Why I am Charlie Hebdo – what “je suis Charlie” means and doesn’t mean

I draw on.

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” – Kevin Strom

I despise most of what Charlie Hebdo runs. What my saying “je suis charlie” means is that I offend people just like Charlie Hebdo does, and the effort to shut them up is an oppression of my rights and freedoms.

“What happened at Charlie Hebdo” is different for every person.

To me, it was an attempt to force one’s values upon another using violence and fear. I say “je suis charlie” to mean “I stand by, speak of, and draw about my values no matter how much they offend you.”

To me, it was a statement that their rules superseded my law.  My saying “je suis charlie” means I believe in the law as having the ultimate governance over our lives, not religion, culture, or another set of values. Freedom of speech prevails over their wish to see me dead (more on that later).

Freedom of speech in itself is just a law: just a few words written on a piece of paper that we blindly believe everyone obeys. Law whose power and authority ends at each and every national border, which internet crosses freely. The people fought for and gained “Freedom of Speech” (very recently, mind you), and we are now taking it for granted, completely unaware of its limitations. “You can’t kill me for what I say/draw!” is an extremely fragile argument. They can. They always can. And that’s why I say je suis Charlie.

So about those people who want to see me dead. Pfft, you say. “You’re a nobody. No one will kill you!” I am Charlie Hebdo: I have twice been told that my very existence, the fact I lived and breathed, offended their values.

Any of those people, any time, anywhere, can turn into someone who chooses to use violence to silence what they see as an offence.

You wonder. “WHAT is it that you do that offended them so much?”  You search for a “thing” that separates me and makes me their target.  Am I a person of colour? Have I mocked a sacred figure? Did I propagate hate speech? Did I help someone’s child or spouse escape abuse? Am I a bigot? Am I gay?

Not knowing what about me caused someone to threaten my life unnerves you. You look for that thing that makes those victims a target because that means you are safe.

We are all extremists who violate and mock other people’s fundamental and/or sacred values in someone’s view. For instance. If you called Charlie Hebdo “Islamist attack,” you immediately offended millions of Muslims who see these attacks as the ultimate insult to their religion. Good thing Muslims are peaceful people. Do you believe in interracial marriage? How about equal rights to gays? Oppose genital mutilation? Do you eat meat? There are some people who are offended by your opinion, no matter how “right” you are and how popular your opinion is and how illegal oppositions are in our local geography.

There is not a single person in the world who is free of that conflict no matter how Canadian or Swiss one might be.

When my words/drawings, or my lifestyle, or my eye colour, offend others, I tell them wrong, you despicable bigots and I still don’t feel unsafe. This is misguided and arrogant.

Yes, they are wrong in the world I believe I live in. Do these people share that view of the world, rules, and the law? There is freedom of speech here. Is there freedom of speech there? Shouting and, possibly bitch-slapping, is the limit of the types of angry responses that are acceptable to me. Am I sure that’s shared by the people I offend? How do we know that I’m not a charlie hebdo to someone? We don’t.

“But you simply don’t pick a fight with a guy with a big gun,” you might say.  And I’ll inform you, you just announced to the world, “You can have my rights and freedoms, and I’ll live by your rule, if you show up with a big gun.”

Fight for freedom of speech wasn’t over the day the law was passed.  The only thing that happened on that day is that we stopped feeling the need to fight for it any more.

Charlie Hebdo massacre reminds us that we continue to fight for it, and I say #jesuischarlie


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