Monday, 19 January 2015

Paris 2015 - Let Freedom Reign

Freedom Speaks:
“Je suis pas Charlie” [“I am not Charlie”].
Freedom: “Mon nom n'est pas Charlie”.

Nearly 2 weeks after the 7 January attack on Charlie Hebdo [or Weekly Charlie], the French satirical magazine, my good friend Freedom finally spoke: “My name is NOT Charlie!” [French: “Mon nom n'est pas Charlie”]
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo office killing 11 people and injuring another 11, a Police Officer was also killed by the same gunmen.  In related shootings that followed in a Northern Paris region, five others were also killed and another 11 wounded.

On 11 January, a Paris rally for national unity was attended by about two million people, included more than 40 world leaders, and 3.7 million people also joined similar demonstrations across France. The phrase Je suis Charlie(French for "I am Charlie") was a common slogan of support at the rallies and in social media.

Undeterred by the death of its Chief Editor and key staff, the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo continued to produce its weekly publication – the lastest Issue No. 1178 sold out seven million copies in six languages, in contrast to its typical French-only 60,000. This massive economic windfall for Charlie Hebdo clearly creates attractive but terrible incentives for those wishing to follow Charlie Hebdo’s model and risk their bloody consequences.  

A Clash of Fanatics
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical weekly magazine that features cartoons, reports, polemics, and jokes. The publication is intentionally irreverent to shock and offend, and is strongly secularist, anti-religious and left-wing; and publishes articles that deliberately mock far-right politics, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Israel, politics, culture, and various other groups as and when unveiled by local and world news. 

The Truth of the murders in Paris on 7 January and the days following has little to do with the courage of freedom fighters or the fervency of extremist religious defenders.  It is about both violence and blasphemy, or more accurately, a violent response to blasphemy. A celebration of Charlie Hebdo is nothing more than a celebration of the clash of fanaticism when freedom fanatics meet extremist religious fanatics.

It is unfortunate that this clash of fanatics is elevated to the high moral ground of freedom and democracy.  It forces a Catch-22 choice on many who understandably choose to affirm the cherished values of freedom and free speech against the offense of blasphemy by offensive cartoons. 

The freedom of speech is the legal right to be able to speak freely and be protected in the exercise of that right.  However, the legal right of free speech does not extend to include other rights, legal or otherwise, to be shielded or protected from physical and violent responses arising out of the offense created by one’s exercise of free speech.

The greatest exercise of freedom is the exercise of self-restraint.  Self-restraint is not censorship.  Self-restraint is wisdom acting out of common human decency and consideration.  While free speech is a natural right, self-restraint should be regarded as a virtue.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, many newspapers mull over whether to publish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons considered offensive and inflammatory to many Muslims around the world.  Others debate the model of free speech as personified by Charlie Hebdo, as the world from Turkey to Pakistan to Niger to the Middle East erupt in predictable rage and anger over the offensive cartoons.

Forgotten Hero of Paris’ Attacks
In the misdirected frenzy to celebrate free speech, few journalists and newspapers remember French National Police Officer Ahmed Merabet, 42, who was shot in the head in cold blood outside the magazine offices. Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, was the first police officer at the scene of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Ahmed had been a pillar of the family since his father died 20 years ago. He grew up in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris, and graduated from the local Lycée (French High School) in 1995. He ran a cleaning company before joining the police force eight years ago, and worked hard for a promotion to recently pass the CID entrance exam and was to be promoted.  His colleagues describe him as a man of action who was passionate about his job, and as a quiet and conscientious officer who was always smiling and widely liked.

One Twitter [ID@Aboujahjah] said: “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so.”

And in celebrating Ahmed Merabet’s sacrifice in the line of duty, killed by gunmen who profess to share his same religion, and in the cause of free speech and democracy, Charlie Hebdo as well as the many Journalists, Newspapers, Politicians and others who should know better decided that the best way to honour Ahmed is to blaspheme his beloved Prophet, again!  

Such is the twisted and contorted understanding of freedom, free speech and democracy even as one enters Charlie Hebdo’s warped personality full of resentment, disdain and contempt for French aristocracy, power elites and privileged class, and even its rejection of God.  

The Cartoon World of Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo’s world is its own cartoon world created out of the freedom it enjoys.  It has no real world reference. Charlie Hebdo does not have the freedom to insist that others living outside its world must accept its worldview interpretation of the true reality out there where the vast majority of us live, albeit in our own self-constructed worlds.  At the very least, our worlds are NOT cartoon worlds.  In our worlds, real people live, love, laugh, play, work, get angry with one another and eventually die.  And stay dead.  No one dies in cartoon world … just watch ‘The Road Runner show’.  Well, tell that to the families of your dead staff, Charlie.

To call its aftermath edition the “survival” edition is most laughable.  Its 11 staffers who died stayed and remained dead, as victims of a real world tragedy. The 7 million Charlie Hebdo copies sold did not resurrect any of them!   

How sad indeed when one defines freedom so narrowly to limit freedom’s boundless imagination by excluding the spiritual and humanistic values and beliefs which have created commonwealths of nations and races based on the rights and freedom bitterly and bloodily won in the French Revolution upon the founding values of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” or “Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood (or Community).

Fortunately for most of us, but unfortunately for those who died in the attack, we do not live in the narrow Charlie Hebdo’s world of limited Freedom.  Outside Charlie Hebdo, ours is a free world that embraces a more holistic freedom to respect and appreciate diversity and differences, exercising restraint to recognize their individual sensitivities and to leverage our cherished freedom rights to build up goodwill and harmonious relationship within and among our communities regardless of race, language and religion.

Ask not what Freedom is.
Freedom is not just a sweet and desirable concept, it is also pure energy.  Like the sun, it can give life. It can also be even more destructive than a tidal tsunami or an erupting volcano. 

Freedom is what Freedom does.  It is not about what Freedom can do.  Freedom can do anything and everything!  Rather, it is what you can achieve with Freedom.  Using Freedom to tear down whatever delightful, endearing, inspiring affection, meaningful, cherishable, or even beguiling, appealing and enchanting without any constructive regard for the sensibility of the beholder is a blatant misuse and abuse of Freedom. One should simply speak or propagate whatever the greater Truths with great Love and Compassion.  The impact of Freedom in enlarging the awareness of Truth assures its own longevity.

Remember Freedom says: “My name is NOT Charlie!”

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