ETA: Here's a bunch of articles that have come out since I wrote this piece that I concur with, so some of your vitriolic comments can be spread out to all of us at once:
On Satire – a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks
Trolls and Martyrdom: Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie
Charlie Hebdo: Understanding is the least we owe the dead
Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie: On The Charlie Hebdo Massacre And Duelling Extremisms
Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech — It Was About War
Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist (I disagree with heroic but I understand what they're getting at)
No, we’re not all Charlie Hebdo, nor should we be
So, I'm generally pretty anti-censorship. I mean fuck, I just worked on a porn where we gently poked fun at the new British porn content laws by enacting all of them in a playful, consensual space. I am a big fan of art, and using humour to hopefully make people think and change their minds.
That said, I do not believe that racist, homophobic language is satire. I think it's abusive, and I think it punches down, harshly and often. And that was exactly what sold magazines for Charlie Hebdo.
France is kinda known for racism, particularly against Muslim folks, so I find it difficult to treat a magazine where that's their primary "hook" to not be a reflection of widespread racist, xenophobic attitudes. I couldn't believe it when I found myself agreeing with the Catholic League on anything, but yeah- Muslims have a right to be angry.
"Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him." - Bill from the Catholic League
Reminder, folks- there is no such thing as "just a joke". Humour impacts how people treat others, especially marginalized people. From that humour study I feel I quote all the time:
“By making light of the expression of prejudice, disparagement humor communicates a message of tacit approval or tolerance of discrimination against members of the targeted group. Our theory proposes that the recipient must accept the disparagement humor for a shared norm of tolerance of discrimination to actually emerge. Furthermore, our research suggests that people high in prejudice are more likely to accept disparagement humor and thus perceive a norm of tolerance of discrimination in the immediate context. Finally, people high in prejudice are likely to use the activated normative standard as a source of self-regulation, or a guide for interpreting discriminatory events encountered in that context.”
Additionally I'm really struggling with this expectation of freedom of speech not being related to "freedom from the government prosecuting you". Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences, after all. And supporting a massively racist magazine's freedom to incite hatred seems pretty fucked up. You can't look at the shit Charlie Hebdo printed, making fun of raped girls as welfare check grabbers, or depicting black women as monkeys, and tell me that it's "just a joke" and they were fucking martyrs of free speech, here. I hate how many people are saying "terrorists can't kill an idea"- an idea like sexism, racism, rape culture, and xenophobia. Thank goodness those ideas can live on! Phew! Otherwise what's a journalist to do?!?!?!
I don't think that shooting up the Charlie Hebdo office was ethically Right with a capital R, ok? But I do think it's understandable (and I'm not alone). I think that after extended periods of police violence, if a protester attacks a cop, that's pretty understandable too. Do I think that's the best way to go about things? Not really, but I think to pretend that people being abused by people in power should just turn the other cheek or as those people in power to stop abusing them is the best method is fucking absurd. THAT DIDN'T EVEN WORK FOR JESUS.
ETA: OH MY GOD READERS
Saying that I understand why a culture that is being systematically and individually mistreated and ignored by the privileged in power may eventually spawn some folks who resort to violence doesn't mean I condone that violence! It means I can see why decades of hurt, fear, and institutionalized abuse may lead to a violent reaction. Understanding is not supporting, it simply means I can connect the dots. Can you not?!?
What I find incredibly disappointing is that on my social media, I see a bunch of white people "standing up" for the "bravery" of a racist magazine to incite hatred against people of colour. I have seen next to nothing about the bombing of the NAACP by a white man on our own soil. I see anti-Muslim protests being started in Europe, and people calling for the genocide of Muslims on Twitter, but very little attention to the number of Muslims who condemned the violence.
It just makes me think about what gets justified under "freedom of speech"- Porn WikiLeaks outing sex workers legal names putting them at serious risk, or Gamergators doxxing women and threatening to rape and murder them, often graphically, or radical feminists claiming trans women are all rapists.
Is that really the hill you want to die on?
It makes me sick to think that the people working for Charlie Hebdo got exactly what they wanted- the public riled up into violence against Muslims.