As you’ve seen over the past week, the world has had its eyes on Paris, France, where 8 members of the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and four others were killed by a small terrorist cell. The reason given for the attack stem from the paper’s political cartoons featuring the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has since claimed responsibility for the attack on Charlie Hebdo, stating, according to CNN, that the shooting had been planned for years.
In its latest issue, Charlie Hebdo released a cover with a crying Muhammad holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign and stating, “All is Forgiven.” 5 million copies are being printed and many copies at newsstands have sold out.
Tons of people around the world (including Muslim countries) have come out in support of Charlie Hebdo with their own cartoons and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie:
— expost (@Expost_it) January 14, 2015
— BBC Trending (@BBCtrending) January 14, 2015
— Frederic Martel (@martelf) January 14, 2015
— Boing Boing (@BoingBoing) January 13, 2015
And the rally in support of the paper had about 1 million participants, including world dignitaries. The Obama Administration has come under fire for not sending someone (particularly the President) to the rally, and now Pres. Obama states he regrets not sending a high-profile official to the event.
There are a lot of things to discuss when it comes to this tragedy. First, it’s a horrible thing that these people, including the four hostages that were killed in the kosher market attack, were killed. Second, the attack on free speech is something to be concerned about. However, there have also been arguments on Twitter and in real life about what the limits to free speech actually are. Just how “free” is free speech?
Depicting the prophet Mohammad is forbidden in Islam. Yet, Charlie Hebdo uses their right to free speech to depict Muhammad, which has made many Muslims upset as well as some non-Muslims like the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue mostly because it seems disrespectful not only to people’s religious beliefs, but to people’s culture. This argument, along with other arguments about whether Charlie Hebdo cartoons are racist, have led to the anti-Charlie Hebdo hashtag #JeNeSuisCharlie:
— GuardianUS (@GuardianUS) January 12, 2015
You have a right to expression, but also a responsibility that your expression not target the victims of prejudice. #JeNeSuisCharlie
— Zooey Glass (@literallylevin) January 9, 2015
#JeNeSuisCharlie. Free speech comes with responsibility, and I do not support this magazine which is disgusting.
— matthew (@mattsjunk) January 8, 2015
Third, the week of killing, including the kosher market, reveals several divides in French culture. It’s been widely reported that in general, Muslims are, in many ways, segregated and disenfranchised in French society, which goes back to France’s rule of Algeria. This kind of split in society could have led for the people comprising the terrorist cell to be lured to Al-Qaeda. Filmmaker Luc Besson has addressed this in his open letter to young Muslims, as translated by Deadline. Besson writes:
My brother, if you knew how badly I hurt for you today, you and your beautiful religion that has been so sullied, humiliated, and singled out. Forgotten are your strength, your energy, your humour, your heart, your fraternity. It’s unfair and together we will repair this injustice. We are millions who love you and who are going to help you. Let’s start at the beginning. What is the society we’re offering you today?
It’s based on money, profit, segregation and racism. In some suburbs, unemployment for people under 25 is 50%. You are marginalised because of your colour or your first name. You’re questioned 10 times a day, you’re crowded into apartment blocks and no one represents you. Who could live and thrive under such conditions?
Besson also calls on French business owners to help create opportunities for young Muslims and help erase the economic disparity.
Also, the attacks themselves create a rift within Muslim and Jewish communities, since the kosher market attack is seen as being based in anti-Semitism.
Fourth, with many Muslim leaders and groups coming out and condemning the attacks, many Muslims (and non-Muslims, for that matter) wonder why all Muslims have to apologize for the acts of a few rogues who don’t represent all Muslims or the nature of Islam. The idea that every Muslim must apologize for the attacks as if they themselves committed it suggests inherent racism and bias. In other words, it suggests the idea that all Muslims support the attacks unless they say otherwise.
Two hashtags that have come out of this sentiment include #JeSuisDalia and #JeSuisAhmed. As Zafar Siddiqui, a co-founder of the Islamic Resource Group wrote for the Star Tribune, “The generalizations that we see in response to the terrorist attack in France are blurring the reality. These two hashtags give us a better understanding of the reality – an individual who paid with is life to protect others, and another individual who is being asked to answer for someone else’s crime.”
#JeSuisAhmed stems from the name of a French Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet, killed trying to protect Charlie Hebdo. #JeSuisDalia comes from Dalia Mogahed the director of research at the Institute Ffor Social Policy and Understanding, who takes on the notion that all Muslims have to apologize for the actions of a few, as if those few represent all of Islam and all Muslims.
— John van Nijnatten (@GreenpeaceJohn) January 12, 2015
— #SneakinAndGeakin (@Felonious_munk) January 9, 2015
It’s great that this tragedy has been covered extensively by the world media. But there’s another tragedy that has only begun to be recently covered by the media after an outcry from social media, and even still it’s not creating the same kind of waves as the Charlie Hebdo attack. In Baga, Nigeria, 2000 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, were killed by Boko Haram, and has been called the terrorist group’s deadliest massacre yet. So, how come 2000 people can be killed and no one knows about it? The Guardian states that it’s a multi-pronged response as to why the massacre was largely ignored by the world media, including the media of several African nations. The site states that a lack of resources, attacks on journalists, and isolation has led to the news to go unreported until now. But there’s also the feeling that because it happened in Africa, a country that hasn’t ever really been on America’s news radar (at least not in a positive way, despite the many positive stories coming out of Africa), America (at least) didn’t feel compelled to cover it. This sentiment can be felt in what Simon Allison wrote for the Daily Maverick. Allison addressed why the African media didn’t cover the story and how it shows how even Africa has accepted the notion that Western lives matter more than African ones. “[O]ur outrage and solidarity over the Paris massacre is also a symbol of how we as Africans neglect Africa’s own tragedies, and prioritise western lives over our own,” he wrote. The frustration over the lack of coverage of this massacre in the media led to the hashtag #IAmNigeria.
So, with all of this said, there’s a lot to be learned. I have my own conclusions, but I can’t really force-feed my ideas on this particular idea onto you. You have to come away with your own. But I will say that the one definite thing is that despite arguments about free speech and French identity, these two tragedies should have been covered with the same fervor. Unfortunately, there’s now a level of hipster glamour associated with #JeSuisCharlie, what with the allure of fighting for free speech and freedom of expression (and perhaps because it happened in an place like Paris, which immediately captures the imagination). But just because the Baga tragedy didn’t happen in a glamourous place or doesn’t have as catchy of a hashtag doesn’t mean that it’s any less important. Both tragedies should have gotten equal coverage and both should be met with the same outrage, grief, and desire for togetherness.