“If you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.” – Neil Gaiman
The first time I heard of the satirical French newspaper “Charlie Hebdo” was in 2006 after they reprinted some pictures of Muhammad that appeared in Jyllands-Posten the previous year. This had stirred up quite the debate in Scandinavia and Charlie Hebdo’s reprinting brought it into the spotlight even further.
When I heard of the attacks on January 7th I was sad, pissed off and wanted to vent. If there’s anything i’ve learned it is that you can’t really think clearly and are highly likely to say something irrational when you can’t keep a cool head. So, I didn’t.
On January 11th several rallies were held to honor the victims of the attacks and for free speech. One of which were held at Sergels Torg in Stockholm. The participants were encouraged to bring pens to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.
After seeing the footage of policeman Ahmed Merabet being shot I had to do something else so I just focused on other things for a day. Later on I saw an article about the policeman’s brother Malek making a statement. He told the story of what kind of person Ahmed was. How he helped his family after their father died.
Malek said one very poignant thing: “I’m addressing all right now, the racists, the Islamaphobes, the anti-Semites, do not confuse the extremists with Muslims”.
Back in 2006 I wondered why it was such a sensitive subject. I’d grown up in a town where more than 30% were of foreign descent. Myself included. Currently that number is at 39% and increasing by 1,5% each year. Some people see this as a “threat” while others choose to see this as an opportunity. I choose the latter.
I’d been around racial and religious tensions. People disagreed, there was physical violence but there was also some kind of mutual agreement to try and stay the hell out of each others way. I don’t know if things have gotten better through the years but i’d like to think so.
What I never could figure out was why people were so bent on exposing the other religion as “false” or “less worthy” than their own. I grew up in a semi-religious family. When I declared that I wouldn’t go through confirmation tears were shed. I’d always been curious about religion. I still am.
The reason for my confusion was that they had so much in common. Why didn’t they say: “Hey, that’s great! We have that too! Well, we don’t have that but it’s alright that you do.”? Why was there so much emphasis on what made them different when the core message was basically the same?
Also, being something of an outcast I knew that looking at what separates us from each other rather than what connects us doesn’t help us make friends. Neither does trying to fit in. What does? Embracing that we’re all different and wanting to at the very least understand the other point of view.
That’s why I was sad, pissed off and wanted to vent.
I’m all for free speech. From all sides. I’ll never learn so much about others or myself as when I get told something that challenges my beliefs. If I don’t want to hear it? I don’t expose myself to those venues. It’s hard and sometimes things leak through anyway, but there you go. Life.
What I don’t agree with is the approach that Charlie Hebdo takes. I don’t read it. Why? Because I find it non-productive. They have every right to express those opinions and it’s good that they do. It’s just not for me. I prefer Jon Stewart’s take even though I don’t always agree with that either.
The thing that upset me the most is that voices were silenced by violence on both sides and not by education. Nothing was learned here. Yet. If were lucky many of us will look at the aftermath and see that it’s good to question our own beliefs as well as others. But just how should we do it? Is satire a good way to go? Is slamming your fist in the table and yelling effective?
Could it be that the best way is to get to know other people with different opinions than ours and listening rather than just expressing our own beliefs? We aren’t always right. I think that the people at Charlie Hebdo know that. I think that they feel that this is their best way of expressing their beliefs and probably have a deeper insight into these questions than I do and give them credit for.
We’ve come a long way. We can form complex thoughts. Just look at everything around you. The fact that you are reading this and can comprehend is amazing. But, have we come as far as we think? Take a look at the video below and judge for yourself.
Always Be Compassionate.