Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mon pauvre Charlie....

12 people have lost their lives representing and defending their ideologies. 17 more have been injured in the process of resisting what some refer to as “…religious totalitarianism.” Shifting values in a time where ‘isms’ seems to be the flavour of the decade; did not bode well for those who have been killed and injured in France on January 7th, 2015.

Hebdo Journalist Laurent L├ęger stated in a Time Magazine article that, “We (reserve the right and) want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”

Ideas have a price, and the French continue to pay for them…in blood. And the world continues to re-affirm through vigils and demonstrations fundamental beliefs that, “…Secular values for all, and the promotion of freedom and equal opportunity…” should become the mantra for all of humanity. Charlie Hebdo caricatures goes beyond the pale. While some find their subject matter amusing, funny and deserving of ridicule; others take exception to the fact that their faith and religious beliefs are being used as a form of entertainment.

So far the vast majority of Frenchmen agree that secular values trump religious values. Value…What an interesting word. By its current definition the value of a life means very little these days. A cheap commodity; exchanged by every political and religious governing faction in the world.  Having world leaders in unison marching in the streets of Paris is a great visual falsification of that truth.

The distinction between radical Islamists and those who practice the faith of Islam is dwindling. It has escalated to the point where freedom of religion rights are being openly challenged. Media outlets are directly taking Islam itself to task. Columnist John Robson for Sun Media explains his argument in this fashion.
“…I think the ban even on depicting him, let alone criticizing him, is rank idolatry. There. Did you get all that? I don’t like Mohamed or the Qur’an, and I’ll mock them when, where, and how I like.”
Provocation is never a good defense. Charlie Hebdo and Robson media pundits (and the like) are projecting Western values. Insisting that they are above and beyond reproach smacks of conceit. Responsibility lies from within. To act in favor or against, to protest or to be silent, to have others dictate a course of action or to resist actions made on our behalf.  

Charlie Hebdo seems to be acting on behalf of us all; and standing in solidarity with them…we are equally responsible for its consequences. There is a growing rationalization among western societies that free speech is in fact a ‘right’; which includes the ability for anyone to mock, deride, satirize, politicize, sexualize, and dehumanize what and who they see fit. Does this ‘right’ include full indemnity?

Caricatures printed in Charlie Hebdo are offensive. Rejecting terrorist acts of violence by Al Qaeda and the Taliban should not include ways to incite law abiding citizens who practice the faith of Islam…Or any other for that matter. Reactionary spontaneous action such as #jesuischarlie is endearing. Identifying ourselves with the victims and resisting terrorist acts is laudable. But as a society we have to examine the limitations of our civil liberties and the scope of its powers. Just because we have the ability to offend doesn’t mean we should.

The French are fast adopting Charlie Hebdo as their own terrorist brand…their own 9/11.  Galvanizing French sentiment against terrorist groups will certainly assist the French government to control and sanction its own brand of violence. The push to democratize the Middle East and other Arab nations will continue; but is it really a viable solution?

Khaled Hroub is the Director of Cambridge University’s Arab Media Project and is of the opinion that western governments are playing devil’s advocate.
“In a nutshell, it was much easier in the post-colonial Middle East for the West to do business with un-democratic regimes where deals could be made without accountability or transparency. The result of this decades-long trade-off has been the transformation of cultural specificity pretext into a (somehow racist) alienation of local democratic and liberal forces and a paving of the way for the rise of Islamist radicalization.”-The West’s hollow talk of Arab democracy.

Hroub explains how US foreign policy is influencing the Middle East western agenda, “…. (The push for) reform and democracy has been used more often than not as a threat, a typical message being: “help out in the war against Iraq or we press for democracy and human rights in your own country. An Arab message in return would be: “stop pressing on the reform issue or we won’t cooperate in the ‘war on terror’!”

Attributing its effectiveness to offend and incite Jihadists; Charlie also has blood on its hands. As the world continue to express its indignation and stoic affirmation that its cause against Islamist radicals is a just one; no one living in the western hemisphere should expect anything less from Arab nations who feel equally justified in resisting western influence…by any means necessary.

Nathan J. Brown is the Professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and wrote a commentary in reply to Hroub’s opinion piece. 
“This discussion usually leads directly to the familiar question of whether the West should “engage” with Islamists? The answer is that this is the wrong question. The right ones are: “What can the West do to encourage Arab regimes to engage with Islamists?” and “How can the West encourage Arab regimes to allow reformers to convert armchair theorizing into effective – but non-revolutionary – mobilization?” Engagement must be among competing political visions in the Arab world. Western policymakers can help in modest ways, and if they fail to do so they risk continued political cynicism and radicalism in the region. And even if they opt to do so they must be aware that the pay-off may be a generation away.”

It is easy to point the finger. It is much harder to point the finger at ourselves and admit that our actions have consequences. Judging by Charlie’s latest edition, that lesson still needs to be learned.