Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Je Suis Encore Charlie

Tous les jours
In the aftermath of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo came the wave of people saying “Je suis Charlie.” I was one of them. Bill Donahue was not, instead blaming the murders on the cartoonists. I initially allowed myself the self-congratulatory view that more of us were Charlie than not, but as the stories unfolded and people had time to reflect, they started announcing that they were not Charlie, and neither were you. I say fuck that.

I’m not much of a provocateur as a writer; I admit that freely. My work never verges into the pornographic. I don’t engage in scatalogical humor.[1] I don’t mock religion. The most fervent responses I got were when I proposed that certain word choices in the Esperanto translation of the Bible indicate that Zamenhof either used Christian sources, or his translation was subsequently altered by the organization which prints it.[2] I doubt the Ido community is about to call for my head over my statements about the birth of that language.[3]

One line of reasoning is that we are not Charlie Hebdo because we do not engage in their level of provocation. That comes dangerously close to blaming the victims. Oh, if you only hadn’t been quite so provocative. We’re saying “fuck that,” remember? Maybe my voice will never get provocative. Or maybe a piece I write down the road really pisses someone off. Am I Charlie then?

In the New Yorker, Teju Cole brought up the example of the neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, a right which was protected by the ACLU.
The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs.
But I’ve taken part in marches that counter-protesters thought were extremely offensive (yes, this middle-aged gay man has marched in Gay Pride parades[4]). I’ve walked past people who were screaming hate and obscenities because I was exercising my civil rights. Sure, my beliefs are on the side of increased liberty, freedom, equality, and self-determination. It’s easy to endorse me and my beliefs, but to many of those counter-protestors, I was probably indistinguishable from a Neo-Nazi.

I have been willing to be provocative, though never (in my not so humble opinion) for the sake of provocation. I can think of two occasions when people defending bans on same-sex marriage used arguments that could have been applied in support of neighborhood exclusions of blacks and Jews. Yeah, I went there. It felt good. On one of those occasions, I prefaced my remarks with “to begin, you’re full of shit, and speaking from a place of heterosexual privilege.”[5] I just haven’t done anything like that on this blog. Yet.[6]

David Brooks said that he wasn’t Charlie Hebdo, and that’s his right. But when he says that:
Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others.
I think of the times when gay people were mocked for even thinking they might seek equality. I think that was yesterday. (Actually, over on his blog, Rod Dreher was writing in defense of the former Atlanta fire chief who wrote a book comparing gay people to pedophiles and those who have sex with animals. It’s not all that clear whether Dreher disavows that view or considers it an “orthodox Christian view.” Dreher even titled his blog post “NYT: ‘Je Suis Charlie Hedbo Homo.’” Hi-lar-i-ous.)

Others have realized that they had been the target of Charlie Hebdo’s mockery. Bill Donahue didn’t forget it for a moment, remembering that the magazine was against Catholic authoritarianism. So he badmouthed the dead on CNN, then on Fox, and when a fellow conservative called him on it, did not back down. When conservatives walked back their initial support for Charlie Hebdo, I was disappointed, but not surprised. They are the crowd that feels that freedom needs to come with limitations, if not for them, then for me and you. Fine, they are not Charlie Hebdo, but I am not going to listen to them when they say that I am not either.

One commentator noted that for all our statements of support, it’s not as if Americans are going to be subscribing to the magazine. I looked on Amazon: it’s $181.39 per year. That’s a lot of cash to lay out for showing one’s support of freedom of expression. There must be a better way. Yet, the next time I’m in France, I’ll make a note to buy a copy. Just because. But no, I can stand behind the right of the creators of Charlie Hebdo to express themselves and still say that it’s too damn expensive to get a print copy of a French magazine.

It’s been a week since the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. A couple days after, despite my general lack of illustration skills, I sketched out a (mediocre) illustration of a bearded wearing a turban, holding a pencil, and saying, “Je suis Charlie.” It was the obvious illustration, still, I was a little disappointed when I found that it has been executed by a competent illustrator for the January 14 issue. You bastards stole my idea!

In a way, the great, tragic joke of it all was that the murderers would have done a better job of whipping Charlie Hebdo away if they had done nothing. The magazine was going under financially. Their fundraising appeal had gone flat. Had the murderers kicked back in that park in the Seventeenth Arrondissement, Charlie Hebdo probably would have folded before too long. Now? There’s no way the French will let Charlie Hebdo fold now. Now it’s a symbol of freedom.

Let us not forget January 7. When it comes around again, let’s not look back and wonder why we shrugged off supporting freedom of expression. Let’s remember that this is one of our great values. No one should have to worry that they’re being too provocative. No one’s religion deserves a veto over other people’s lives.[7] If you think your religion allows you to shut other people up, you’re doing it wrong. If you think gay people getting married tramples on your religion, you’re doing it wrong.[3]

Not just on January 7, but all year round: Je suis Charlie. Je suis encore Charlie. Je suis toujours Charlie. Je suis Charlie dans mon coeur.


  1. Though I do love a good dirty joke.  ↩
  2. You make no friends telling Esperantists that you think Zamenhof made a bad translation.  ↩
  3. Et aussi, tu es con. And you’re an asshole too.  ↩
  4. Film at 11.  ↩
  5. There are people whose lack of concern over same-sex marriage seems to be directly related to being straight, hence it doesn’t interfere with anything they want to do. Standard conservative lack of empathy.  ↩
  6. The blog is only eight months old. Give me time.  ↩
  7. Islam? Who the fuck is talking about Islam? I’m talking about those asshole Christian conservatives whose want us to think that if same-sex couples get married, baby Jesus is going to poop his diaper. Yeah, let’s write a big, ugly exception to equal protection under the law so that Christians get to legally discriminate against gay people in all states, instead of just lots of them. (This gives me the idea for another post.)  ↩

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  1. Fiku tion, eh? Ĉu eble mi estas parto de la uloj ke vi skirbas pri? Ironie, jes vi pravas ke la murdistoj donis novan vivon al revuo kun siaj monstraĵoj. Nun kio okazus? Mi esperas ke atako nova ne okazos de nove sed... kiu scias? Bone vi estas Charlie sed mi ankoraŭ ne estas. :( Tragedio nin ĝenas, ho f*k*

  2. "You make no friends telling Esperantists that you think Zamenhof made a bad translation." Ĥa ĥa kia blasfemo! Kontinuu, vi, ribelulo! Kompatinda Zamĉjo, ne zorgu ni vin ankoraŭ amas.


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