I just want to be clear that I do not think these people should have died. Retaliating with violence that causes death is never the right thing to do. I am simply questioning the way this story is being portrayed and talked about.
Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in France, a democratic country, was a victim of terrorism for their use of free speech. Twelve people working for this newspaper were massacred by two Muslim gunmen. Terrorism, free speech, democracy, satirical, massacred; these are words that are trending in regards to the recent killings of 17 people in Paris. The one that sticks out the most to me is terrorism. This wasn’t just a killing; this was a killing by Muslim people so the label “terrorist” is put on this event faster than anything else. Had this been an upset white man who massacred 12 people, would this be considered terrorism?
Terrorism, by definition, is “violent acts to frighten people in an area as a way to achieve a political goal” and it’s a “systematic use of terror to create coercion.” Terrorism does have several different definitions, depending on where you are in the world. My main question about terrorism is, is it only terrorism if it is done by someone of a different culture, religion or country that is not our Western norm? Or is it the act that they commit? Is Islamophobia the face of terrorism because it is easy to have a particular group of people to blame? Or does Islamophobia exist because the world doesn’t want to admit who the real terrorists are?
In regards to Charlie Hebdo, they used their free speech to create images of the Prophet Mohammed that were quite controversial. In my opinion, they are blatantly racist and discriminatory. So, I also have questions about how far free speech can go until it turns into hate speech. Drawing racist comics that make fun of a culture’s religion, in my opinion, is hate speech.
I understand not agreeing with someone’s culture or religion, but there are respectful, non-racist ways to go about it. If you are privileged enough to get paid to publish your hate speech and have the freedom to comment on anything and everything, I’m sure you can find a way to talk about you problems without disrespecting an entire culture and religion. Charlie Hebdo has had several charges against them in the past because of the material they have published, but they have won every case. When your free speech crosses over into offending people and demeaning their religious rights, you are exhibiting hate speech.
In Ottawa, there was an attack on the Parliament building that ended up taking a soldiers life. This was also considered a terrorist attack. The attacker, in this case, was a Canadian Muslim man. In the United States of America, a man scaled the White House fence and got into the White House with a knife. He had many more weapons in his car. He was a retired Iraq veteran of the United States. This was not a terrorist attack. Both incidents took place by people from their own country, both had weapons, both were wanting to attack the most political building in the country, but only one was called a terrorist attack. Was it because the Canadian shooter killed someone? Or was it because the Canadian shooter is also Muslim and did not serve the country in the military? Or is it because this man is Muslim that there might be a link to ISIS? Or is it even an act of terrorism at all?
At the same time that Paris was under a “terrorist attack,” Nigeria, by definition, was also under attack by terrorists, but got little news coverage on the tragic massacre. Terrorism was not mentioned in regards to this act . Between 2,000 and 20,000 people were massacred by their government because they did not agree with it. Violence used here was to instill fear and coerce people into believing in the political role of the government; according to the above definition, this is terrorism.
I think it’s important to ask why there has been little coverage. Yes, their government has different politics compared to Western and some European countries, but that is not the reason why the situation in Nigeria was hardly reported about, contrary to popular beliefs. It is clear that White privilege is the issue here. The media, focusing on only the 17 White lives, they are implying that White lives are more important and have a higher value than 20,000 Black lives. This is racism.
In this day in age, there is no excuse to have such a massive terrorist attack go without any attention. People report on subject matter in genocide torn countries all the time. In this case, Paris just seemed to be more important. It’s important to ask, why wasn’t Nigeria considered to be under terrorist attack? Media has a very powerful way to dictate what it wants people to see and know. When we get blinded by the false truths, stereotypes, racism and stigma brought on by the media, we lose touch with real world issues.
In Russia, Putin has very strict anti-gay laws and gay people are being murdered and killed by people in their cities. People are using physical violence to instill a fear in people that being gay is not okay and that people who are gay should conform to the political stance that Putin has. This, by definition, is terrorism.
It seems to me that if you hold a position of power, such as the government, you are invisible to the label of terrorist. Putin is violating human rights and gay rights, and to me this counts as a form of violence. When people from the originating countries commit violent murders against other citizens, is it not terrorism because the people committing the murders are not Muslim? To be a terrorist, do you need to be Muslim, otherwise it is simply a just a murder? Terrorism seems to be a race issue rather than a confusing definition issue.
We only ever seem to hear about the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” when referring to people of colour; even more specifically, Muslim men. And it only seems to be a terrorist attack when the lives of White people are taken. White privilege is already a societal issue, but it seems to have just gotten even bigger. Not covering the terrorist attack in Nigeria because of what happened to 17 White people in Paris, is a blatant case of racism. This teaches people that the default race we need to care about in the world is White people.
When something happens to us, it takes precedence over other races. As a White person, I find this disgusting and utterly brain washing. The fact that people marching in Paris are proud of themselves and excited to go down in history books really shows me how messed up this society is. When Muslims have to publicly come out and say, “We are not all like these killers, please do not see us all as terrorists,” we need to recognize that they are doing this because us White people have created societies in which Islamophobia is so huge, we don’t even recognize it when it’s right in front of us. We have casted a label onto an entire culture and religion that we cannot take off as long as we still need to hear them plea and still stand in solidarity against them. By creating the label of Islamophobia, we are giving terrorism a face that is incorrect, unjustified and racist.
The two Muslim men that killed 17 people in Paris, in my opinion, were retaliating to the offensive, racist and discriminatory images that insulted their culture and religion. Charlie Hebdo released hateful images which, in my opinion, is a form of violence as well. They wanted to discredit and insult the Prophet Mohammed, but because they didn’t use physical violence and are entitled to free speech, that isn’t qualified as a terrorist attack?
GLBT* people and people of colour are murdered everyday for their right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Free speech is violated everyday when it comes to people of oppression. It is violated by hate speech from the oppressors. There are people, oppressed and oppressors, who fight together to end this, but these crimes are never seen as terrorist attacks, even though by definition they are. But as long as the oppressors free speech is taken with more value than those of the oppressed, we will never live in a society that actually supports equality.
When voices are being silenced for their free speech, no one can say that we live in societies that support it. It is an absolute lie that clouds so many people’s judgements. I am saddened that this world needs to resort to violence to get messages across. I am saddened that 17 people’s lives were taken. But I am even more saddened by the 20,000 lives that were lost that will never be known in Nigeria; I’m sad for queer people all over the world being murdered and afraid to be who they are because they fall victim to the double standard of free speech; I am saddened that racism is still prevailing in today’s societies; I am saddened that these events will go down in history as misrepresented issues. I am saddened that I am only a small percentage of people who can see the problems in this event. I am saddened that I don’t understand how the world works.
But, I am not sad when I say ,“Je ne suis pas Charlie”; I am afraid because people like me who have used their free speech to speak against this being called a terrorist attack, have been arrested in France and have been given jail sentences. This is a scary, double-standard society in which we live in. If we fail to question it, then we fail at trying to make it better.