We are all Charlie

The horrendous attack on Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday has shocked the world. This is beyond humanity, and all reactions, also from the Muslim communities, is one of deep anger and clear condemnation. Everywhere this murderous spree is seen as an attack on a core value in modern free society, the freedom of the press. Whoever attacks the free press, attacks democracy and free society, so whoever attacks a free press in fact attacks us, all of us, none excluded. Throughout Europe, people flocked to the large squares, expressing their revulsion for this brutal massacre, voicing their conviction that this is not to be tolerated. Thus, the ever so divided Europe unites in one voice, that we are all Charlie.

French journalists with press cards and "Je suis Vharlie" (I am Charlie, before the premises of Charlie Hebdo. Photo Gonzalo Fuentes

French journalists with press cards and “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), before the premises of Charlie Hebdo.
Photo Gonzalo Fuentes


The target, Charlie Hebdo, is a satirical magazine which by definition is iconoclast. It choses provocation, not dialogue, trying to shock, not to gloss over. Their humor is not mine, and their policy is not the one I advocate to bridge the deep divisions in our society, but it is an option that is open in our society. And it should be open, in a free democracy. What you can do, does not necessarily dictate what you want to do or should do, but the principle of free expression has to stand inviolate.
Any comparison of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo with other attempts to muzzle the press is slightly insulting, as this terrorist act is of an unheard-of brutality. But this strike at our free society carries two challenges. The first is to unite against any terrorism, especially its religious version. That is relatively easy, for these days we are all Charlie: ‘Je suis Charlie, nous tous sommes Charlie’. We waive our pencils and poise our pen, for ultimately these will conquer the assault rifles. The second is to look inwards, where we stand for a free press. As bloggers we are part of a free exchange of ideas and opinions; in our dialogue we set our own limits of decency, so we have to be aware of those self-defined borders, in order not to go into self-censure. But also we have to be alert on the slightest infraction on the freedom of press and opinion, in our community and in our church. Any organization worth its salt influences its internal discourse, which may lead to muzzling dissenters and muting voices of dissent. Also the LDS church. I am not going into details here, as that would be an insult in a blog about this horrible piece of terrorism, but when I declare that ‘I am Charlie’ this sets an agenda for the future. We are all Charlie.

Walter van Beek

48 comments for “We are all Charlie

  1. “Any comparison of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo with other attempts to muzzle the press is slightly insulting, as this terrorist act is of an unheard-of brutality.”

    No, it’s not. They’re the very things that should be compared. Being against a dozen murders is in a sense cheap and easy, and merely being against the means, the “unsound methods,” while giving a pass to kinder, gentler methods of muzzling debate is capitulation to some good cop/bad cop routine.

  2. Charlie Hebdo published a cover cartoon of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost having sex with each other. I am not Charlie.

  3. In case you’re wondering, despite Larry Flynt being shot by Joseph Paul Franklin for his publications, I’m not Larry either.

  4. Charlie Hebdo is completely iconoclast, and at times insensitive and gross. There is no disagreement on that. But that is not the issue. The issue is the freedom of the press, also for Charlie Hebdo. No one should be shot for making a cartoon. Yes, we are Charlie.

  5. “Nice” use of apophasis; you tie the LDS church with terrorists while claiming you won’t go into details. This is terrible sophistry on your part; you couldn’t just condemn the terrorists, you had to throw in a pot shot at the church while claiming not to do so.

  6. Walter-

    On the one hand, I feel bad for weighing in with logic at a time when so many are reeling from this tragedy. On the other hand, I have a better solution to offer, and so I choose to write this.

    No one should be shot for making a cartoon. Yes, we are Charlie.

    That is a non sequitur. I find the comics of Charlie Hebdo nauseating and offensive. Therefore: I am not Charlie. But I also affirm that no one should be shot for making a cartoon. So who am I? I am Ahmed.

    Two of those killed, 42-year-old Ahmed Merabet and 49-year-old Franck Brinsolaro, were police officers…Merabet was himself Muslim.

    Merabet, then, died at the hands of one of his own — albeit its fanatical and dangerous minority. It is especially and darkly ironic given that the gunmen allegedly shouted, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” The name “Ahmed” shares linguistic roots with “Muhammad,” and the prophet was sometimes referred to as Ahmed.

    He gave his life to protect Charlie Hebdo’s right to ridicule his religion.

    I don’t think Ahmed Merabet was Charlie Hebdo. I think, in many ways, he was something greater. He is certainly an example that is easier for me to relate to as I watch plays like The Book of Mormon mock my faith and yet affirm their right to do so.

    I am not Charlie Hebdo. I am not Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, or Matt Stone, either. (Writers of The Book of Mormon.) But there is still an example I can aspire towards, and that example is Ahmed’s.

    EDIT: I turned these comments into a short blog post here.

  7. Additional thoughts: Emotions are high in the wake of tragedy. I think we need to try extra hard to be patient when talking to each other about these things while the wounds are still fresh. This is particular true the closer one gets (emotionally) to the trauma.

    Towards that end, here are two possible ways of looking at the problematic end of Walter’s piece:

    But also we have to be alert on the slightest infraction on the freedom of press and opinion, in our community and in our church. Any organization worth its salt influences its internal discourse, which may lead to muzzling dissenters and muting voices of dissent. Also the LDS church. I am not going into details here, as that would be an insult in a blog about this horrible piece of terrorism, but when I declare that ‘I am Charlie’ this sets an agenda for the future. We are all Charlie.

    Option 1

    Based on the “Any organization worth its salt…” line one can take this to be a comment that organizations in general (not the LDS Church in particular) have a tendency to regulate communication that is (1) necessary and (2) beneficial when done appropriately, but that the risk of veering from healthy speech regulation into censorship is one that Mormons must be on guard not because of any particular instance of nefarious Mormon censorship, but as a general risk factor for all institutions.

    Option 2

    The Church has, in fact, engaged in immoral acts of speech repression that are analogous to terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

    Clearly, Option 2 is going to raise red flags for a lot of people. I’m not sure if that was the intended point or not. If it was, it would probably be a good idea to provide additional context and clarification to help others understand the point. One unfortunate aspect of these kinds of discussions is that metaphorical language about systematic, unintentional oppression and microaggression is rhetorically similar to actual language about violence and coercion. I think it’s important to try and draw bright lines, especially if the analogy cross from alleged metaphorical coercion to outright, literal mass murder.

    Perhaps Walter can explain this to us more, but in any case I reiterate what I said at the start: let’s be patient and generous with each other now of all times.

  8. “I find the comics of Charlie Hebdo nauseating and offensive.”

    I find Nathaniel claim of “So who am I? I am Ahmed.” to be offensive (and nauseating).

    Are you a working class minority? Do you put yourself in harms way? I have read your posts about gays, feminists, and liberals. You are much more Charlie Hebdo than you are Ahmed by the very nature of your blogging. Charlie Hebdo also suffered from some pretty serious case of self-righteousness…

  9. Like many people I find some of the humour of Charlie Hebdo insulting and crude. In fact I would normally be sympathetic to anyone wanting to legally restrict such humour. Yet when we see people being murdered simply because others disagreed with their humour then – Je suis Charlie. I think those of you who want to choose someone more worthy are missing the point. Sometimes as in the Second World War with Stalin what matters are not who you stand with but that you stand. It also may be that the situation there is not appreciated. While it would be wrong to compare the wave of terrorism in France to 9/11 the sentiment there and in Belgium is very similar. People feel under attack and especially on the matter of free speech. As I write this four more people innocently caught up in this wave of intolerance have been sadly murdered. At this time I would hope that we would all say – Je suis Charlie!

  10. Chris-

    My use of the phrase “I am Ahmed” paralleled the “I am Charlie Hebdo.” It was not an attempt to colonize his identity. I tried to make that clear in how I ended my post: But there is still an example I can aspire towards, and that example is Ahmed’s. He gave his life. I didn’t. That is only chief among a very great many differences between us, and you are quite right to point them out if you feel I wasn’t clear enough.

    Still, I think the important point is that despite those differences, I can honor his example and aspire towards it.

  11. Today on my Facebook feed, a left-ish intellectual friend posted a link that expressed why he was not Charlie, the ideas of which resonated with me as I read some of these comments. It doesn’t surprise me that people who invest a lot in their superior righteousness (a good and necessary work, IMO) would hesitate to align with the perpetrators of South Park-grade “journalism.”

    I know this of my own knowledge.

    But. I also can fire up the humility to associate with sinners as their fellow, and as someone who has actually drawn and published (amateur) political cartoons, I am way more repulsed by the idea that someone would think you deserve to be shot for such.

    What you do with your pen (or keyboard,) however juvenile (or political,) (or however much I may disagree with you,) should not be a capital offense. Some of you may legitimately differ with me on this, but for now and the foreseeable future, je suis Charlie.

  12. So, all you Charlies, should Le Pen have a place with Hollande and Sarkozy in the upcoming unity rally? Or should she be prosecuted to discourage her Islamophobia from spreading?

  13. Thanks, all.
    I want to make two points:
    1. Even if people communicate in an obnoxious way – Charlie Hebdo is an example sometimes, – I will fight for their right to do so; our right to free speech must override the content of the communication. Against barbaric acts that claim justification of murders on the grounds of the content of that communication, we must take a stand. There I am Charlie.

    2. This stand leads to an agenda, which is to defend free speech not only against murderers (since the latter is an easy consensus) but also against more insiduous ways of censorship. I did my utmost not to link organizations, including our church, to these barbaric acts, but seemingly did not succeed completely.

    I like Nathaniel’s formulation warning for “a tendency to regulate communication that is (1) necessary and (2) beneficial when done appropriately, but that the risk of veering from healthy speech regulation into censorship is one that Mormons must be on guard not because of any particular instance of nefarious Mormon censorship, but as a general risk factor for all institutions.”

    We do need norms in our communication, but we have to remain on guard against creeping censorship.
    Maybe I should have made that into a separate blog, but I combined it for two reasons. 1. I do think we have to take a stand on supporting core values of the free world. 2. The agenda against censorship is a logical corrolary of that stand.
    Walter van Beek

  14. I agree with the principle of free speech and mourn those who were killed in this tragedy. In that, I certainly agree with you, Walter. If we differ in other opinions, or in how we express our grief, then I believe that this is neither the time nor the place to indulge in expressing any such differences. We mourn together, brother.

  15. These are all very interesting comments. I would ask – what are we going to DO about it? What are going to DO to combat terrorism? The twenty years I spent in the military tells me that we must DO once the talking is over. What are we willing to DO to stop tragedies like this from occuring again? This is a hard question for most of us to answer, but we must answer it. I am still trying to answer it completely for myself. If I weren’t past the age of being in the military, I think I would try to go back, but age is against me.
    — One part of the answer for me personally is that I do not think the world will come any closer to untiy then it is now until we were able to come to a spiritual unity, and so I am praying for guidance for what I can do in that regard. More missionary work? More reaching out to share what I have with others?
    — The second part of the answer for me is in regards to what can I do to stop the flow of those leaving my country and joining terrorist groups. Where have I failed the young that they are following that path, and how can I stop the flow? Volunteering in schools and youth centers is one answer I come up with.
    — Lastly, since I am no longer eligible to be in the military, how can I support the military and police forces combating terrorism in my community and country? I am still working on this one!

  16. It’s good to see Mormons discussing this issue. Thanks for posting, Walter. Just a couple thoughts.

    We’re all Charlie, and it’s unnecessary to delve into Charlie’s satire to draw that conclusion. Those holding the signs rightfully recognize that at issue is a core tenant of democracy–the freedom to express ideas, especially ideas that attack what some consider holy. It’s completely irrelevant what Charlie had to say. The issue is freedom to express ideas. When you say, “I am Charlie” you’re not saying “I draw nasty, offensive cartoons.” You’re saying, “I’m on the side of democracy. I too have been damaged by this attack. I too will stand for democratic principles.”

    Second thought, … I forgot my second point.

    I am Charlie.

  17. I love the idea of expressing solidarity with victims of hate crimes. I hesitate to say “I Am Charlie,” however, because it has the unfortunate side-effect of being insensitive to the *non-violent* Muslims who, themselves, are the victims of the racist and offensive images published by Charlie Hebdo.

    Moreover, I think the terrorists were trolling us in a way. Their ambition was not so much to protect the sanctity of the Prophet’s image as it was to drive a wedge between Western society and Muslims. They want Muslim moderates to feel further marginalized and victimized: all the better for recruiting them to extremism. The great risk in France (and Europe generally) is not that freedom of speech will suddenly die off. The great risk is ethnic tension, social disharmony, and the radicalization of a marginalized group.

    Thus, while I truly appreciate the good-hearted intentions of this post, I cannot bring myself to say “I Am Charlie.” I feel much more comfortable standing with victims and Muslims alike in declaring: “I Am Ahmed.”

  18. Those of you who associate with Ahmed:

    Okay. I can see that I suppose, but let me push back just for the sake of argument. …

    The Ahmeds of the world are a dime a dozen. He puts himself in harm’s way for the sake of the rule of law. He’s good in every way. He’s altruistic. He is worthy of our respect, admiration, and gratitude.

    Charlie was a caustic jerk. He called what he did satire, but he wasn’t particularly good at it. He was more interested in offending others than bringing any positive change in the world. Really, the world would be a better place with fewer Charlies and more Ahmeds. But …

    What matters here is not who the victims were, but why they died. Ahmed died because there are violent people who kill those who uphold the law. It’s sickening it happens, but democracy seems to continue despite violent criminals. Charlie died because he expressed an idea, and his idea was that nothing is above criticism. That is the very heart of western democracy. Charlie’s death represents a cut to the very soul of what we’re about in the West, at least since the Enlightenment. I really think we all have to be Charlie, even though Charlie was a jerk.

    Again, I’m not interested in being argumentative. If y’all want to be Ahmed, okay. I just really think y’all might be missing what’s going on.

    (And, as always, I can be persuaded otherwise.)

  19. Nathaniel, how do we know that Ahmed Merabet was a Muslim? Sure, his name suggests that he or his parents or grandparents probably came from an area of the world where a large number of people profess beliefs in Islam. But should we assume that all people named Christian are believing, practicing Christians?

  20. Oh yes, Je suis Charlie. I most certainly stand up for everyone’s right to insult and mock religious claims.

  21. Thanks for bringing up Ahmed Merabet. The contrast with Charlie is striking: Charlie uses the freedom of speech in ways which often go against our grain. Ahmed died defending the other’s right of speech. The latter is a hero, the first an anti-hero – even against any heroism. “I am Charlie” is a basic stance pro free speech, “I am Ahmed” is an aspiration: I hope, when the time comes that I really have to stand up to my ideals, that I will live up to that challenge. I do hope to live up to that ideal. “I hope to be Ahmed” (but not yet, please …).
    Walker F. (22) hits the nail on its head. Terrorists aim at driving wedges between people, That is why I think those ‘nasty cartoons’ do not work. What does? Bruce (20) raises that question, and it has to be answered. I am an anthropologist of religion and will have to address this (even if Africa is my stamping ground).
    For now we mourn together, (19), dig our heels in the sand for free speech, and then look for better ways to address this problem.

    Walter van Beek

  22. Whatever jerk Charlie Hebdo may have been is outweighed a million times by the bullying murderous jerkishness of Islamic terrorism. We should be voicing the bulk of our criticism radical Islamist ideologies, not a satirical newspaper. The editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo is the true victim.

    ABM, you don’t stand up for that right?

  23. Of course no one should be shot because of a cartoon.
    But that doesn’t mean freedom of speech or freedom of the press is so extensive that we should always fight for freedom to say/write anything.
    I was raised to know that shouting “Fire” in a crowded building when there was no fire should not be protected speech because you can get people killed in the aftermath.
    Now, of course I’m not saying Charlie should have been censured. That is not my argument. But please, don’t say that we have a responsibility to fight for freedom of the press at all times and in all places. We don’t necessarily have to fight every “slight infraction.” You even think self-censorship is an infraction against freedom of speech?

  24. jks,

    I am glad for Walter’s post because it reminds that not all Mormons are like you and Nathaniel. Of course, all the Mormons like Walter could like fit into a really small room (and I am pretty fat…so I take up most of the room).

  25. “I was raised to know that shouting “Fire” in a crowded building when there was no fire should not be protected speech because you can get people killed in the aftermath.”

    However, if there is a fire in the crowded building, staying silent would likely cause far more harm.

  26. “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.” –Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Willem.

  27. Nathan, to understand Willem’s bitter reaction, a more complete quote makes it clearer:

    “We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and Putin. It really makes me laugh. We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends; They’ve never seen Charlie Hebdo. A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t know what it was. Now it’s the opposite, but if people are protesting to defend freedom of speech, naturally that’s a good thing.”

    Willem (pen name for 73 year old Bernard Holtrop) gave the interview to the Dutch Volkskrant and specifies that his disgust comes from those, such as Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders, who use the events to promote their own agenda of intolerance.

  28. Re Nathan Whilk (#36): “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.” –Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Willem.”

    And I’m glad you’re still alive to say so, Sir! ;-D (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take a shower …)

  29. I have read Holtrop’s comment in de Volkskrant, which happens to be also my newspaper. He expresses himself as a cartoonist would, direct and without nuance. But his critique is correct: the general public anger can be appropriated for political purposes which have nothing to do with the issue of free speech. Putin as champion of free speech is indeed ridiculous. For us it is a challenge to remain on the alert for this fundamental value of a free society, and not just to ride the bandwagon.

  30. #24 Wally Bob: “No comments about ‘Je suis Juif’? Why so?”

    I’ll let Bro. van Beek police replies on his own thread (including this one, if he feels it is not sufficiently related), but I would like to answer your question.

    Indeed, you are correct in implying that, just as no one should be killed for expressing himself (however reprehensible we might think the expression to be), no one should be killed for his religion. To that extent, and to the extent that the hashtags are similar, your question has merit. However, Bro. van Beek may wish to confine the thread to discussions of the former rather than the latter.

    That having been said (and at the risk of derailing the thread), for more information on je suis juif, see here:

    http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/01/09/je-suis-juif-i-am-a-jew/

  31. (#42) “Troll much?”

    Nope. Critic huh?

    Anyone else but your mom read your autobiography?

  32. (#41): “So…sounds like these terrorists tried to destroy the printing press ?”

    While trolling did you forget the dead bodies?

  33. The biggest threat to freedom of speech in France isn’t from terrorists; it’s from the french government. Jonathan Turley’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post powerfully demonstrates how France, and many other European nations, have tried to silence those who would criticize, question, or lampoon any organized religion. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-it-means-to-stand-with-charlie-hebdo/2015/01/08/ab416214-96e8-11e4-aabd-d0b93ff613d5_story.html

    Sadly, as Mr. Turley notes, certain elected officials in the U.S. have, in recent years, lent support to these efforts.

    There is no greater threat to Western civilization as we know it than the efforts of governments to silence their citizens. This should frighten us far more than the terrorists.

  34. I actually think that the points that jks brings up are valid and worthy of serious consideration

    The only problem that everything around this issue is kinda raw right now, and perhaps not the best time to discuss those issues.

  35. Je non suis Charlie.

    But, je suis d’accord with Charlie’s right to publish whatever foul crap they want to, without being shot for it by some self-proclaimed spokesgunman for Allah.

    You see, folks, once you start to posit that there are limits to that freedom, you have to decide:

    1) who decides those limits
    2) where those limits are
    3) who enforces them

    And there is no way to agree on any of those three things in any modern, pluralistic society. Heck, there’s no way to agree on those things in any human society. All you can do is pressure the disagreers to shut up, by social pressure or physical coercion.

    When we don’t think this through, we react from our own viewpoint of right and wrong and start thinking as if our own ideas of the limits are True and Universal. And so we get prima facie “reasonable” statements like jks #30:

    of course I’m not saying Charlie should have been censured. That is not my argument. But please, don’t say that we have a responsibility to fight for freedom of the press at all times and in all places. We don’t necessarily have to fight every “slight infraction.”

    Yes, we do have that responsibility. Because I don’t want jks to decide the limits, and s/he shouldn’t want me deciding, and none of you should want either of us doing it or vice versa.

    And we also get people keeping score to see who wins, like Steve Smith in #29:

    Whatever jerk Charlie Hebdo may have been is outweighed a million times by the bullying murderous jerkishness of Islamic terrorism.

    (“Jerkishness”? Really?) Anyway, so how bad does Islamic terrorist jerkishness have to be to be worse than Charlie Hebdo jerkishness? If the terrorists had broken into the office, tied up the staff, filled their ears with whipped cream and drawn mustaches on them with Sharpies, would that be jerkish enough to outweigh Charlie jerkish, or would Charlie be jerkier than that? If they’d only killed 10? 8? 1? How much Islamic terrorist jerkishness is one one-millionth of a dozen deaths, so we’ll know next time where the line is, and we can stop denouncing Islamic terrorists and start denouncing shock journalists? Those may seem like ridiculous examples, but this is an extreme case. If you start making the comparison, then you must admit there exists, and you will eventually arrive at, a point where the comparison is close and someone must decide. Who?

    “But,” you say, “we can all agree on this one.” Well, obviously we don’t; there are commenters here who seem to think that anyone qui ne est pas Charlie is some kind of terrorist, and I guarantee that there are Muslims in France and the US and a hundred other countries who are going about their business very quietly thinking, “They got exactly what they deserved.”

    No, the only painful but consistent answer I can in good conscience arrive at is that I would rather see Charlie than hand my choices over to the Board of Censors; that I would teach others correct principles and hope they read good things and don’t shoot people they don’t agree with, and I pray that others do likewise. Some will not. Passing laws against provoking them will not prevent that.

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