The Charlie Hebdo series: Je ne suis pas Charlie

The Gryphon will be releasing a series of comment pieces in light of the Charlie Hebdo headquarters attack on Wednesday, 7th January 2014.

It can be unanimously agreed upon that the recent attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris was an awful and inexcusable act of violence, but don’t expect me to join the legions of twitter users in the #JeSuisCharlie campaign. I may deplore the killings of the artists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo, but it doesn’t mean I agree with them. In the aftermath of the killings, people around the world have taken the phrase Je Suis Charlie to be a call for solidarity; a rallying cry in the name of freedom of speech and expression. This seems hypocritical, however, when juxtaposed against France’s 5 year old ban on the niqab. But this really is just the tip of Charlie Hebdo’s problematic iceberg.

On first hearing about armed attacks on a satirical publication, my immediate reaction was one of deep sadness and outrage. However, after a brief stint of research, another emotion was added to the mix: disgust. After seeing some of Charlie Hebdo’s front pages and other cartoons featured in the magazine, I was appalled that I had thought even for the briefest moment that it was a good satirical publication.

Great satire attacks existing power structures, such as politician and the British monarchy, and challenges the status quo. However, some of the satire seen in Charlie Hebdo was inverted from the ideal; privileged, white men using their platform to ‘satirise’ oppressed communities. As well as the stereotypical, racist depictions of Muslims with hooked noses, there are similar things to be seen with Jews and women (and possibly even the LGBTQ+ community). One shocking illustration featured the Boko Haram girls, being portrayed as pregnant sex slaves, crying out ‘TOUCHEZ PAS Á NOS ALLOCS’ (hands off our child benefits, for those of us who don’t speak French). It would be hard to argue against these depictions being massively misjudged at best, and disgustingly oppressive at its worst.

Freedom of speech is a fantastic thing, and in no circumstance does expressing your opinion ever justify your murder. However, freedom of speech does not mean you should be free from criticism, which would be especially prudent to remember in this post-Charlie-Hebdo-shooting world. Many media outlets, celebrities, and plebs like you or I have been holding up the staff of Charlie Hebdo on a pedestal as representatives of the pinnacles of satire and freedom of speech.  However, despite the awful circumstances of their deaths, we all must remember to remain critical of their actions, as we should do with all media.

To cut a long story short: terrorism is bad, and racism is also bad.

Brigitte Phillips

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