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The Greyhound

#JeNeSuisCharlie: A Hashtag Dedicated to Missing the Point


On January 7, 2015, two Al-Qaeda sponsored gunmen entered the office of French satirical Charlie Hebdo, and murdered 11 people. 11 more were wounded. Terrorists targeted the magazine because of its depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in some of  the previous issues. After the killings people the world over stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo via the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag (meaning: “I am Charlie). The phrase was projected onto French embassies worldwide, and stands as a perfect expression of global support and consolation.

And of course, like any good thing in this world, people must crawl out of the woodwork to undermine it. Enter #JeNeSuisCharlie (“I am not Charlie”). This reactionary hashtag takes aim at a country that’s been victimized, people who are terrified and free speech itself. The point is to undermine that community spirit and refocus on other issues. Champions of #JeNeSuisCharlie proclaim that drawing images of Mohammed, even in protest, is offensive and inexcusable-that what happened in Paris doesn’t matter next to what Boko Haram is doing in Africa-that solidarity in the face of terrorism is offensive to the peaceful majority of Muslims.

If tweeted for any or all of these reasons#JeNeSuisCharlie deserves nothing but unadulterated scorn. What kind of monster tries to hijack the protest of violent terrorism for their own political ends? I’ve pored through hundreds of #JeSuisCharlie tweets, and not one of them conflated the peaceful majority of Muslims with the minority of violent radicals who perpetrate attacks like this. Making that distinction known is important, but it’s just not an issue with #JeSuisCharlie and it’s unforgivable to try and redirect the social capital of mourning people toward one’s own ends.

There are also those who claim that the recent surge of drawing Mohammed in protest is juvenile and offensive and that there are better ways to express objection toward what happened in Paris on January 7. It would be nice if the point could be made without offending people, but it simply cannot. People were gunned down in broad daylight for their depictions of Mohammed. The purpose of drawing Mohammed now is to communicate emphatically that terrorism will not stop the prophet’s depiction by cartoonists. There is no other way.

Even worse are the people who say “I can’t support #JeSuisCharlie because Charlie Hebdo is a bad publication for x, y and z reasons.” While it’s awfully impressive to have haughty non-opinions like this, even more impressive is putting forth the bare minimum mental effort to realize that this issue is bigger than Charlie Hebdo itself. This is about not cowering in fear when you have a touchy view to express. This is about not capitulating to the violent tantrums of terrorists who cannot tolerate media that violates their sensibilities. Charlie Hebdo is entirely secondary to #JeSuisCharlie: they were just the group of people that happened to be targeted for their expression. When it comes to #JeSuisCharlie make no mistake-nothing short of the freedom of speech, expression and press is at stake. To oppose it is to oppose those values.

The press will not be silenced. The world will not be silenced. I am Charlie. You are Charlie. We are all Charlie.

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#JeNeSuisCharlie: A Hashtag Dedicated to Missing the Point