Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2015 > Je ne suis pas Charlie; Sorry, I am not Charlie

Mainstream, VOL LIII No 6, January 31, 2015 - Republic Day Special

Je ne suis pas Charlie; Sorry, I am not Charlie

Saturday 31 January 2015, by Nandita Haksar

The French President, Francois Hollande, immediately declared that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an act of terrorism and an assault on freedom of the press. Michael J. Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA and now a consultant to CBS News and topmost national security professional, stated categorically:

This is the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the attacks in London in July of 2005. The motive here is absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organisation that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad. So, no doubt in my mind that this is terrorism.

The Indian media, following in the footsteps of the Western media, has portrayed the murder of twelve people at Charlie Hebdo offices as an assault on freedom of speech and expression. Karan Thapar declared that “Nous somme Charlie—We are all Charlie.”

The debate turned to how far freedom of speech and expression can include freedom to offend; and many people pointed out that freedom of speech was not an absolute freedom. And the Indian media promptly condemned Mani Shankar Aiyer for saying that the motive for the murders was not merely freedom of speech; and some condemned Sonia Gandhi for not condemning Mani Shankar.

No one seemed to have noticed the irony of demanding that Mani Shankar be silenced and at the same time proclaiming “Je suisCharlie”.

Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Muslims (sorry, “Moslems”) should be “held responsible” for terrorism unless they destroy jihadism.

The News Corp boss suggested that even peaceful Muslims must take responsibility for the actions of terrorists until the ‘jihadist cancer’ is destroyed.

He wrote: ‘Maybe most Moslems are peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.’

He then maintained his stance, telling more than 500,000 followers that ‘political correctness’ made for ‘denial and hypocrisy’.

He added:

Big jihadist danger looming everywhere from Philippines to Africa to Europe to the US.

Political correctness makes for denial and hypocrisy.

A journalist pointed out that it’s bigoted and Islamophobic to hold Muslims responsible for the acts of terrorist extremists like the Charlie Hebdo attackers, whom they do not support and cannot control, simply because they share the same religion.

Western journalists felt that JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, in her Twitter response to Murdoch gave a fitting reply because she pointed out that if Muslims are somehow automatically responsible for Islamic terrorism, then presumably adherents of other faiths should also be blamed for the terrible things done by their co-religionists.

Keith Rupert Murdoch owns the world’s second largest media conglomerate.

 Said and Cherif Kouachi, Amedy Covlibaly or Hayat Boumediene have no way of making their views heard. Would Charlie Hebdo have published their views?

The Western media did not even think they had views; let alone political views.

But an analysis of the whole incident clearly shows that the political motivations of the two men who committed the murders were not just angry with the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad; the root of their outrage was something much deeper.

University of Michigan Middle East scholar Juan Cole told Al Jazeera that Cherif and Said Kouachi had been “radicalised by the war in Iraq, long before the cartoon issue ever erupted”. And in a worldview honed a decade ago by rage over the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were taken as affirmation of a notion that Western powers were waging a war against Muslims.

Amedy Covlibaly was said to be a close friend of the Kouachi brothers and he held hostages in the Kosher Supermarket demanding that the two brothers be released. He told the hostages that “they must stop attacking the Islamic State, unveiling our women, stop putting our brothers in prison”.

Amedy was referring to the laws passed in France banning Muslim women from wearing the veil; and the fact that about 60 to 70 per cent of all inmates in the country’s prison system are Muslim, according to Muslim leaders, socio-logists and researchers, though Muslims make up only about 12 per cent of the country’s population.

All the four named gunmen and gun woman belonged to families of immigrants who came from North Africa; from countries which were French colonies. These children have little hope of doing well or getting a good education. Their horrendous living conditions led to the riots in 2005 which spread right across the country.

Added to this is the growing Islamophobia and the prejudice has deepened. They are left with no space to voice their anger and outrage. Many hundreds have gone to Iraq to join the so-called Islamic state.

The vast asymmetry of casualties between the Palestinian and Israelis is a constant source of anger. And the idea that Muslims can have a state of their own where they can live in justice and dignity is attractive.

The truth is that the terror attacks are the only way they are able to give expression to their anger, resentment and outrage. If they had an equal access to the media then I could say Je suis Charlie.

A Catholic priest on an Indian television channel said he did not think Charlie Hebdo should have made fun of the Prophet Mohammad because Muslims did not have the same sense of humour as Christians had.

Invariably the media and terror experts project the terrorist as a person who is a psychopath with humanity. However, in this case the account of the hostage who survived shows the two Kouachi brothers in a different light. Ben Ellery for The Mail and Hannah Roberts for MailOnline interviewed the hostage who survived; he was the owner of the factory where the two gunmen took refuge in Dammartin-En-Goele.

Print works owner Michel Catalano, who was held at gunpoint by the Kouachis, has given an astonishing account of how he joked with the killers—even though he was terrified they would kill him and his colleagues.

‘I brought them the coffee and they were very respectful, calling me Monsieur, like gentlemen,’ said Catalano.

He said he asked them to spare Stefan, his factory manager, who was also there—and the jihadis surprisingly agreed.

Incredibly, the salesman, Didier, shook hands with both the businessman and one of the terrorists, thinking he was an armed police officer in his bulletproof vest until the man said: ‘We don’t kill civilians.’

So how did Catalano feel about the two brothers who held him, his colleagues — and in many ways his entire country — captive now they were dead?

‘I am happy to be alive and I cannot say if I am happy they are dead,’ he replied. ‘They must have had some humanity because they kept me alive.’

None of the family members of the 17 victims of the terror attacks took a press conference. None of their wives, children, brothers or sisters were produced before the media except the brother and family members of the French policeman who was killed.

Why? Because the policeman was 42-year-old Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim and of Algerian origin.

Ahmed’s brother told the media that his the brother was “a pillar of the family”, and “his responsibilities did not prevent him from being a caring son, a teasing brother, a generous uncle and a loving companion”.

One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither colour or religion. I want to make another point: don’t tar everybody with the same brush, don’t burn mosques—or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring our dead back and it won’t appease the families.

Why did the families of the other victims come out and say that they did not state they were not anti-Muslim? That they did not support the killings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are many people who are uncomfortable with the slogan Je suisCharlie. Many media people have expressed their reservations on Charlie Hebdo’s satire as being distasteful.

Others have expressed their apprehension that the debate around freedom of speech will only lead to polarisation. The only beneficiaries of this “us against them” arguments leads to bolstering the Far Right and the Islamic funda-mentalists.

Europe’s self-image has been consistently been defined in opposition to a less civilised, non-European “other”. And this ideology has served to justify some of the worst kinds of brutalities in history.

Remember that Liberal and Socialist Huma-nism have a progressive, liberating side. But this is not their only side. Liberals, socialists and humanists have been known to be colonialists, Eurocentrics and racists.

The murders of the 17 victims are the result of years of colonial and imperial policies which continue now in the name of war against terror. The West continues to occupy foreign lands and wage wars against people in the name of human rights; and those who are denied their dignity cannot be expected to respect the freedom of expression of the West while they are denied democratic space to express their outrage.

I can hear Arnab Goswami ask: “Are you against the killing or are you not?”

Yes, I am against the killing of journalists or any other civilians. But, there is a big BUT which the people like Arnab Goswami do not allow to be expressed. Arnab says he has a right to freedom of expression but denies that freedom to those who oppose his views. Only the TV anchors have the right to offend. The debate in France is very relevant to our situation here in India. But here the debate has yet to begin.

The author is a human rights lawyer and writer.