I have a friend; her name is Charlie. No, sorry, his name is Charlie. Their name is Charlie. You know what? All of my friends are Charlie. They aren’t John and Mary and Emily any more, they are one amalgamation of many many Charlies: left-wing, right-wing, centrist friends of mine have all outed themselves as a secret Charlie-all-along this last week. They did so by putting a hashtag (#) followed by ‘jesuischarlie’ after, well, anything at all. Any tweet, Facebook status, even text was accompanied with the shocking news that they were Charlie.
But ‘oo ees thees Sharlie? It is, of course, Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine which was targeted by extremists last week. Now, you’ll have noticed that o have not aligned myself with Charlie. Nor will I. At risk of being highly inflammatory, here are my reasons why.
For one thing, Charlie Hebdo isn’t, dare I say, all that good. It is compared, somewhat predictably with our own beloved Private Eye. I read Private Eye. It is a sensitive, well thought out, and precise and targeted magazine. It does investigative journalism. It points out fallacies in our press, our legal system, our government. It prints letters of complaint it gets. It is a brave and worthwhile magazine. From my (admittedly limited) research on Charlie Hebdo, it just isn’t in the same league. It’s lazy. It’s just offensive for offensive’s sake. Being fair, je ne parler pas Francais (and haven’t ever since I dropped it like it was hot the second I could), but it has no subtlety. It will publish an offensive picture of Mohammed, knowing that Muslims everywhere will think that blasphemous and shocking and all sorts. It was a French Frankie Boyle. Unfunny and, ultimately, of no use to anyone.
Despite its laziness and lack of depth, I don’t support killing anyone at the magazine. I really don’t. Killing in the name is religion is nine times out of ten AGAINST the religion you purport to endorse as you squeeze the trigger. I’m a Catholic. We’ve done Lots Wrong and I squirm whenever I read about evangelicals in America making it difficult for people to live their lives because it’s not in Leviticus (but that’s another subject for another day). I would not make an ordinary Muslim apologise, any more than I suspect an ordinary Muslim would expect me to say “mega soz 4 Torquemada lol”. It isn’t us. It’s not the ordinary folk, it’s the extremists.
But here’s the rub. It’s ordinary people who let this go on. By proclaiming that ‘je suis Charlie’, many people feel that they are kicking the terrorists in the teeth, which I believe is a good thing. Terrorism should never ever ever win. BUT. “I don’t agree with your misquotation of Voltaire, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” has become the mantra de jour. People are hungry for free speech, for the ability to offend whomsoever they choose, for liberté.
Then we get into murkier grounds. I have a dear friend – let’s call her Charlie – who has proudly shown her Charlie colours. She has even been out to gay paree to show her solidarity. They will never win! she cries. Freedom for all! Now, and I hate to criticise these noble intentions, I must draw your attention to a comedian (in the loosest sense of the word) called Dapper Laughs. He is some monstrous creation of itv2, who goes around saying ‘moist’ and cracking rape jokes. Hilaire. He released an album (all profits going to sweet charidee) on which he sings about a homeless tramp stinking of piss. Oh, did I mention? It was a homeless charity he was donating to. Cue outrage. He eventually backed down and ‘retired’ his Mr D Laughs persona. But the fact stands: Charlie found him offensive and tweeted and petitioned and tweeted again until he went away.
BNP. They’re a laff, ain’t they, with their flags and racism and stuff. Oh, they’re not? And you object to their protests? Well, why don’t you put down that Voltaire sign and vehemently oppose them. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what it comes down to. We’re all for freedom of speech, until someone gives a speech we don’t like. Be it sexism, racism, homophobia… Whatever. Someone, somewhere, will say something that you don’t like. Unless you’re willing to have the KKK burn crosses in your front yard, as well as anti-rape marches, then you aren’t for free speech. You’re not.
And that is why, though I mean no harm to anyone, I can honestly put my hands on my heart and say “non, je ne pas suis Charlie”. Because I don’t want the BNP, the radical extremists, the militants to take over. And neither should you.