Je Suis or not Je Suis Charlie?

Before I start. I would like to get something out there. The real story here should not be about Charlie Hebdo. While the brazen and brutal attack on the satirical newspaper is shocking, it is nothing compared to the continuing onslaught suffered by Jews around the world. Immediately after the newspaper attack, terrorists went straight after a Kosher supermarket, a Jewish target. It is 2015. This should not be a thing. This is not ambiguous or shrouded in mystery. It was deliberate and it was deadly. These attacks are becoming more and more common and the pattern is being continuously ignored.

I for one am frustrated and infuriated by the continuing ambivalence of media and world governments of this disturbing and demoralizing trend. That being said I would like to address the phenomena of support of Charlie Hebdo after the attack.


I’ve heard a lot of people who are deifying the work of Charlie Hebdo as the stalwarts of free speech and satire. There are also many who are, perhaps rightly, criticizing them as being little more than glorified neckbeard trolls who stumbled into immortality by pissing of one person too many. But, can’t they be both?

I, like many people, posted some messages of support for Charlie Hebdo, including this image, posted to my Instagram and facebook.

The zeitgeist hashtag #jesuisCharlie (je suis Charlie = I am Charlie) spread at an alarming rate. As with all things that are popular, it’s rampant growth outran the important questions of its validity and merit.

After hearing some of the criticism of their support, I asked myself. Was I showing support for free speech and standing up for tyranny? Or, was I caught in the latest hashtag trend, a follower not a leader? I often wonder if I’m susceptible to the hive mentality that often follows events of such global significance.

The reaction almost immediate.

One such article in the Daily Beast. “Je ne pas suis Charlie” (I am not Charlie)  by Arthur Chu declared that

There’s no particular merit to being an “equal-opportunity offender”—indeed, it’s lazy and cheap, a way to avoid being held accountable for anything you say because none of it is part of a moral worldview or to be taken seriously.

 Is Charlie Hebdo a valid figure in media? Or are they just trolls? Does it matter?

To analyze I had to come up with an analogue and that analogue is South Park. South Park and its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are immensely successful and influential in the world of satire. Their musical  The Book of Mormon is a smash hit and has elevated Stone and Parker’s status. South Park itself has received praise for its satire of a broad range of subjects; and Stone and Parker them selves are one Oscar away from a full EGOT.

But that is now. In its inception South Park was bashed as crass and offensive for its profanity, mild racism and scatalogical humor. Had it ended right there, it would have been just that. However, they were able to grow and mature into the force that they are today.

Had they been shut down

Is Charlie Hebdo as “good” as South Park? Probably not, but that is not up to me or any individual person to decide. Is it bad? That’s not the point. If you do not stand up for the merits of expression, just because you find it shitty, then you’re outrage is meaningless. Somebody will always found it shitty. In this case, somebody found it so shitty that they were willing to kill for it.

I am not Charlie because I share their polemic view points. I am not Charlie because I am a longstanding fan of their periodical. In fact, had their not been an attack on their offices last week, I might not been aware of the name Charlie Hebdo. For sure I can be sure that I would have been dismissive of their inflammatory rhetoric; especially some of the stereotypical and anti-semitic portrayals of Jews on their pages.

I am Charlie because I believe in satire as a valid form of discourse. I am Charlie in spite of the terrorist, because they must be shown that any attempt to quiet criticism must have the complete and utter opposite effect. Snuff out a single flame and be confronted with an uncontrollable blaze. I am Charlie because my belief in free expression is not conditional on the quality or morality of its content.

And the fact that Hebdo took the latest, and to date the most brazen salvo in the ongoing saga of the west vs. Islamic extremism, they deserve some recognition. The phrase “the terrorists are attacking our very way of life,” has never been more true until now.

Regardless of what one thinks about them,  I think it would be disingenuous not to admit some bravery on their part; in particular on the part of Stéphene “Charb” Charbonnier,

“I am not afraid of reprisals, I have no children, no wife, no car, no debt. It might sound a bit pompous, but I’d prefer to die on my feet than to live on my knees.”

That is quite a quote. This was a man who did what he wanted, fully aware of the potential consequences. Whether he was a jerk or not is irrelevant.

To answer Arthur Chu, whose essay I appreciated while disagreeing with it.

Yes. There is merit to being an equal opportunity offender. There is merit to testing the boundaries of our free speech and freedom. I am a major proponent of the upset-the-apple-cart school of dialogue. I believe that there a certain times when the best course of action is to take the whole thing smash it into a million pieces then picking up one by one. Why? Because it’s only when you have to pick up all the pieces that you can truly recognize which ones are most important.


About Ben Faulding

Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. I found my way to Judaism during my twenties. I'm currently a direct care worker for adults with special needs and I live in Crown Heights.
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