It’s a heart-breaking time for France, and by extension, for all of us. Twenty people are dead. This time of loss presents us with an interesting opportunity to examine the state of the world, and ourselves, and to try and do better. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I am not “Charlie” and I believe that if we think beyond the hashtag, that many of us would feel the same way.
For anyone who knows me even superficially, I think it goes without saying that I do not believe in shooting people because I disagree with them. I also believe that the fewer guns there are in the world, the safer it will be, period. That said, I don’t feel that the type of satire produced by Charlie Habdo is funny. Before the massacre, I was already familiar with their work and the controversy it had spawned, and I found their brand of humour to be pedestrian at best. In the context of our world today, mocking Islam is not just a bit of friendly ribbing, and anyone who isn’t living in a cave knows that. Charlie Habdo doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Xenophobia and casual racism are thriving in France right now. As debt and financial instability grow, people naturally seek a scapegoat, and the Muslim population is low-hanging fruit. It sounds familiar….a bit like Post-WW1 Germany, 2.0.
In 2010, France banned the wearing of burqas in public. Sarkozy was patted on the back, told he should be proud. It was supposed to be the “tip of the iceberg” of ending oppression.
Because burqas are oppressive to women, but the barrage of nipped, tucked, photo-shopped, nearly-nude women we have rammed down our throats everywhere we look is not.
Last year, Pauline Marois tried to ban the wearing of any religious garb by public servants in Quebec, and the issue single-handedly lost her the election AND her job. So while I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, I don’t think that in our hearts Canada and France are much alike.
Some European news outlets have argued that the press is not obligated to be sensitive to cultural differences, that Charlie Habdo is funny, and makes fun of everyone. I hate to split hairs, but someone who is “shitty to everyone” is still shitty at the end of the day. Would the same type of “humour” fly in Canada? If we’re being honest, I think not. After Olivia Chow’s unsuccessful bid for mayor, the Toronto Star was forced to apologize for printing a blatantly racist and sexist comic featuring her riding on her late husband’s coattails. Ernest Zundel went to prison multiple times for publishing antisemitic materials, materials he produced on his own coin! If we don’t hold the press accountable for what they print, if we don’t expect them to abide by a certain standard of sensitivity and integrity, then what differentiates the New York Post from the National Enquirer? Absolutely nothing.
I have plenty of opinions of my own, but there is a difference between having a right to your opinion, and having the right to harm others with it. As a parent, I don’t defend bullying. I rail against it. Maybe I’m hopelessly obtuse, but being hurtful and cruel is bullying, even if you call it “freedom of the press.” We encourage our kids to be decent and tolerant, and yet we defend the rights of adults who should know better to single out and denigrate people who are different from them. I feel for the families of the dead, and I don’t believe that violence is the answer, but I’m not Charlie. I want to be better than Charlie. I want us all to be.