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Written Up with Paul: Bringing Home Hebdo

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Within about an hour of first reports, a pair of trembling hands on a rooftop lifted the veil and uploaded video of two or three men in black masks armed with rifles. The internet was suddenly universal witness to violence again, for whatever that’s worth. Someone yelled “God is great!” and fired more rounds from the hip. Moments earlier, twelve people were killed in the office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on a nondescript, quiet boulevard in Paris. By nightfall, people across the world had gathered to remember slain cartoonists and journalists who were killed because they had the sheer audacity to challenge the status quo, to challenge authority and preeminence. Make no mistake: their deaths were abhorrent but you probably wouldn’t have bought their magazine, described by Time (another magazine we should consider after their effort to ban the word “feminism” last year) as having a low circulation but a high profile.

If there’s anything we love in America, it’s a bit of noise. We just don’t always subscribe to the right kind, and yes, that was a jab at media at large and the supposed heroics of Charlie Hebdo’s regular publication. On broadcast, aside from a question or two about the possible backlash Muslims should fear in response to these latest brutal killings, during interviews virtually no one mentioned the condition of ostracized Muslims in a country with a record of contempt for Islam. The magazine certainly didn’t help by poking fun of Islam just for a frequent rise, and while Mohammed’s Christian counterparts – Jesus, the Pope, et al were also lampooned regularly – there is something to say about who Charlie Hebdo believed should have a sense of humor.

When more information availed itself, we were in hot pursuit of the men who committed this heinous act against expression and the free press. Parisian officials announced that terrorism plots had been foiled in previous weeks and they upgraded the country’s threat level to its highest rating. If you weren’t Charlie then you were probably a heartless extremist. So said the western world, dropping the hashtag “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” on Twitter as fast as bullet casings hit the ground. Was that a bit insensitive? Exactly.

Here in the states we are not strangers to recent solidarity efforts (or violence!) that were instead occasionally bastardized by press and public alike (great material for the twenty-four hour news cycle and for holiday conversation). Fox News took to the offensive most sensationally and called demonstrations in the name of police violence many things, none of them flattering. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly blamed Michael Brown and Eric Garner for their respective deaths at the hands of police officers. (O’Reilly did say on his show that Eric Garner’s death troubled him because he believed Officer Daniel Pantaleo “overreacted”). CNN placed Don Lemon, later awarded the title of “Worst journalist” of 2014 by the Columbia Journalism Review, at the helm of the network’s coverage of protests in Ferguson. Maybe the fault is shared, but lots of Americans seem to have the impression that if you question the police then you are probably a heartless extremist.

On January 6th, an unidentified man driving a white pickup truck threw a Molotov cocktail at the office of the Colorado Springs NAACP office. According to the Huffpost, the FBI has launched an investigation and considers it “an act of domestic terrorism”. That’s a lot of talk for something most people didn’t learn about from T.V. because of minuscule reporting. In 2011 the office of Charlie Hebdo was firebombed by a single Molotov cocktail. No one was injured or killed, but the magazine transformed and had to retreat into a quiet Parisian neighborhood so not to remain a target. Photos of that incident have been shared this week to establish a context, a history of Charlie Hebdo’s struggle. Those photos of a hollow building and stacks of paper on the sidewalk drenched from fire hoses suggest that freedom of expression is our struggle, too. This world is thought increasingly hostile to such a virtue. Yet while governments try to extinguish the truth and insurgents target people who find it, the exchange of ideas has never been regarded so highly than it is today. In America, people are more skeptical of real activists who shape movements to acknowledge inequality than by Charlie Hebdo’s brand of incendiary civil disobedience, one which no one should have died for. But when Charlie Hebdo makes headlines with controversial feature sketches to incite people, but organizers with much of the same ideals can’t grasp a foothold without infuriating people, something is wrong. If the art of satire was elevated after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, then why hasn’t wider respect for effecting change been more prudent as well?

Paul Rowley ’16 is a Staff Writer and Columnist for The Hub. Follow him on Twitter @almanacalism

Posted by on January 13, 2015. Filed under Around Campus,Opinions & Editorials,Written Up with Paul. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to Written Up with Paul: Bringing Home Hebdo

  1. Paul Rowley

    January 13, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Almanacalism .

  2. elaine mcgovern

    January 13, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    enjoyed your article, admittedly had to read it twice…slowly.. to grasp your point. guess the difference between the two examples is in their response to being infuriated. Paris= bloodbath US = pissed off delayed commuters.