Friday, January 9, 2015

Êtes-vous Charlie? Vraiment?

Twelve people died in the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They died at the hands of fanatics who do not represent the majority of believers in their Islamic religion. This is an act of evil, not of devoutness and, no matter what the writers or cartoonists of the paper published, they did not deserve to die for it and they deserve the support of the world as much as the murderers deserve the world's condemnation.

In a show of support, people around the planet are sharing the phrase Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie). This is a peaceful show of solidarity against the atrocity that was committed. It is also a show of support for freedom of expression and for the culturally-essential practice of satire.

It is also sort of an over-the top statement, as most adopted public rhetoric campaigns are.

But I ask: Êtes-vous Charlie? Vraiment? Wouldn't you have to know a lot about a publication to make that statement?

If you know all about Charlie Hebdo, okay. But it is one thing to show support for your unjustly murdered fellow humans; it's another to blindly support a publication you know nothing about. I find it hard to believe that everyone who has shared that phrase knows all about the paper. 

In these circumstances, life takes precedence. We care more about the souls of the fallen than anything else and I don't want to seem as if I am providing any shred of support for what happened there nor as if I feel anything but sorrow ans compassion for my fellow writers whose choices should never have resulted in that kind of attack. But statements of  mutual identification will not help us in the long run and they can skew reality. As far as you know, if you haven't read the words or seen the cartoons, Charlie Hebdo could represent things you don't believe in. If that's the case, are you really comfortable with saying, "Je suis Charlie?"

Just a few days ago, I wrote about the disturbing trend of childish theatrics in protest. This is not the same thing, but it is related. What's more important, making an impact or communicating truth? (And you may very well pick the former, which would pretty much end this discussion.)

If you've read the articles, seen the cartoons and espoused the philosophies of Charlie Hebdo, by all means, utter, proudly and loudly the phrase, Je suis Charlie! If not, how about a more mundane, but more accurate phrase like, "Je soutiens Charlie!"  It would still fit on the signs and memes. (I hope that isn't horrible French -- that the French use "support" in the same metaphoric sense Americans do; if not, forgive me, but the point remains.)

So, I'll say it: Je soutiens Charlie! But I am not Charlie, any more than I am Fred Flintstone.

May the deceased writers of Charlie Hebdo rest in peace. May their fanatical, bestial killers come to whatever just punishment Fate or God or Allah declares.


  1. Yes, I agree with you here. I was a college cartoonist, I've been a writer for 16 years, and now I'm moving back into the visual arts—but I am not Charlie. As I wrote on my own blog yesterday, I don't have the righteous bravery of the true satirist. When artists and writers face lunatics who want to kill them, I'm with the artists and writers every time, regardless of content—but those who claim "Je suis Charlie" need to demonstrate it by putting themselves in danger for their art, the way those cartoonists did. The rest is bluster.

    1. I just went and read you piece, Jeff (as should everyone else,. at -- exceedingly well said. It also further lights an inspiration for maybe my next piece here: a consideration of what the purpose of satire is, after all. Everyone knows it is one of th emost important forms of literature, but it can be both an instrument of change and a damaging thing, I think. Have to think on it more...