Qui suis-je? – Seth Dunn, United Kingdom

In the hours after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there was a global, reflexive and indignant response to the violence against those in the press. The attack on the office on Rue Nicolas-Appert was horrendous, murderous, shocking and was condemned by almost every major political and religious group around the world.


Watching the aftermath and ensuing manhunt across northern france from my laptop in Nottingham , England, I was sickened. It seemed so mindless, so depraved. Why attack a magazine? Why shoot defenseless political cartoonists? Was it specifically targeted, or an attack on free speech as a concept? Two police officers were killed, one in the Charlie Hebdo attack, the other in a related shooting. Then a Jewish supermarket was attacked and hostages taken, four of whom were killed. The picture was becoming clearer, at least in the mainstream media. This was an attack on everything the western world held dear. The right to free speech, the rule of the law and the safety of minorities. It called for an outraged response. The hashtag #jesuischarlie trended on social media. Candles were lit in and crowds gathered to sing to sing La Marseillaise. The French tricolor was projected onto buildings in London. It was announced that a huge march would take place in Paris to honor the fallen and celebrate free speech.

Meanwhile in Northern Nigeria, the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram were burning, raping and shooting their way through the town of Baga. Weeks later, it is still unclear how many people were killed. The most conservative estimates suggest 100 people, but it has been widely reported as up to 2000. Amnesty International have said that satellite imagery shows 620 buildings were destroyed. Media coverage was minimal. You see, those people in Baga were not Westerners. They didn’t live in a famous city of culture. They didn’t die for a righteous cause. They didn’t fit the frame.

Most of us had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before the gunshots and police sirens echoed through the normally peaceful streets of the 11th Arrondissement and Dammartin-en-Goele. We all claim to support free speech, but many of us don’t know what Charlie was saying.

The cartoons the magazine published were grossly offensive to people of all faiths and political backgrounds. They were published to shock, offend and provoke an angry response. Professor Norman G. Finkelstein compared the magazine and the political climate to that of 1930’s Germany. Back then, it was the Jews who were the perfect target for derogatory comments and satirical cartoons. They were unpopular in across Europe, blamed for being different and falsely implicated in every kind of crime and conspiracy. Now it is Arabs and Muslims. They dress differently, speak different languages and have a different belief system but the prejudice shown at them a society is the same as towards the Jews in the past. Demonstrations against Islam are held in many EU countries. The xenophobic far right wing political parties paint Muslims as public enemy number one. We all take pride in being able to criticise all religions and ideologies without fear of reprisals. We can laugh at whoever the hell we like and never be held to account for it.

“But when somebody is down and out, desperate, destitute, when you mock them, when you mock a homeless person, that is not satire,” Finkelstein said.

“That is, I give you the word, sadism. There’s a very big difference between satire and sadism.Charlie Hebdo is sadism. It’s not satire”

When Islamic extremists have carried out horrendous atrocities, we demand the moderate and ordinary Muslims apologize for the violence. Yet most of us are silent about the 134 000 civilians killed in Iraq as a direct or indirect result of the Multinational Force invasion in 2003. We are silent about the anarchy caused by the NATO intervention in Libya. We are silent about the effects of arming Syrian rebel groups. At the rally of world leaders in Paris on the 11th of January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in solidarity with the murdered magazine staff, despite the publication having fired a cartoonist in the past after accusations of anti-semitism. The Gaza strip lies in ruins due to Israeli military operations in the summer of 2014. The deeper we dig into this story the more confusing and multi faceted it becomes. Hypocracy looms around every corner.

I am not Charlie. If you are a humanitarian, if you can muster even the smallest amount of empathy, if you can take a deep breath and walk away from the crowds crying ‘‘free speech’’, you cannot be Charlie either.

I’m passionate lover of the rule of law and the right to free expression. I’m a vigorous, outspoken critic of violence being used in any circumstances. It’s impossible to justify even one bullet being fired against a writer or illustrator, no matter how mindless and crass their opinions are. In life, we face the same choice over and over again. Shall we be constructive or destructive? Shall we build bridges or burn them? I know which choice Charlie took. So I have little sympathy. I know which choice the Kouachi brothers took. So I have little sympathy.

The fact that we view shooting people dead as an act of terrorism doesn’t change the fact that insulting other people is not an act of heroism.

{Please note that this is the journalist’s opinion. This is in no way a summary of the events that occurred in France, but rather, an opinion on the events that occurred in France}

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