I am Charlie.
Sorry, I am not Charlie.Yes, actually, I am Charlie. Please be Charlie, too.
It is not easy for opponents of terror and defenders of free speech to agree if we should or should not be Charlie Hebdo. The magazine is insulting and its satirical cartoons are vulgar. So, like Clarence Page, David Brooks and others, I personally would not choose to publish such images even though I support the freedom of others to do so.
This, however, is not the moment to stand up against the moral turpitude of today’s popular culture (unless that has, in fact, been your regular message and mission before the terror attacks). That is not to say that we all need to embrace crude content or watch TV shows that embarrass us in order to make a statement.
To say, “I am Charlie,” in this moment, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks is to say, “I will stand up in defense of those who are targets of terror, violence and intimidation.” It is also to say, “I publicly acknowledge that the named group - Jews, Police Officers, Writers and Artists - is a target of hate. They have been and will be attacked because of who they are as much as for what they have done.” It does not say, “I draw or enjoy pornographic cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.”
We know this from the other statements trending after the attack, “Je Suis Juif (I am Jewish)” and “Je Suis Ahmed (I am Ahmed). To state the obvious: people are saying they are “Jewish” because Jews were attacked for being Jews. People are saying they are “Ahmed” because that’s the name of the French police officer murdered outside Charlie Hebdo's offices. Nobody has responded to those statements with a heartfelt, principled stand: “Sorry, I am not Jewish because while I respect the right of other people to have their own beliefs, I personally would not choose to reject the teachings of the New Testament.”
An apocryphal story from World War II makes the point clear:
“According to popular legend, King Christian X chose to wear a yellow star in support of the Danish Jews during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. In another version, the Danish people decided to wear a yellow star for the same reason. Both of these stories are fictional. However, the legend conveys an important historical truth: both the King and the Danish people stood by their Jewish citizens and were instrumental in saving the overwhelming majority of them from Nazi persecution and death.”
During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Jews had the protection of the Danish authorities and the support of their neighbors. “Unlike in other western European countries, the Danish government did not require Jews to register their property and assets, to identify themselves, or to give up apartments, homes, and businesses.
“In addition, Jews were not required to wear a yellow star or badge. Two attempts were made to set fire to the Copenhagen synagogue in 1941 and 1942, but local police intervened both times to prevent the arson and arrest the perpetrators. The Jewish community continued to function, including holding religious services regularly throughout the German occupation.”(See this full article about Denmark http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005209).
The Danes did not actually wear the yellow stars but their actions – which always speak louder than words anyway – screamed, “I am Jewish” even though, technically speaking, they weren’t Jewish and probably never much agreed with Jewish religious teachings.
You don’t have to buy Charlie Hebdo or even look at vulgar content to count yourself among the protectors of free speech and the opponents of terror. But you can not allow over-intellectualized sensibilities about language or mistimed moral outrage about vulgarity to prevent you from speaking out.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
- Martin Niemoller