Last Wednesday morning I received a text message saying: “I would advise that you avoid any Muslim snarkiness for the time being.”
I responded: “Good call. When did I do that… Oh! the Paris shooting.”
It has been an interesting week in the media world, and an even more interesting month in the world of free expression. Like many around the world, I watched in amazement as an action movie made its way onto the news. My initial reaction was one of sadness — for the evil in the world — which quickly gave way to that rare sense of community. In the extreme times of crisis and achievement, those rare moments of togetherness provide valuable reminders that we have more in common than we do in difference — first as humans, then as Americans, and in this case, the commonwealth of media.
However, this week makes me happy to not be in the business of quick, reactionary commentary of the Twitter world. The tragedy of the senseless terrorist attack on Paris’ alternative weekly, Charlie Hebdo, requires that we seize the opportunity to react responsibly.
Obviously we must all continue to defend our freedoms and not succumb to the fear of terrorism and extremism … or insanity. The way that we defeat those who threaten our way of life and our beliefs is to continue to live free — including free from fear.
Additionally, we must also face these threats by being better than our enemies. There is no logic in insanity, so in certain cases asking “why” is a fruitless endeavor. Yet one of the most important things society can do, and in particular the media, is self-reflect. Self reflection is one of the most important traits in the evolution of humanity, and vital to the quality and integrity of a free media.
There are no “sides” to this tragedy. And these attacks may have been inevitable. However, in the interest of introspection, was the assumed cause of the attacks worth it? Of course Charlie Hebdo had every right to publish satirical, incendiary political cartoons, and anyone who argues against that truly is on the wrong “side.” However, in order to learn from this, we need to take this tragedy and examine how we behave in a dynamic, shrinking world. If something is intended to incite or provoke a reaction, particularly when it is knowingly offensive, we must at least attempt to fully understand its purpose. There is nothing wrong with being offensive, so long as it is done with a meaningful reason. And while it should never come to a matter of life and death, in the world today that purpose must be worth your life.
I have looked at the cartoons that have led to previous attacks against Charlie Hebdo, and what allegedly led to last week’s shooting, and because they are in French, I struggle to understand the true meaning of them. Furthermore, I need more background like whether or not there was a supporting story to the cartoons. That being said, as best I can tell LEO would not have run those cartoons. Without deeper explanation, they are nothing more than inflammatory cartoons without a deeper message, or purpose
There is an unfortunate connection between this tragedy and my recent commentary on the movie “The Interview,” which was not initially released out of security concerns. When diving into the world of satire, especially of cultural or religious nature, there is an extra burden of responsibility — a standard of respect and purpose above and beyond commentary-as-usual.
France has over 5 million Muslims, and a history wrought with tremendous racial, social, economical and religious tensions and segregation. From the roots of France’s hyper-secularism, to the very public display of Muslim’s traditions — from veiled women to the call-to-prayer — the friction is decades old, and the oppression one sided. So when a minority community not only feels oppressed, but is institutionally oppressed by the majority, it bears considering not making them the butt of satirical jokes without purpose.
I support the freedoms of speech and expression by living it. Yet I also support these freedoms by using them responsibly, with care, and with the understanding that I am one of the blessed few in the history of the world to be able to be an advocate for what I think is right. Satirizing someone else’s religion or tradition is not how I choose to exercise my freedom of speech or expression. •