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.