Je Suis Ahmed! Je Suis Charlie! I’ll Ride With You!


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The Cultural Detective series includes a critical incident entitled, “Danish Cartoon Controversy” (in the Cultural Detective Global Diversity and Inclusion package), about the backlash against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. We publish it to build understanding of diverse perspectives of the issue and promote meaningful dialogue, healing, and community cohesion.

My childhood aspiration was to become a cartoonist. I practiced for years, and even won a few contests. The events that happened in Paris yesterday, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, feel very close to me, despite the ocean separating Mexico and France. I have tremendous respect for all who fight for freedom of speech AND respect for others, as both, together, are key to civil society.

I stand strong with caricaturists, cartoonists, and journalists worldwide. Here in Mexico where I reside such are far from safe professions. And those who responsibly help us to think more deeply, to see more facets to issues facing us, play a hugely important role in society. Those who use their profession (journalist or imam, cartoonist or preacher) to teach racism, hatred, and disrespect instead of critical thinking and insight, or who promote sensationalism, jumping on the bandwagon of the latest craze or fad to gain viewership, do not respect their own role or power, nor do they show responsibility to the community in which we live.

I love that people throughout the world have risen up in protest against terrorism and defense of the right to free speech. Long live the people! I fear, however, that the “Je suis Charlie” movement will be misconstrued or highjacked as pro-France and anti-Muslim, rather than as anti-terror, as happens oh-so-easily on the world stage. Such is the risk, and complexity, of this media-rich global arena in which communication takes place today.

Terrorism is awful. We can all unite against it. Yet, when terrorists are white, there is not the horrible backlash that there so sadly and predictably is when the terrorists are people of color or Muslim. One more ugly white privilege that I don’t want: I am privileged to not be profiled or publicly disdained, despite the fact that the suspect in the bombing of the NAACP building in Colorado Springs is a homegrown white US American, like me.

AhmedI am, therefore, very encouraged that the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag has risen in popularity with the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag so quickly. Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, was one of the police officers killed during the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris. The Maroon Colony wrote an excellent piece on why the Ahmed hashtag is so important.

And at what point, will we draw the lines between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech”? At what point do mainstream media outlets, which are largely controlled and written by White people, stop racializing Islam and stop creating humor based on the humiliation of people of color and their culture and faiths? At what point do White people have that moment of self-reflection, without the threat of terrorism to do so?
—The Maroon Colony

I found The Maroon Colony article powerful, but then I read a post by Christoph Jakob on a friend’s wall, and it reconfirmed how very complicated, and in need of thoughtful discussion, this all is:

The person on the second cartoon is the very well respected French Minister of Justice, Christine Taubira. She was compared by a right wing politician to a monkey eating bananas because of the colour of her skin For this comparison he was sentenced and excluded from his party. This started a national debate about limits of freedom of speech and expression. Charlie Hebdo published several cartoons on the topic, always defending 100% Christine Taubira and against all sorts of racism. Mrs Taubira herself mentioned the cartoon during a TV interview and thanked Charlie Hebdo for their support. The name of the right wing party is “rassemlement bleu Marine” thats why in the cartoon the text stays “rassemblement bleu racisme”.

We all stand with the victims. We stand with the need for free speech AND for civil discourse, dialogue, respect, understanding, and community building, not violence. And, I hold out hope that an outcome of the horrible violence can be that we all start to reflect on the inherent bias we all have in our worldviews and communication, myself included.

_79734878_thankyouI am encouraged that we increasingly have voices speaking up, so lucidly, to a minority experience, to the experience of those outside the mainstream power centers. I am reminded of the wonderful #illridewithyou movement in Australia, aimed to stand in solidarity with Muslim neighbors and help them stay safe in the backlash of a terrorist attack. I was sooooo so proud of Australians for that!

Let us stand united, everyone. Do not let the terrorists win, by letting them turn us toward hate, toward division, toward drawing lines between us, towards curtailing freedom of speech in this world of ours. Let us unite against terrorism by binding ourselves together, by learning about and celebrating our differences, by charging ourselves to continual learning, reflection on our own biases and communication, so that, together, we can create a world in which all of us can feel safe, valued, and know that our voices matter.

9 thoughts on “Je Suis Ahmed! Je Suis Charlie! I’ll Ride With You!

  1. Dear Dianne,
    I’d like to react on the fear you have about the way the “je suis Charlie” movement would be misconstrued or hijacked. That’s a risk we have to take when we take a stand. Listening to one of the many debates on tv, one Imam in France said that many of the Muslims in France , but also elsewhere, were really sharing that feeling. But he also added that it was one of their duty to address their community to make clear that the way Muslims behave and react towards these unprecedented facts was going to impact the larger French community. So, a lot of Imams today are spreading words of compassion, tolerance and peace in order to encourage a united reaction from the people regardless of their religious beliefs. The same Imam urged the French government to pass on measures to better control who can or cannot become Imam because as he said there is a minority of self proclaimed Imams who indeed preach hate. You cannot avoid that and it happens everywhere in the world and these movements are not necessarily religious ones.
    I tend to have a fairly optimistic view on the “je suis Charlie” movement. It’s been spreading across the globe and regardless of the first emotional enthusiasm, it will live on as it is rooted as a crucial value of all evolving and future oriented communities where democracy is growing or established and evolving.
    Even though we have to face a growing terror movement world wide; I believe the Charlie Hebdo massacre is awaking an unprecedented form of universal consciousness toward what people really live for: freedom (fundamental freedom) Something that is genetically programmed and that no form of terror can destroy regardless their attempts or the death toll and the pain they generate.
    In my view, the Arab Spring needs further support just like “Je suis Charlie” needs it. While both are generated by either long time power abuse or instant violence, more importantly both are animated/driven by the same fundamental need for freedom. No regime in the world (and History confirms it) can stand this quest for ever. Even Isis will crumble because good always wins.
    September 11th in New York: Muslims did not attack,…fundamentalists did. Spain, Atocha train Station, fundamentalists did, London subway attack, fundamentalists did. etc
    So let’s unite, Muslims, Christians, Jews… but apart from our diverse religious beliefs, let’s unite, we ordinary people who believe in human dignity and integrity, who focus on wisdom and harmony to relentlessly build what we are here for: Peace and fun to enjoy it. Still, let’s bear in mind that stupidity will always exist and that we have to remain on constant alert to preserve our one-and-only Eden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very happy to read your comments, Olivier. Glad to know that is your experience in Europe these days, as Mexico feels close in spirit yet far away in actuality. Thank you for joining in your voice here!

      So much about recent movements, in France and in Australia, gives me hope. Yes, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and other religions, as communities, need to speak up and act against those in our ranks who preach hate and violence. Such is not in keeping with any major world spiritual tradition. And what you are doing, what this whole community is doing, I know is making a contribution!

      Love your closing paragraph 😉 Great wish for this new year!

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  2. Thank you Olivier for your comment. I cannot agree more with what you are saying especially about our fundamental right for freedom in our societies. For me “Je suis Charlie” is a true wake-up call that no violence and terror can be tolerated no matter the differences in opinions, religions or “lack of respect for someone’s belief”. Charlie Hebdo has always been provocative, satirical, anti-clerical, anarchist, gross, not respectful of any taboo but nobody tried to kill them for that. I think freedom of speech is a cause that goes beyond the false debate of “#JesuisCharlie” vs “#JeSuisAhmed” .

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    • Thank you for joining your voice, Anne. While calling the tweets “a false debate” is something I definitely do not agree with, the movement worldwide to speak up against violence and those who try to shut down freedom of speech, that is definitely what this post is about. Both hashtags are so important, and I find such hope in their popularity. They serve similar and yet different purposes. Recent popular responses such as those in Australia and now to Charlie Hebdo do, indeed, give hope that community responsibility is growing and adapting to the times.

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  3. Thank you for posting this Dianne, and to the other posters as well. I have really been struggling with this issue and it’s a relief to see others looking at this tragic event from multiple points of view.
    Incidentally, I had not seen the covers of Charlie Hebdo until this event, and found them shocking and disrespectful, including–since the cover cartoon theme is frequently that of sodomy, and using sodomy to illustrate how “low” and corrupt the clergy is–to LGBT groups. Hate speech under the banner of liberalism and social progressivism is still hate speech. As violence in response to humiliation is still violence.
    Hopefully the dialogue around tolerance and understanding will grow from this event.

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    • So glad that the post is giving you additional perspectives to think through. You definitely are in community! You read the other side of it, too, though, right Carrie? The viewpoint that Hebdo vociferously fought against racism? Perhaps that is exactly what you are commenting on.

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  4. Pingback: Lampooning Leads to Apology for Sensationalism | Cultural Detective Blog

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