Monday, January 19, 2015


It is hard to believe it's been almost two weeks since three Muslim gunmen opened fire on a Paris magazine office killing a dozen people and wounding many more.  This is one of those few events in life where I will always know what I was doing when I found out about it.  I was home because school had been cancelled due to extreme cold and a friend texted me asking if I had heard about Paris.  From there I watched it all unfold.

Within hours, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with #JeSuisCharlie, a sign of support for the magazine that was targeted, especially those who were dead or injured.  As time went on, #JeSuisCharlie became a symbol for much more: solidarity, rights, freedom of speech, the list goes on.

Let's look at what "Je suis Charlie" really means.  In French, it literally means "I am Charlie".  Charlie stands for the name of the magazine, Charlie Hebdo. So, anyone using that hashtag in a literal sense is literally calling themselves the magazine.  However, after the attacks, the magazine began to represent much more, especially freedom of speech, so using the phrase was a way to stand by them.

Going back a few more steps, let's see what Charlie really is.  Charlie Hebdo is a weekly satirical magazine.  The purpose of satire is to mock and criticize, and Charlie definitely lives up to that description.  Their pages are often filled with cartoons mocking religions, races, politicians, genders, you name it.  The cartoons that prompted the attacks from these gunmen were ones that exposed Muhammed, who is the prophet of Islam.  Nevermind the fact that many branches of Islam specifically prohibit any drawing or reproduction of the likeness of Muhammed (they consider it to be a sacrilege)...many of these cartoons have been directly inflammatory of Muhammed, and by association, Muslims themselves. And Islam is not the only religion to be openly and offensively mocked in these magazines... Charlie Hebdo has made it clear that just about nothing is off limits.

I do not condone the actions of these murderers. But I have to say that I cannot, in good conscience, say that I am Charlie or that I support their actions either.  It is not because I have no French pride.  It is not because I don't support the French.  On the contrary.  I love France and consider it my home away from home.  Despite the fact that I find these attacks appalling, I cannot stand behind a magazine that makes its living by targeting and mocking specific groups of people.

Our world is in a precarious situation.  Hate is abound.  Muslims are hated because they are supposedly terrorists.  Christians are hated because they are supposedly homophobic women-oppressors.  Blacks are hated because they are supposedly thugs.  Those receiving state aid are hated because they are all lazy and supposedly milking the system.  I could keep going, but I think you get the picture.  Pretty much every group is hated for some reason or another.

I had a discussion about this situation with a French friend of mine last week and she said I was taking Charlie Hebdo's cartoons too seriously.  "Oh, it's only meant to be funny," she said.  But, mind you, she isn't a part of any group that is regularly mocked by Charlie.  Look at the list I made in the previous paragraph.  Much of that hatred stems from one thing: stereotypes.  And what does satire do?  Use humor to exaggerate stereotypes and mock certain groups.  There is nothing funny about mocking people for things that are a pillar of their lives.

See where I'm going with this?  They are adding to the division and hate in this world.  In Charlie Hebdo's situation, not only do they add to the division, but they openly mock and purposefully offend people.  PEOPLE.  How are we supposed to teach our children to respect all people regardless of religion, race,  nationality, etc when we are applauding a magazine who uses their constitutional rights to do just the opposite?  If we are ever going to make the world a better place, we need to continue to teach our children that even if we disagree with someone in any way, they are still a PERSON and ALL PEOPLE deserve respect.

Despite disagreeing with what they have to say, I still support Charlie's (and everyone else's) right to say what is on their mind.  The law is very black and white for a reason.  If we start adding gray area and say, "well.. you can say what you want as long as it doesn't mock or offend..." then we start getting into that slippery slope.  Cue a bunch of frivolous lawsuits, right?

So here is MY proposition.  Let Charlie Hebdo publish what they want.  Stand beside them and give them support because they are PEOPLE going through a horrific situation.  But let's get our voices heard too.  Promote the respect of differences.  Promote the "other side" of any story, rather than just the side that promotes hype and stereotypes.  Shut down hate.  Shut down stereotypes.  The world is only what we make it.  As teachers we have the tools to change the world for the better.  So why don't we give it a shot?  Love is stronger than hate after all.

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