As people in the liberation business, we’re well aware of the importance of freedom of expression, and the dangers of silencing views that don’t conform to the mainstream. However let’s not be so naïve as to imagine that there aren’t limits to our freedom to say what we like, or that there shouldn’t be. Would you honestly fight for a world with the freedom to harass, intimidate, and threaten, to incite violence, murder, and terror?
In the weeks since the Charlie Hebdo killings we’ve seen an outpouring of so-called ‘freedom of speech’ activism. The ever-popular #JeSuisCharlie hashtag has spread like wildfire. The point, one can only presume, is to collectively say that you shouldn’t be killed for what you say. That senseless killing affects us all. So far so good… The problem however arises from the nature of the publication you’re purporting to be; Charlie Hebdo weren’t just being mean, or inflammatory, they were repeatedly, unequivocally, and unashamedly xenophobic and racist. When you say you are Charlie, what you’re saying is that you stand where they stand, that you condone racism and xenophobia, and that you would publish what they published.
There’s also a hypocrisy here in who we choose to remember, in who we are able to empathise with. There certainly hasn’t been the same outrage, the same show of solidarity for the victims of the islamophobic backlash resulting from the Charlie Hebdo murders, or the victims of the recent Boko Haram attacks. Our selective solidarity is highlighting longstanding biases, of our limited empathy for anyone ‘not like us’.
So please, if you express this seamless bond of identification with Charlie Hebdo, if you are Charlie, then be honest about what you’re supporting. And if you find that actually you’d rather not be racist and xenophobic, find a better way to express your outrage at the hundreds of senseless murders committed around the world, by people of all races, all religions, all affiliations.
I am not Charlie, and I hope you’re not either.
Warwick Pride President
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