By Nick Cooper
“Why Haven’t Muslims Confronted Extremism?”
Muslims in the U.S. and European media are given the chance to speak up on one topic: ‘Do you support this latest attack by some Muslim/s?’ Imagine if Jews only got on tv to answer: ‘Do you support this latest attack by Israel / Israeli settlers?’ Even more insulting to Muslims is the question: ‘Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these attacks more vehemently?’ Every group from progressive Muslim organizations in the West to the Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, denounce such murders, but their denunciations are constantly overlooked. Leave it to Rupert Murdoch to take it even one step further, tweeting, “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” Aziz Ansari famously responded, “Rups can we get a step by step guide? How can my 60 year old parents in NC help destroy terrorist groups? Plz advise.”
Taxpayers have a responsibility to speak out about about atrocities they fund, and white Americans have a responsibility to speak out about the suffering that created the legacy of benefits they’ve inherited. However, Muslims who happen to share a same holy book with assassins have no responsibility to denounce, or magically stop attacks from occurring. They have nothing to do with such attacks, and it’s oppressive to treat them as if they do.
It is important to question if the West has made any attempt to reduce fundamentalist terrorism. Žižek concludes his article on the topic by questioning the false narrative of liberal democracy and religious fundamentalism at war. For him, the two are inextricably linked, and only the radical left can present alternatives to their death dance.
Analogies to Muslim Populations in France
Even for non-French speakers, it’s clear that the cartoonists portrayed highly stereotyped terrorist Arabs. They would never run such stereotypes of Jews. Emily Lever noted that “[s]ince September 11, the paper began railing “against ‘Islamic Totalitarianism’ with rhetoric similar to George W. Bush’s speeches against ‘islamo-fascism.’ But primarily, the paper expresses its commitment to combating extremism by consistently publishing virulent caricatures of Muslims.” Charlie Hebdo’s juvenile obsession with the anus is a reminder of US Abu Ghraib soldiers’ anal humiliation and domination of Muslim men in the context of America’s Islamophobic phallic-militarism.
Like Blacks and Native Americans in the US, Muslims in France live in separate areas from whites. Also like Native Americans and Blacks in the US, they are much more unemployed than whites. There are also historical parallels — the French colonial empire oppressed large sections of northern Africa, while in the New World, whites were subjugating and killing Africans and Native Americans.
One can imagine an all-white-run satire newspaper in the U.S. that similarly mocked Blacks or Native Americans. In fact, in 2013, The Onion did, joking that a 9-year-old black actress was a “cunt”. It wasn’t liberating, liberal, or funny. However, The Onion apologized and deleted the tweet instead of doubling down like Charlie Hebdo seems to do.
We have heard constantly that Charlie Hebdo criticizes all religions and groups equally, but comparing its depictions of Jews and Muslims, it’s not even close. This same bias is built into French law — denial of the Holocaust (alone among genocides) by journalists can result in imprisonment for five years. Even if Chrlie Hebdo’s critiques were ‘equally brutal,’ good satire should be more ruthless towards those in power than the underclasses. If there is any group that should be alienated from laughing along with a satirical cartoon, it should be the most powerful, not the least.
Opposing Murder Vs. Standing in Solidarity
When people are assassinated for speech, regardless of how odious, we should demand that their assassins to be arrested and tried. We should demand freedom of the press and free speech. However, marching under the ‘I Am Charlie’ banner goes beyond simply opposing assassination and affirming free speech, because it ignores the question of why aren’t we ever marching or identifying with people like Rami Rayan, Sameh al-Aryan, Tariq Ayoub, Saeed Chmagh, and Namir Noor-Eldeen. These journalists were among many killed by attacks that our government launched or supported, so our solidarity with them should have been a much higher priority. Standing in solidarity with those killed by one’s own government and its allies means marching without government support, and it’s harder.
People who say, “I would stand with any assassinated journalist equally,” are lying to themselves. With 50 killed each year, and 72 in 2014, we only hear about a tiny fraction, and make statements of solidarity with even fewer. Certain types of victims consistently get more support and coverage than others.
Those marching for ‘I Am Charlie’ in France were ‘led’ (in what photos reveal was actually an entirely separate photo op) by an assortment of hypocritical world leaders. Most of them were complicit in an endless list of abuses against journalism and free speech (as London School of Economics student Daniel Wickham tweeted during the march). If the international corporate media were brave, it would have asked every single one of those leaders what they could possibly mean by ‘I Am Charlie’ when they have overseen governmental attacks on journalists.
Protests that aren’t inclusive of those who experience the most injustice only make things worse. ‘I Am Charlie,’ can’t be a slogan for all French Muslims, even for the vast majority who disapprove of the assassination of the cartoonists. They have lived under Islamophobia, and might not be ready to laugh about cartoons by white guys mocking their prophet. It is oppressive to put French Muslims in a position where if they don’t declare solidarity with those who insulted them, they risk being written off as supporting the killing. A space where they can say “I am against murder,” and also “I think Charlie demeans us,” has to be created. One can oppose every murder without standing in solidarity with every victim.
When we are ready to challenge the ongoing media narrative featuring white victims, Muslim bad guys, dangerous Black rioting, benign white rioting, and ignored non-Islamic acts of terror, we can see ‘I Am Charlie’ for what it is: a nationalist loyalty pledge. It affirms identity with the white victims of Muslim extremist violence, but not the victims of white violence, or even the Muslim victims of Muslim extremist violence. Ahmed Merabet was the Muslim cop who died trying to stop the assassins from leaving the scene of the Hebdo murders. The issues associated with standing in solidarity with a cop aside, there was a response across France to the ‘I Am Charlie’ movement around the phrase ‘I Am Ahmed.”
Everyone could have stood together in an inclusive movement declaring ‘I am Charlie and Ahmed,’ but this didn’t happen. The segregated epitaphs along with the rise in Islamophobic and anti-Jewish hate-crimes in France, and attacks on Christians in Niger, reflect that things aren’t being healed. Whites missed an opportunity to respond to tragedy with an inclusive form of solidarity.