Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie Hebdo

By now, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris has garnered national attention and solidarity thanks largely in part to a hashtag campaign, #JeSuisCharlie (translated to “I am Charlie”), that social media users have adopted as a show of support for those who were slain, and more notably, the support for the right of ‘free speech’ in the media.

For those who have not yet seen images of the liberal French magazine, the publication is widely known for its highly controversial political cartoons, often caricatures of religion and minorities, namely Islam, that are frankly quite disgusting and tasteless to me.

I will acknowledge first and foremost how deeply horrific of a tragedy the 12 deaths are — my heart goes out to those affected, and I pray with all my soul that the victims are resting in peace. There is never any reason that calls for such senseless violence and to me, the deaths of the 12 have no relation to my problem with the resulting aftermath.

There’s no way around it — I am largely unsettled by the #JeSuisCharlie campaign and what it stands for. While it is true that it has rallied widespread national support and solidarity effectively, there is a glaring problem in the way this support is being framed.

I do not think #JeSuisCharlie stands for the right of a publication to print what they want, free from intimidation or influence. Rather, I feel the campaign is a sloppily transparent attempt at justification for the publication’s racist content and lazy sensationalist methods.

I am not Charlie Hebdo, and I refuse to ever even entertain the thought. While I stand in solidarity with the victims in their wholehearted dedication to their values and their right to publish them, I will never align myself with this brand.

I have been practicing journalism for about seven years now, and I know very well by now that ‘free speech’ does not ever operate in a vacuum of any sort. Certainly, one would hope that a publication of any kind would take enough responsibility upon itself to consider the influence they have on their readers before sending content to print and also be willing to open up forum for outside commentary when needed.

As a journalist, you’re taught to approach topics from a specific angle in order to successfully achieve a desired effect. Charlie Hebdo has branded themselves as a satirical publication, so it is natural that their content would be generative of controversy and outcry.

However, satire in its essence is supposed to be a tool used to skillfully and cleverly point a spotlight at the shortcomings and follies of an individual or an institution with the intention of shaming them into improvement.

There is nothing skillful or clever about Charlie Hebdo depicting Christiane Taubira, France’s black Minister of Justice, as a monkey. There is nothing skillful or clever about them depicting the Nigerian girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram, as welfare queens, or the repeated caricatures of Islamic men as violent, extremist warmongers.

It is lazy, it falls on commonly-used stereotypes and offers nothing new to the conversation other than the intention to shock and offend.

I have only the barest surface knowledge and experience with French politics, so I will not go too deeply into their policies on immigration or minorities. But imagine just how fucking frustrating and humiliating it must be to already walk around with the burden of a stereotype, possibly in fear of violence directed towards you because of your identity, only to see a widely-read publication reaffirming and encouraging all the bad things others think of you.

My problem with #JeSuisCharlie is that it works to divert any sort of constructive criticism about its content by attempting to place crippling guilt on those who may not agree with their form of “satire” — if you don’t support the publication, you clearly have no sympathy for the deaths of the 12 victims.

Frankly, that is bullshit of the highest order. Journalists are maimed, tortured, humiliated and yes, killed, all around the world for their bravery and insistence to publish content despite intimidation and public dissent, but this is a completely different issue from what #JeSuisCharlie is trying to rally support for.

Charlie Hebdo is looking for a way to gloss over the nastiness they publish, and any further discussion on the martyrdom of journalists or the bravery of publishing work despite intimidation needs to be separated from the poor excuse of ‘free speech’ to justify offensive content. Je ne suis pas Charlie, pas du tout.

Shannon Ho is a fourth year English major. She can be reached at shannoyh@uci.edu.