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‘I’m not Charlie’, and the clash of freedoms

15 Jan, 2015 - 10:01 0 Views
‘I’m not Charlie’, and the clash of freedoms

The Herald


French President Francois Hollande (fifth from left) is flanked by heads of state including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (in black hat), Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they attend the solidarity march in the streets of Paris on Sunday

Hildegarde The Arena
WHOEVER said the paperless society is nigh needs to have their heads examined. Last week’s tragic incident which resulted in the killing of 17 people, including 10 journalists, by alleged terrorists in the French capital Paris speaks so much about what the 21st century has in store for us. In the name of freedom of speech and expression, we saw the publishers of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo defying the tolerance and democratic tenets that the West loves to preach about. A case of free speech for them not for others!

Despite the anguish and deep divide emanating from this tragedy, the publishers of the magazine went on to publish a special edition yesterday.

For a weekly magazine whose print run was 60 000, printing and selling out five million copies in a matter of hours is something that every publisher out there would want to replicate. It was open defiance and declaration of war, using the power of the pen as they claimed. They argued that in the business of informing and educating, there are no sacred cows, even if it is a threat to stability.

The five million copies were still inadequate, and by the time the story eventually dies, who knows, they might have reprinted the January 14 edition and sold out more than 10 million copies. This has shown that the paper society is not going anywhere any time soon, although it gives an eerie feeling of the resurgence of the far right movement and another world war.

The main attraction is the caricature of Prophet Muhammad, a figure revered by more than one billion Muslims the world over. That is a big chunk of the world population.

The denigration is such that yesterday’s edition carried a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad holding a sign proclaiming, “I am Charlie”, and “All is forgiven”, pouring more scorn on Islam. This is what reverberated at the weekend as millions rallied around the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in France and elsewhere in Europe claiming, “I am Charlie”.

But, be wary of the new war and warriors that hover on the horizon. They are bad news, news that is pregnant with insolence, defiance and provocation. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Soon and very soon, the gullible among us will start chanting: “I’m Charlie” (Hebdo), not knowing that the geopolitical map has been redrawn, bringing the centre of the war on terror to Europe, while leaving the United States of America with egg on their face, for Paris last weekend declared itself the world’s capital and by so doing shifted the 9/11 tragedy from New York to Europe. US President Barack Obama is paying a huge price for failing to show up at the Sunday rally and/or sending a high-level delegation.

Like the Arab Spring farce which never revived anything, but instead caused so many deaths and lots of suffering, some among us were quick to want to do an Arab Spring in Zimbabwe – plucking some hollow ideological principles that had no bearing whatsoever on Zimbabwe.

We also caution that you do not quickly say “I am Charlie!” “Charlie” is defiance, insolence, arrogance, provocation, hatred, repugnance, self-centredness and being self-conceited. And, Charlie means needless death, waste of resources and instilling fear on people to freely practice their faith just because some radical elements have used Islam to perpetrate their evil acts.

Some among us will jump on the bandwagon because the underlying argument is that “I am Charlie” is an absolute expression of freedoms of expression, speech and conscience. Part 2 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) deals with all these freedoms in detail, but the inverse is that freedom does not exist in a vacuum. Is it freedom, if it insults other people’s freedoms? Do we have people whose freedoms are more superior? Whose benchmark is used to arrive at such judgments?

If we condemn terrorist, criminal and evil actions let it be done with the understanding that not every person is a terrorist, criminal let alone is evil.

The people of Africa in particular should not claim “I am Charlie” because they have kept their silence while terrorists are turning the northeastern part of Nigeria into killing fields. Apart from the abductions, the militant group Boko Haram is using girls as young as 10 years old as collateral damage in those dastardly suicidal bombings.

While Europe joined France to proclaim, “I am Charlie”, Boko Haram had killed more than 2 000 people. It was a non-event until international news agencies were reminded about their double standards in news coverage.

On our part, we have not only failed to tell that story as Africa, but have done absolutely nothing to stamp out the violence that is also affecting neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, violence which can be exported to any part of the world by those who set global agendas.

The Malian leader had the right to be among the 40 world leaders who marched in Paris saying, “I am Charlie”. But, how politically correct it would have been to see him marching together with the leaders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin last May chanting, “We are the Chibok girls”.

But that’s now water under the bridge, a forgotten story just like the thousands that continue to be slaughtered by Boko Haram and nothing is done because it is an African problem, which has no story tellers.

This writer will never say “I am Charlie” because she knows the power of names. Those that have read Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” know that names can make and unmake you. In Chapter 11, Achebe tells the story of why the tortoise has shells.

An abridged version says: “A clever tortoise tricked the birds into helping him get to a feast in the sky. He tricks them by convincing them to take on different names, while he takes on the name ‘All of you.’ When he asks the people of the sky for whom they have prepared the feast, they say they’ve prepared it for ‘all of you,’ and as a result, the tortoise eats his fill before any of the birds can: “Tortoise turned to the birds and said: ‘You remember that my name is All of You. The custom here is to serve the spokesman first and the others later. They will serve you when I have eaten.’”

Just like “All of you”, “I am Charlie” can assume various meanings depending on who says it and where. At best, it can be manipulated. Even these terrorists feel that they have the right to avenge the abuse of Prophet Muhammad’s name.

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