Are we Charlie? Or are we not Charlie?
With apologies to Hamlet, is that really the question that should preoccupy us in the wake of the terrorist murders at Charlie Hebdo?
After Islamist terrorists killed 12 people at the satirical newspaper, the media and Twitterverse were flooded with pronouncements – complete with a striking white-on-black graphic – of “Je suis Charlie.”
It started on the Charlie Hebdo website, and, within two days of the attack, it became one of the most popular hashtags in Twitter history. The phrase soon showed up in music, cartoons, signs and T-shirts – sported by Hollywood celebrities, of course – and even became the name of a town square in France.
It may have started as a powerful and sincere expression of sympathy and solidarity with the victims, and perhaps even a stand against violence. But to be Charlie soon became a rallying cry for freedom of expression, as well as the cause-du-jour of hand-wringing journalists.
Not surprisingly, it was soon followed by a wave of “Je ne suis pas Charlie” affirmations. This camp included Muslims who accused Charlie Hebdo of racism, and journalists such as David Brooks of the New York Times, who argued that the publication’s offensive humour would be considered hate speech on any university campus in North America.
Rex Murphy wrote a brilliant piece in the National Post, pointing out the hypocrisy of North Americans who rush to identify with Charlie while banning free speech in the name of political correctness, especially on college campuses.
And the ubiquitous Noam Chomsky argued that the Paris attack paled in comparison to “crimes” by NATO, the U.S. and Israel.
But, whatever the merits or follies of these arguments, focusing the debate on freedom of expression and attacks on journalists is a very convenient way to sidestep the real issue – namely, these were terrorist attacks by Islamist terrorists.
The terrorist murderers in Paris were acting from some warped ideology that fuels the barbarous beheadings by ISIS thugs, and that poisoned the minds of the murderers of Canadian soldiers Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa last October.
Just as apologists for political correctness tried to blame the Canadian attacks on mental illness rather than Islamist fanaticism, the whole Charlie/not Charlie debate keeps the “T-word” out of polite conversation.
As Murphy puts it, “Can those who refuse to say the word “terrorism” after a terrorist act now claim they are Charlie Hebdo?”
And the second wave of the Paris attacks had nothing to do with cartoons, caricatures or crusading journalists. Another Islamist terrorist, inspired by his friends’ bloody actions, slaughtered four Jews preparing for Shabbat at a kosher supermarket.
But there have been no chants of “I am Yoav.” Or Yohan, Philippe, or François-Michel, just as there have been no cute slogans or viral public outcry over the terrorist murders of more than 1,500 Israelis killed for the crime of being Jews or living in the Jewish state.
Yoav Hattab, 21, was studying in Paris and had just returned from a Birthright trip to Israel. Student Yohan Cohen, 20, was reportedly killed while saving the life of a three-year-old in the store. Philippe Braham, 45, was a computer engineer and father of four. François-Michel Saada, 64, was a pension fund manager and father of two.
The hashtag #JeSuisJuif was popular on Twitter after the supermarket murders, and there is even one called #JeSuisAhmed in tribute to Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer killed in the Charlie Hebdo shootings.
There is nothing wrong with honouring or trying to identify with Jewish and non-Jewish victims of terror attacks, including those at Charlie Hebdo. And it’s great if the kosher supermarket murders make more people wear their Jewishness as a badge of honour.
But, sadly, these campaigns and slogans lack the staying power of the terror and hatred that make victims out of innocent people.
And shows of solidarity mean nothing when they include the likes of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. One of the most disturbing photos of the solidarity march by “world leaders” in Paris after the attacks showed Abbas, master of inciting and rewarding terrorists, grinning like a jackal among the sombre figures in the front row.
For him, it was just another photo-op and a chance to play statesman.
If we refuse to call Islamist terror by its real name while legitimizing those who promote it, #JeSuisCharlie is nothing but a fad that ultimately makes the complacent complicit in allowing the bad guys to win.