Thursday, January 8, 2015

I might be Charlie...

Today, I had a booking to spend the day training clients and their other advisors in Paris. To make the most of this opportunity, I went up on the train yesterday morning, with the intention to spend the afternoon pottering around the Musee d'Orsay and so on. About an hour out of Paris, the news broke.

I've reaggravated a muscle injury from last year so am in a fair amount of pain which isn't allowing me to sleep, and yet my brain is still wide awake in a slightly squirrel way, so...

This is France's worst terrorist attack for decades. It's a tragedy. It's an assault on freedom of speech. Watching the numbers roll in, the estimates of how many people went out last night, stood up, held pens or presscards high, was amazing. The pictures of the manifs, the responses. On the TV, the Imam of the Lille Mosque, Philippe Val on the verge of tears, Richard Malka struggling to hold it together. This morning, walking to the training day, being asked to take a detour by a cop in front of Invalides - police cars everywhere, vans, barricades - and the elderly woman who reached him first not questioning him but saying "mes condoléances pour vos confrères - courage".

In amongst the hashtags and the signs there have been some articles, posts, tweets, that have been critical - questioning - of "je suis Charlie".

I'll be honest, I've never read it. I tried reading Le Canard Enchaîné, on the advice of the Oiseau, but struggled with the in-jokes and level of previous knowledge assumed (imagine trying to read about Ugandan Affairs in a second language and making sense of it - this is way more involved). And some of the cartoons in that made me wince. Charlie Hebdo was - is - different from that.

I thought it crude, offensive, juvenile, and not very funny. Of all the covers being shared right now, that of Mohammed, his head in his hands, saying "c'est dur d'être aimé par des cons", strikes me as good. The responses by the cartooning community have been better - more balanced, more pointed, less 'cheap laughs' - than a lot of the content they were supporting.

So however much I support freedom of speech, press freedom, the importance of satire, resistance against terror - can I say, je suis Charlie? Not at that level. Being that wilfully offensive - whoever the recipient - isn't my style. I've had problems with a lot of the covers I've seen over the years. I'm not that.

But in another way, je suis Charlie doesn't need to mean that you were A-OK with the editorial content of Charlie Hebdo. The people that did this did not have a reason to do it, in any logical sense - they had a motive. And you can come up with a sick, twisted motive for anything, if you are a heavily armed dogmatist with a self-appointed God-given role to seek vengeance. For crashing planes into buildings, blowing up a public transport system, hacking a man to death in the street... Anyone can be a victim.

Yesterday, and today, there was a slightly strange atmosphere in Paris. Police everywhere. But no...fear. That was very different from 7/7 - my primary frame of reference for this because it was there right next to me, rather than images on a TV screen - maybe because this was so targeted whereas that was so random. Also in another way (and thank God my parents had forgotten I was due to be in Paris yesterday) - then, we were frantically ringing round trying to locate staff members (an audit firm - staff were all over the place on client work), trying to find out what was happening, mainly through overseas press and having info passed on from a friend at a news outlet that they weren't broadcasting because it wasn't corroborated. Now there's Twitter.

Twelve people died yesterday. By no measure was that reasonable. It was sick and twisted and a tragedy and all twelve will be in my thoughts and my prayers, as their families are, as the people still in hospital are, as the people dealing with the backlash are. Because we all know there'll be a backlash. Nobody demanded that Christians rejected Breivik, witness the surprise when it turned out that David Copeland, white guys with pipe bombs are lone wolves - McVeigh really wasn't a lone wolf - somebody bombed the NAACP yesterday and yes, I found out about that from Twitter, those people pointing out the casualty numbers in other countries yesterday and being told they were missing the point when they weren't, they were making a point...

Marine Le Pen is going to fall on this like the smallest, nerdiest, most annoying wolf in the pack feasting on an already injured deer and making out that she's fucking White Fang. If she hasn't already.

And in a world with no reasons, just motives - or 'grounds', if you're a nation state and on the Security Council - then you can fashion a motive for anything. Press freedom matters. Freedom of speech matters. Lives matter. Wherever they are lived.

So, if I say je suis Charlie, it's not because I agreed with them. It's because I don't agree with the people who murdered them.

First they came for the cartoonists...