charlie Hebdo, and view the attack as an attack on the freedom of expression. They raised pens in solidarity with one another, and advocated the rights for people to draw cartoons however they wanted. Some pushed for the cartoons to be reprinted more and to be splashed across different places, as some form of revenge after the attacks. As if that they were saying, "Hah, trying to bring down Charlie? Here's more publicity for the cartoon you hate so much! How do you feel now, huh?"

Then there are those who identified instead with the Muslim police officer who died defending the magazine that criticized his faith. To them he was the true icon for the freedom of expression, a symbol of self-sacrifice. The quote from Voltaire became their rallying cry. "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it. "

And lastly there are those who see themselves different than Charlie, who think that what Charlie Hebdo did was wrong and in no way an expression of free speech as painted by others. But rather as an act of discrimination against the weaker minority. It was not satire, but an act of bullying. While they kept repeating that no one deserved to be killed over a bunch of cartoons, you can't help but to feel that there is an undertone hidden beneath all the walls of text. That Charlie Hebdo should not have done what they have done. It was not right, and it invited trouble.

But of course, the number of responses in people are far more than what I have mentioned above. Everyone seemed to have their own view in response to the situation, their own right and wrong. So much until it seems almost too confusing to sieve through all the opinions. Just what is right or wrong in this situation? What should have been done and what should not have been done? What is the correct response to all the questions?

Whether their drawings count as a freedom expression? Does freedom of expression includes the right to provoke? Does their action constitute bullying or discrimination, since it is aimed at a minority that is already facing hardship in France? Or whether it is aimed at the larger inconsistencies within the religion of Islam, a form of satire to get people thinking?  Are the drawings aimed at getting people to think, or are they merely an insult thrown at you like those whom a bully uses? Is it okay for people to get angry then over the drawings? 

To be honest, you can analyze the whole day and still not come up with a definite answer. We might want to find a narrative, a theme or a reason to explain the event, or an appropriate response to the tragedy, but the thing is, there is none. Other than the sadness over the unnecessary death of 12 people. 

We humans would want to focus on the things we want to, evident from the numerous directions different articles have taken over the internet, and there are just too many factors to cover in this event to give it a coherent narrative. From Charlie Hebdo's intention in their work to what the attackers were hoping to achieve when they went to kill.

I think that in the eyes of Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists, their drawings were a form of expression to stimulate discussion, to provoke thought in the uncomfortable or taboo areas such as religion. It was a noble act in their eyes. Whereas in the attackers' eyes, what Charlie Hebdo was doing is rubbing salt to the wound, a blatant show of power and disrespect. In a underprivileged situation, they were looking for a way to restore their own pride and meaning, and taking the lives of those who insult something they belonged to was the only noble act they could perform. And in a way, from the eyes of both Charlie and the attackers, both of their actions had similar function. It gave them purpose and it validated themselves. Which was why they did it.

Perhaps it is useless to judge and analyze from our own viewpoint. I guess it all depends on our own perspective at the end of the day in doing the actions that we do, as we all adopt different reasoning and approaches to explain life. Perhaps the best way to prevent things like this from happening again is to not say what have went wrong, but instead to see the world from both Charlie's and the attackers' viewpoint, and to bring them to a common ground. To have a shared understanding of each other. Perhaps only then the grievances can be addressed and everyone would have a common framework.

And I think it is just too simplistic to reduce everything as a fight to safeguard freedom of expression, or racism and discrimination in France, or the definition of satire, or the fundamentals of Islam. It is too simplistic to just paint the entire tragedy in one colour, because there is just too many factors involved. At the end of the day, I suppose it's just a bad mixture of different causes that eventually led to this tragedy. The attackers were looking for a meaning, the radical imams gave them that and Charlie Hebdo painted themselves as a ripe target.


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