After the attacks in France last week, I couldn’t help thinking of Voltaire’s statement that ‘I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’ – and my conflicting feelings about how people were reacting to it. This is why I’m not Charlie – or not exactly.
I AM CHARLIE said the world
As we read about the white cartoonists murdered in their offices
For drawing something that poked fun at something else –
Not for shooting, bombs or missiles; this was not an eye for an eye.
We were shocked, we mourned,
And I AM CHARLIE was beamed across public buildings, Facebook profiles, newspapers and the chests and the faces of the liberals who mourned the loss of people like them,
The people who went to work one day and never came back.
And I AM CHARLIE with its hashtag appeared in the Twitter feeds of the celebrities.
This was an attack on freedom, they said.
We must stand and fight, they said, and publish the pictures that the killers hated wherever we can.
The pen is our weapon, they said.
And anyone who refuses to publish the pictures that the killers hated is a coward, they said, and no better than a killer themselves.
And the world with I AM CHARLIE beamed across its faces and public buildings gave the celebrities a million likes, cause we were down with that. We don’t like bombs, we use cartoons instead. We loved that shit.
And I AM CHARLIE appeared in the newspapers and the journals where the intellectuals talked about why religion should be satirised, why culture should be ridiculed, why the pictures that upset the terrorists and extremists – for only extremists can be upset by pictures, after all – should be shown proudly, everywhere.
And the world with I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on its T-shirts and its hashtags and its million likes for the celebrities skim-read the articles and gave them a like as well, because we were Charlie and we were liberal and we mourned, so we were down with that.
I AM CHARLIE brought the politicians to the streets. We stand in solidarity with those who fought for freedom of speech, they said.
And the newspapers with I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on its taglines and its Twitter feeds and its hashtags took their pictures and talked about the solidarity and the Europeans who cherish freedom of speech, and how wonderful it was.
And nobody really talked about who marched, and why they were doing it, because they were Charlie.
And I was Charlie too, and so were you.
And then I saw the pictures, and I wondered why.
Why nobody was putting up I AM SYRIA on their profile page when the chemical weapons gassed whole towns;
The same weapons that had been supplied by the same nations that had I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on their newspapers and their public buildings and whose politicians marched to say I AM CHARLIE
When protests against repression turned into a war that seemed to have no end
And the whole reason for fighting seemed to have been lost in bloodshed.
No I AM SYRIA here.
Why nobody was Baga in Nigeria
When the terrorists attacked the town, just because it was there
The world was too busy saying I AM CHARLIE to say that I AM BAGA too,
Except for a few.
And why, behind the I AM CHARLIE signs
Nobody was saying it was OK to mind a bit
That it was OK to hate terrorism and hate the killing and still dislike things that offend –
Because not liking something is not the same as killing –
And to worry about the people who felt threatened
Because they shared a religion and culture with the killers
And feared someone might make them take the blame
If they weren’t screaming I AM CHARLIE loud enough
And to worry about the racists who might now attack,
So long as they had I AM CHARLIE on their Facebook profile and their Twitter feeds, because the celebrities said so and the intellectuals said so and the politicians said so and they could say they were part of a glorious fight for freedom of speech because only extremists can be offended by racism.
Perhaps it was easiest to ignore all that
And say I AM CHARLIE with the rest of them