First: thank you to everyone who responded to my last post. Whether we are entirely in agreement or not, I appreciate it when you take the time to engage. Particularly when it’s on as fraught and complex a topic as this. I’ve been biding my time before saying anything else on the matter for precisely that reason- this is a big, difficult topic that many people feel extremely raw about.
There are some things I want to tackle, though. We seem to be arguing a lot over the question of whether Charlie Hebdo is racist/Islamophobic or not and whether we agree with what they did. Particularly in the context of #jesuischarlie, those of us who feel uncomfortable identifying with Charlie Hebdo are stuck in between two things that (to vastly different degrees) we aren’t okay with.
There are a few reasons why I’m uncomfortable with #jesuischarlie. One is that I don’t feel comfortable with how Charlie Hebdo and similar publications express themselves and their effects on marginalised groups. Another- far greater- part, though, is that I feel like uncritically standing as (as opposed to with) them contributes to the black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us kind of thinking that gets us into this goddamn mess in the first place.
But I don’t want this to be a post about the virtues or flaws of Charlie Hebdo. Instead, let’s take something as a given: many of us who utterly deplore murdering people for their speech are, nonetheless, uncomfortable with the pressure to identify with that speech in order to condemn these murders. There’s an assumption that you’re either #jesuischarlie, or you’re tacitly supporting people who murder others for their views and blaming cartoonists for being killed.
Whether or not you agree with Charlie Hebdo’s work (or see it as a hell of a lot more complicated than agreeing or disagreeing), this fact remains: there are going to be times when all of us are called to condemn atrocities against people we disagree with. We need another way to do that.
I don’t think it’s as simple as that not-actually-Voltaire quote we keep throwing at each other, although that is definitely an improvement. That quote is just a platitude, though, isn’t it? It’s throwaway.
I think that if we’re going to tackle issues of violence and freedom of expression, we need to figure out ways to stand with-not-as victims. We need to make space for multiple kinds of solidarity, including those that acknowledge our differences instead of papering them over. Because this isn’t simple. There are multiple things going on that will change how we show our support for victims. We need to work out ways to do that that don’t necessitate shutting down discourse.
I’m not certain how to do that. But I don’t think that we’re going to get anywhere if we don’t start working it out.