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If my freedom were ever at risk or if my choices to express that freedom were limited, I probably would not be drawing a Muslim in a turban with a Jewish star on his ass. Many of the cartoons at the liberation newspaper coined Charlie Hebdo were not funny or even mind grappling. They were downright crass. The offices were fire bombed in 2011 and they did receive threats over the years. Charlie Hebdo’s executive editor Stephane Charbonnier quoted Emiliano Zapata “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” \
Remarkably so, any number of journalists can stand by their credo but the carriage of the message comes through in the heart of the intended core of the subject matter. What was Charlie Hebdo’s message? Was it just to diffuse different sects of the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faith by alternately making them look bad each week? Was subscription to an organized book of truth (People of the Book) who lay claim to the Abrahamic promises all potentially misguided? To lay blame on the publisher himself may be a dangerous task. To fully understand that mind to lips to pen can exert an invitation to death is potentially the most lethal element of modern debate.
The Huffington Post made the argument that Hebdo’s edgy challenge on right wing French values are legitimate when pushing the boundaries of collective social principles. Liam Smith wrote “We must recognize the value that comes from pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, of breaking taboos, of standing up to thugs. Not to do so speaks to a form of cowardice only supplanted by the news outlets who have refused to show the cartoons and the even more pathetic attempts to justify that decision.” I was able to google the cartoons and find at least 100 images. On a more intimate scale, Salah Khadr, a London based editor of Al Jazeera, wrote “I am Al Jazeera” challenging his employees to ask if this was “really an attack on ‘free speech,’” discuss whether “I Am Charlie” is an “alienating slogan,” which promotes the conflict between European values vs. clash of extremist fringes. Khadr wrote“ Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile.” The rest of the world who somehow evenly grafted the phrase into geographic strongholds of “Je suis Charlie” vs. “Je ne suis pas Charlie” created a hemispheric divide between countries subscribing to Judeo-Christian exaltation vs. Muslims who may or may not condone the violence seems decisively clear. All the prominent members of NATO were at the French unity march last Sunday on January 11, 2015.
I felt a sense of world division as the former allies of WWII bonded in arms and a gaelic spirit to demonstrate the disapproval of the brutal killings. There was a subliminal line drawn of a broken world order that bled through old tempered scars. I had a sense of dignity that Russia and Ukraine joined the ranks. Yet I do not want to be aligned to an international coalition or in this case, one religion of solidarity. I believe “I am Lassana Bathily.” Lassana Bathily was the 24 year old Mali-born Muslim grocery clerk who hid a group of frightened shoppers inside the Jewish store Hyper Cacher before sneaking out through a fire escape to speak to police. The store was attacked by gunman Amedy Coulibaly who killed 4 people and attempted to take more hostages to protect the two men who had killed 12 people at Hebdo’s offices the previous day. He stated that we are all in this together. Jews, Christians and Muslims must unify because we are all in the same crisis.
The question is how did the crisis begin and where will it end? No killing can increase the integrity of one’s soul or attitude. I believe we should all desire to be like Lassana Bathily who protected lives while surrounded by death. His actions while in a crisis drove him to heroism. By breaking down the barriers and accepting people where they are at and eliminating labels that draw defense is the only way humanity as a whole can come out of this crisis. One’s true identity is in the action of generosity and curiosity, reaching a little further to find out who that stranger is without trying to identify or label them.