Six Tableaux of a Tragedy

Omid shams

Danish version of this article was published in Atlas Magazine

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Tableau 1

The massacre at the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, by fanatics is indeed “one” of the most horrific and disgusting events in Europe after World War II. Perhaps the only other event as horrific and disgusting as this one is the Norway Massacre by another fanatic, Anders Breivik. At this moment, there is nothing more necessary than strongly standing in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and condemning such a savagery that threatens this magazine and so many others like it.

However, through some of these messages of solidarity, even with the all good intentions, something horrifying is happening for Charlie Hebdo. There is a statement with the intention of solidarity which can be seen everywhere: I am Charlie Hebdo.

There are millions of people sharing such statements in social networks as they share hidden camera videos or Best Vines compilations. Politicians, actors, writers, priests, preachers and mullahs they are all stating: we are all Charlie.

This statement is indeed the worst thing that could ever happen to a magazine like Charlie Hebdo. This very popular way of showing solidarity is pushing Charlie Hebdo into the realm of symbols. They are turning Charlie into a symbol, an empty symbol, with which everybody could agree without even knowing what it is.

What is happening to Charlie Hebdo is exactly the opposite of what they stand for, fight for and identify themselves with. The most essential characteristic of Charlie was emphasizing on disagreements and the right to disagree with any idea.  Radical criticism of all powerful ideas and persons without any hesitation is not a thing that everybody can or dare to support and embrace. Such symbolization and reification of Charlie, whose essentiality is now being vanished beneath the oceans of sentiments, is making it digestible for the most spiteful enemies of all Charlies around the world to turn an annoying critic into a pale, holy and harmless ghost.

Tableau 2

It is most unfortunate but undeniable that after such events, the “European” Muslim community will be under lots of pressure. However, they cannot sit back and expect not to be treated as a “scary” minority or as “they” who live in “our” country. There is no doubt that such a semi- segregationist view is not acceptable at all and, according to the social values of European society, equality is their absolute right. However, not accepting such discriminative views cannot simply change them. The European Muslim community must be the first who recognize themselves as an equal part of the European society. Therefore, they must react to such events not only as “Muslims” but also and more importantly as “Europeans”. As long as their priority is to defend Islam from misjudgements, they are separating themselves from the rest of the society. Their priority must be to condemn such brutal violations of all the humanity’s principles and through which they are implying that their interpretation of Islam is way different from those who commit such a monstrous crime.

Moreover, it is not enough for the Muslim community to simply state that “this is not Islam” or “not in my name”. This horrible event is and will be one of the most memorable images of Islam unless the Muslim community actively and determinedly step forward to change it. The truth is that Muslim community has the least influence over their own image that illustrates them to the global community and is created either by the western mainstream media or the Islamist fanatics. In most cases they are just the passive consumers of that image whether they agree with it or not. Denial doesn’t change this image but alternative images do. In this specific case, where the Muslims might be seen as violent and intolerant community, they must be the front-line of any demonstration condemning the violence and intolerance. They must also suggest an alternative image which can be found within the Islamic culture. For example there is a story in many Islamic texts showing the way Muhammad treated his critics. There was a woman who despised Muhammad everyday by throwing dirty garbage on him. One day she got sick and didn’t show up. Muhammad visited the woman in her house saying her absence worried him that something might happen to her. As long as these gestures are not followed and promoted by the Muslim communities, misjudgements that surround them will not easily change.

Tableau 3

Charlie Hebdo is not only the victim of extremism, intolerance and violence. It is right now, the victim of hypocrisy and opportunism as well. The messages of condemnations and solidarities are coming from the governments or political parties who are the most horrifying enemies of freedom of speech or the most notorious symbols of intolerance, violence, racism and apartheid. Governments such as Bahrein, Turkey, Emirates and Russia express their solidarity with French people while they have had hundreds of journalists suppressed, tortured, detained and assassinated. The most ridiculous example of such hypocrisy is Iranian government condemning the murdering of “innocents” in Charlie attack, while just three months ago they executed another “innocent”, Mohsen Amir Aslani, for insulting Jonah the prophet; and while they already have another prisoner, Soheil Arabi, waiting to be executed for the same charge; and while they are the only government that issued and politically supported the Fatwa for assassinating Salman Rushdi for the same accusations. The Israel’s condemnation of attack reminds us of another cartoonist, Palestinian Naji al Ali, famous for his criticism of Israel, who was assassinated in London. It also reminds us of RWB reports on 17 journalists killed during the Israel-Gaza war.

These kinds of preposterous hypocrisy are murdering Charlie Hebdo journalists and so many like them more than once. It is up to people to retain these bodies from those who are weeping for them while their foot is on the other journalists’ neck.

Tableau 4

The whole Europe is shocked, furious and mournful. Yet the people and the leaders called for unity to pass these dark days. There is no message to the violent extremism, and no consolation for a tragic loss, stronger than unity. The point is that the unity must go beyond a mere large demonstration. And it is possible if and only if we define unity comprehensively and radically. The question is that what should be the basis of our unity? It could be the democratic values, or the European values, or the civil values, or the religious values. They are all worth to be united for, but they are also open to various interpretations. A unity on such basis cannot go further than a one-day demonstration. The basis could also be the human values, the most comprehensive basis for the largest possible unity, understandable in all human societies. The unity on such basis won’t allow us to distinct a European catastrophe from a Middle Eastern catastrophe. There would be only one catastrophe, the catastrophe for humanity. In this sense, wherever innocent people are being killed, supressed and exploited, it will be our responsibility not to remain silent. Otherwise, there would be no unity at all or there would be only the alliances against each other. The massacre of 12 innocent French journalists is and must be a tragedy for all the humanity and it necessitates the world to get united against it; the massacre of 2000 people in a Nigerian city with 10000 inhabitants in the same week by almost the same terrorist group, is and must be seen as a tragedy for humanity as well. As long as, the reactions to these two “similar” catastrophic events are not the same, there would be no unity, or at least no unity based on human values.

Tableau 5

All of a sudden, nobody is “Charlie” any more, or better to say, when being Charlie means more than a gesture and it might be possible to leave the neutral realm of symbolism in order to defend the freedom of speech in the realm of reality, where doing so actually matters, nobody is ready to step forward. From CNN to NBC and from Huffington Post to New York Times, nobody is willing to reprint the Charlie’s last cartoon. The excuse is not their disagreement with provoking people or insulting their belief, which would, also, be absolutely nonsense. Their explanation is way more ridiculous than that. CNN head Jeff Zucker said: as a matter of journalistic importance, they want to run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but they do not want to risk the safety and security of their employees. What Zucker implies is that the journalists’ responsibility, especially in the case that the free journalism is under attack, means nothing when there would be the potential risk for safety of the employees. Well, the safety of the employees will be at stake in all news coverage of major crimes or political scandals, war crimes etc. Does it mean that CNN makes the same decision in all the similar occasions and, therefore, we must not expect any trustworthy report on any topic that might put their employees at risk?

Another sad point that Jeff Zucker’s explanation implies is that the terrorists actually won and they will win in any other similar cases in future. If you want the press to remain silent, that is the way to shut them up. The mainstream press not only gave up their main responsibility, which is covering “the matter of journalistic importance”, but also encouraging the terrorists implying that their brutal method to response to journalists actually works.

Tableau 6

Since the beginning of War on Terror, a sort of neo-colonial discourse is dominating most of the discussions about Islam, fundamentalism, Muslims and immigrants. There are two major approaches toward these topics and they both can be categorized under the neo-colonial discourse: The first approach, which is mostly supported by the right wingers, directly links these terms to each other and sees the Islam as fundamentalism and all immigrants (or at least the immigrants coming from Muslim countries) as Muslims. This approach reduces the conflict to the ideological and cultural conflict and simplifies the problem as a problem of increasing violence and fundamentalism caused by the immigrants.

The second approach, mostly supported by the leftists, believes in an absolute distinction between Islam and fundamentalism and between Muslim/immigrants and fundamentalist. This approach tries to avoid any generalization about these terms. It also enters to the discussion from the human rights point of view. They support the Muslim community’s right to be seen equal with the rest of the Western community and they believe that the violent fundamentalism is a result of political conflict.

The point is the both sides are simplifying the discussion and their knowledge of Islam, the Muslim community and the immigrants diversity is at the same level, which is so fragile. On the other hand, apart from their major differences, their view of the Muslims and immigrants is very much the same. They both see the Muslims and immigrants as the “other”, whether they hold grudge against them or sympathize with them. Such view will not let them to understand these minorities profoundly and without presuppositions.

There is an obvious discriminating view in all the discussions about Islam. You will never see it being discussed as a religion in a same way that the rest of religions are being discussed. There is a pointless dispute between those who argue that Islam is evil, violent and merciless, and those who exculpate Islam. They both talk about Islam and Muslim countries without clarifying the difference between the Muslim countries and Islamic countries or explaining that how Emirate, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey could all be called Muslim countries or Islamic countries at the same time?

The point is that there is a huge difference between Muslim countries, which only indicates the religion of the majority in these countries, and the Islamic countries, which indicate the role of religion in the political apparatus and the means of controlling the society. The Islamic countries are responsible for the rise of Islamic violence in a same way that some of the Western countries, especially United States, are responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in late 70’s. They supported, equipped, theorized and promoted the violent Islam or at least their wrong political and cultural policies led to the emersion of this evil threat. The Islamic countries and some of the Western countries are creating a new conception of “being Muslim”, which is violent, intolerant and extremist. This new conception is spreading within the Muslim community and needs a comprehensive analysis.

Islam is nothing but a religion; and like all the religions, it has the most potential to become the main source of violence, mercilessness, dogmatism and evil. The Christianity caused the bloodiest Crusades that killed at least a million people. Judaism in the hand of Israeli state showed enough talent to cause the insane level of violence. Even the Buddhism proved that is able to launch a massacre in Myanmar. Religion is nothing but a potential mass destruction weapon (as its counterparts the communism, nationalism, fascism and capitalism are), if it remains untouchable, uncontrolled and not constantly and fundamentally criticized.