Just as a heads up, this post is going to contain more politics and swearing than my blog usually does. If that offends you, come back for the post after this. It might contain kittens.
Yesterday something very tragic happened.
In France, three men, spurred on by religious ideology and religious-fueled hatred, stormed the headquarters of a satirical paper Charle Hebdo and killed a number of people, including a police officer who attempted to stop them. While there they were heard to say things like “Allahu Akhbar!” (God is good) and that they had avenged the Prophet.
The staff of Charle Hebdo, you see, really didn’t care for Muslims or Islam (or, really, a lot of other people). This wasn’t even the first time they’d been attacked; back in 2011 their offices were firebombed via Molotov after publishing a cartoon featuring the Prophet Mohammed. This was a continuation of that past violence.
Since then I’ve been seeing a number of people express “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.” Many of the people who are expressing this do so because they see the attacks on Charle Hebdo as an assault on the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression. And you know what? They’re right. In many ways the attack on Charle Hebdo was all of that, it was that group of three men saying, “Speak disrespectfully (or at all) about our religion and this is what you get.” Speech should be free, free from the threat of violence (from anyone) and censorship (from a state or organization of authority). No group, no belief, should be free from criticism, condemnation, or mocking (Christopher Hitchens had some very cogent things to say on the topic). These people saying they are Charlie see the assault on those ideals, just as much as the shootings that happened, as a terrorist act, meant to quell any and all criticism of Islam or the actions of a select few of people who the majority of Muslims would probably wish they could load into a giant slingshot and shoot into the sun.
All that being said, I do not join in with the “Je suis Charlie” sentiment, even though I agree with those people who are. Why?
Well, to be honest, they seem like assholes.
Consider this cartoon by them:
Consider the racist caricature of African women. Now consider that this was their response when Boko Haran stormed several villages, slaughtered the male inhabitants, and kidnapped the young women of those villages to use as sexual slaves. The text bubble roughly translates to “Hands off our welfare checks.” So, not only are they making light of the fact that a large group of young women were kidnapped solely to be raped over and over again, until pregnant according to the cartoon, they’re then the stereotype of greedy welfare recipients.
Compassionate bunch of swell guys, no? If you really want to see more examples of their art, here you go.
Back in 2012 a guy by the name of Floyd Corkins II approached the headquarters of the Family Research Council and, while armed, attempted to gain access to the building to do violence (and, in the process of being stopped by the security guard, shot the man in the arm). He opposed their points of view, the way they spoke about gays. Corkins, who had served as a LGBTQ-center volunteer, had chosen the FRC for their ideology and for the things they said. Thankfully he was stopped before he could kill anyone.
The FRC is a pretty bigoted group of homophobes who openly oppose things like equal rights for homosexual couples, gay adoption, and a number of other issues relating to homosexuals and homosexuality and have thus been branded a hate group by the likes of the Southern Poverty Law Center (who have cataloged the FRC’s particular ideology thoroughly). Tony Perkins, their head, is a closed and small-minded individual who would rather see homosexuals made second-class citizens than possibly give them equal rights. He is, of course, free to do so, free to say those things. He’s free to spend money and political power in an attempt to further disenfranchise a minority of Americans who struggle daily under stigma. He is free to do so because in the US we have enshrined the idea of the freedom of speech (expression or thought) second only to the freedom of our beliefs. With all of his hatred that he pours forth daily, he was exercising his freedom of speech.
Would many of my liberal friends (and I myself am a liberal) say that they stood with Tony Perkins in the face of someone attempting to use violence to silence him? It’s essentially the same thing as what happened yesterday, someone representing a minority used violence against a member of the majority who has been crapping on them in pretty serious and continuous ways. Would my friends declare “I am Tony Perkins”? Probably not, because he’s a bigoted asshole not unlike some earlier discussed assholes.
As I said before, I believe in the importance of freedom of speech and, unfortunately, freedom of speech is a double-edged sword because while it keeps us all safe from the threat of violence (or makes sure that the law will side against those who would use violence to stifle speech), it also allows people to use their words to hurt others. The same rights that allow me to stand beside people and defend them by shouting down the haters are the same rights that allow someone to give me cause to defend others, to use slurs, to troll people, to be hateful and harmful and in many ways dangerous. But that has to be the way it is, because if you start chipping away at that freedom, if you start saying “This thing you cannot talk about” or “You can only talk about this in respectful tones”, you open the door to exceptions and if you do that then the precedent of those exceptions could be expanded to stifle more and more speech. Already we see protesters, despite Constitutional protections of peaceful assembly, being cordoned off to “free-speech zones” (as if speech isn’t free elsewhere) and being arrested if they aren’t in that zone. We can’t afford to weaken that freedom more.
So while I support the freedom of speech that allows people like Tony Perkins and the FRC, and Charle Hebdo, to shit on those beneath them, I do not support them doing so. I oppose them most vociferously. I’ve seen people try to claim that the staff of Charle Hebdo were brave or heroic for what they were doing in the threat of violence; let’s be clear, they were being racist and intolerant assholes using satire to be hurtful towards others they believed to be powerless, and, unfortunately, they found out yesterday that they weren’t as well-protected as they thought. They hid behind freedom of speech to legally protect their crappy opinions but legal protections rarely deflect bullets. Despite their shitty behavior, the violence done against the staff (and police officer) is horrible and wrong, just as the attempt by Corkins to murder people at the FRC is wrong.
As with the FRC back in 2012, yesterday Charle Hebdo were the victims of terrible violence. Because of that violence there are families and friends in mourning, who are suffering now, and for that I am sorry. No one should have their loved ones taken from them in such a fashion.
But that in no way makes them heroes. In no way does the violence done to them make their behavior any less atrocious, any less offensive, any less wrong. While I will support their right to say it, and do so by speaking out against the violence done to them, I will not support their message, is fear and intolerance and hate hiding behind satire. The last time something like this happened, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said, “We don’t question the right of something like this to be published. We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.”
I am not Charlie.