On 7 January, 2015, two gunmen attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and killed twelve people. The gunmen identified themselves as members of Al-Qaeda. In response to the attack upon free speech many, many media outlets and individuals took up the slogan “je suis Charlie”. I have a big problem with this.
Charlie Hebdo’s output was hate speech. Previous hateful Charlie Hebdo covers include (non-exhaustive):
*Mohammed on all fours facing away from the viewer, his scrotum and penis visible, and his anus covered by a small star.
*An unflattering image of pregnant Muslim women shouting “Don’t touch our benefits!” with the caption “The sex slaves of Boko Haram are angry” (in reference to the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping).
*Mohammed appearing in a pornographic film, holding a camera pointing at himself and saying “And my ass? You like my ass?”.
Are these cherry-picked examples? Sure – I’m not going to waste your time and mine by listing the non-racist covers.
Have we forgotten that there were race riots in Paris just ten years ago, in 2005? Do we really need to point out that being Islam is a pretty good proxy for being an immigrant in France? Maybe, for people from the US who do lack a social safety net, we do need to explain that when people in Europe shout about immigrants and benefits, it’s not really because they care about balancing the country’s book; social safety nets are generally a tiny part of national expenditure, an order of magnitude smaller than defence. It’s because they want someone to blame.
There are respectful and firm ways to reject the religion of other people. Years ago I drew Mohammed, in reaction to those Danish cartoonists being killed: I searched Wikipedia for a painting of him, found one of him holding a pipe and a scroll after signing a peace treaty after a battle, and copied it out as best I could. It wasn’t the most respectful thing I’ve ever done – at the time I was angry at all religions – but it wasn’t hateful in the way that a drawing of him, cock out on all fours, is.
So if you’ve said “je suis Charlie” without stopping to think about what narrative you’re supporting, the narrative in which Muslims are grasping immigrants terrorists sucking money out of Europe then all I’ve heard you say is “je suis stupide”.