I am not Charlie Hebdo. The Kouachi brothers are not Islam.
Signs reading “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” have sprung up in demonstrations offline and online around the world in the wake of a shooting in which two brothers shot and killed 12 people working for the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. The meaning intended by carriers of the “Je Suis Charlie” sign varies, making the “Je Suis Charlie” message ambivalent.
“England’s Terrier” wrote using the phase this afternoon that “I think every newspaper in the free world should print those Cartoons.. and show Defiance to Islam..
#JeSuisCharlie.” England’s Terrier describes himself as a “leader of the Blue Hand international movement against Islam and Political Correctness.” That description is wildly inflated; the “Blue Hand international movement” appears to be little more than a Twitter hashtag occupied by England’s Terrier and a few of his chums associated with UKIP, the far-right anti-immigrant UK Independence Party in Great Britain. Still, UKIP is a real political force in Britain that has been gaining parliamentary seats in recent elections, and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage taken to the airwaves to simultaneously declare “Je Suis Charlie” and that the attack against Charlie Hebdo is the outcome of unfortunate religious tolerance and multiculturalism. Self-described “lifelong conservative” Jane OrthoA is more direct: “Sad it took the mass execution of cartoonist to get the media to acknowledge we are under attack.”
But we are not under attack, and in that sense I AM NOT CHARLIE. The cartoonists who exercised free speech are dead because of it, and I AM NOT DEAD. To declare that “Je Suis Charlie” in the sense that “Je Suis Mort” or “Je Suis La Victime” is a the self-aggrandizing act of drama queens and demagogues. The brothers Kouachi killed 12 people, yes. The act was dastardly, yes. But that is 12 people out of 7.2 billion people on the planet. 12 dead people out of 7.2 billion people on the planet is no reason for utterly safe people in the UK and US to run around as if there were pieces of shrapnel literally headed their way. To say “I am Charlie” as a way of affecting injury is also to trivialize the difference between myself — NOT DEAD — and the brave Charlie Hebdo journalists, who ARE DEAD AND WHO KNEW THEY MIGHT DIE. I honor the courage of those who worked for Charlie Hebdo to express their ideas while receiving death threats. I scoff at the couch-cushion outrage artists who seek to seize the mantle of victimhood in order to wage righteous retribution when they are not actually victims.
The Kouachi brothers are also not Islam. In their brief messages above Jane OrthoA and England’s Terrier are not only declaring herself a victim of attack when they are not… they are supposing into imagined existence some monolithic Islam that is carrying out attacks. It just isn’t so. There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. 2 of them just carried out an attack on Charlie Hebdo. 1,599,999,997 of them did not. Would it be any more reasonable to declare that when Christian terrorists in the Central African Republic slaughter Muslims, all of Christendom is engaged in an attack on Islam? Of course not. Those Christian terrorists do not equal Christianity. The Kouchi brothers do not equal Islam.
It is only in one sense that I believe I MUST BE CHARLIE, and that is by doing one thing Charlie Hebdo did, perhaps doing it better, perhaps doing it worse, but really, sincerely trying: it is my responsibility to continue openly examining religious ideas and mentioning fault where I find it, just as we ought to do with ideas in general. If everyone does it, extremists won’t be able to stop it through intimidation. As Pete Seeger might have put it, die Gedanken müssen sind frei: