19 January, 2015

What does “ #jesuischarlie” mean ?

Category: Charlie Hebdo, hate crime, Humour and hate speech, Islamophobia, Opinion
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jsc copy1Written by Viera Striskova

Let’s be clear from the start and repeat it once again: nothing justifies violence and death. Nothing! Controversial drawings can incite different emotions but should never be answered with killings. Laugh, love, sadness, anger, hatred are all unpredictable emotions. The aim of Charlie Hebdo’s journalists was to make their readers laugh. Indeed, caricatures serve to entertain by exaggerating or oversimplifying people, things, situations or ideas. If the aim of a caricature is to make you laugh, laughter as a positive emotion should be inclusive. If a caricature incites hatred, it’s probably not a very good caricature.

Historically, I don’t think that caricatures’ first goal was to unify the public. However, solidarity that can be observed on social media and in public spaces (not only) in main European cities show that people are aware of what has been questioned by this brutal act. “Je suis Charlie” represents the identification by masses with what Charlie Hebdo always defended. Satire, caricature and irony form part of freedom of expression, which is one of the pillars of our democracies. Free speech is vital for all of us but is not the only cornerstone to democratic, mature and equal societies. Respect for human dignity is what makes human beings able to live peacefully and respectfully in groups.

There is no justification to such heinous crimes, and nothing can approve what happened but I would like to defend my conviction that solidarity should serve to promote good values and stop the vicious circle of hatred. Using negative stereotypes to generalize and focus on the negative features of minorities does not create an environment where all members feel equally valued within society. Of course ridiculing one’s beliefs or convictions can hurt and incite hatred. This does not mean that such controversial comments should be legally forbidden. Beliefs and convictions should be open to critics as any other ideology; however, critics should be used to challenge dogmas and not to mock and diminish its followers. Freedom of expression is a freedom, thus it is subject to limits. Charlie Hebdo contested extremist use of religion and called it totalitarian. I would add that everything that is exercised without limits, including free speech, can become totalitarian. The other side of any liberty is responsibility. Let’s be all responsible in exercising our freedoms in order to make every day better for every member of our society. Let’s act in brotherhood and sisterhood to promote love, tolerance and mutual respect, instead of showing prejudice and hatred. It will be more beneficial for everybody.

Standing up for ideals is extremely courageous in any case. Dying for them may be heroic but it still results in death, while living for ideals is even more noble and its results are moral people living in a society with high integrity.


  1. Helier

    I agree with this in principle. However, allow me to be cynical about the argument that the aim of CH’s journalists was to make people laugh. No, their aim was to sell their paper. Whenever they published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed they doubled or even tripled their sales. Admittedly, the readers must have found it funny, otherwise they wouldn’t have bought it, and what does that tell you when so many more people buy a paper for that reason? It implies to me that they at the very least have some prejudice against Islam, if not downright Islamophobia, if they can laugh at pictures of the Prophet, for example, in pornographic postures (September 2012). Supporters will say that such cartoons are funny because they have to be taken in the “second degree” – well that’s a convenient defence for CH in the case of the pornographic postures, but how come CH and its supporters have told us that the recent cover-picture of the prophet has to be seen as a message of forgiveness, i.e. in the first degree? The picture in question – in the second degree – clearly makes fun of the Prophet (yet again – it can’t be seen in isolation from the rest), not least because of the genital-shaped hat and face, which makes it more offensive than most people realise. In conclusion, I really don’t see how the Council of Europe, which only a few weeks ago had an exhibition of pictures against Islamophobia, can now be defending (with its public display of “Je Suis Charlie” signs) a journal which believes that it is a good thing to offend Muslims – we’re not talking here about whether offending Muslims is permissible (it clearly is as there’s no blasphemy law in France) but whether it’s a good thing, as CH and its supporters clearly believe. It can never be a good thing to offend people on account of their religion, deliberately and gratuitously (but still for money!), with the ensuing risk to people’s lives, fostering discrimination and attacks on freedom of religion. Shame on the Council of Europe for encouraging such irresponsible, intolerant and provocative speech.

  2. Susan

    I agree, especially with the bit about how free speech can be totalitarian. I think this is one of the few sensible articles/posts that I’ve read about the issue. There’s a huge difference between criticism and offensive, disrespectful, provocative mockery of other people’s beliefs, that’s where free speech is abused. I think it’s almost childish to belittle and mock just because one can, that’s just chaos! The key, as you said, is being responsible in whatever creative way we are expressing our views in order to create this healthy, equal society where everyone feels that they matter whatever their beliefs are, only that will enable humanity to move forward.


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