COMMENT We must look at the Charlie Hebdo incident as of two seemingly interconnected but in reality separate issues.
Precisely because of this, I have to call what happened in Paris on Jan 7, 2015 as an ‘incident’ (and not yet a terrible tragedy), at least until we can separate the two issues and examine each carefully and objectively without being swept or stampeded mindlessly into emotional outpourings of sympathy and solidarity with the French language news weekly as we have seen in the recent ‘Je suis Charlie’ march involving millions of Europeans and their overseas supporters.
The two issues would be firstly, the massacre of 19 people in Paris (12 at Charlie Hebdo’s office) and secondly (and as I will show, separately) the claimed ‘freedom of expression’ by the magazine.
Let us deal with the sad part, that of the indiscriminate merciless killing of 19 people. Some people includingMalaysiakini’s regular contributor, Royal Malaysian Navy’s retired commander S Thayaparan, chose to highlight what had stood out uniquely, that of the Islamist terrorists killing a Muslim police officer. Apart from the fact that Islamist militants had killed Muslims on so many occasions and in so many countries (eg Indonesia versus the Jemaah Islamiah) I find this identification of a victim’s religious affiliation or even ethnic grouping as regrettable.
Does the religion or race of the victims of such a senseless wanton murder matter, unless the aim had been to show that the Muslim murderers were ruthless, indiscriminate in their act of evil and undeserving of considerations in killing a fellow Muslim? Talking about senseless, wanton murders where the murderers had been ruthless, indiscriminate in their act of evil and thus undeserving of considerations, let us look at another instance of multiple killings, in Gaza on Aug 19, 2014, when the Israeli authorities sent a F-16 fighter jet to launch a missile to extra-judicially kill Mohammed Deif in his house, but which instead murdered his 27-year-old wife Widad, seven-month-old son Ali and three-year-old daughter Sarah, plus three other residents in the building.
Je suis Widad? Je suis Ali? Je suis Sarah? Non? Pourquoi pas? No? Why not? And nauseatingly (if I may borrow Khairy Jamaluddin’s expression) we saw Benjamin Netanyahu marching alongside the French, German and other European leaders in the ‘Je suis Charlie’ rally.
Oppressor of the Palestinian people
For those who may not know, Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel, the oppressor of the Palestinian people, ghettoising the Arabs in the world’s largest prison called Gaza, and also restricting them in another controlled enclave, the West Bank.
There must be no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ when it comes to the absolute necessity for humanity to resoundingly condemn acts of evil, as had been the case at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, and indeed also in the case of the horrendous slaughter of Mohammed Deif’s family in Gaza on Aug 19 last year.
We should also re-examine the illegal boarding on the high sea of the MV Mavi Marmara, when Israeli commandos murdered several Turkish protesters, as well as the war crimes perpetuated in the Israeli Ops Cast Lead and the 2006 wanton bombings of Lebanon, both of which saw the frightful slaughters of women, children and babies.
And let us not forget the extra-judicial executions by the Unied States, through their killer drones of so-called ‘suspected’ terrorists, invariably with collateral murder of innocent civilian, nor of the unnecessary killings by the American-led coalition of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including and especially civilians, women, babies, during the illegal attacks and invasion of Iraq without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council.
Non? Are we then going to be ‘Je suis Dunno’? Let us move and examine the second issue in the Paris incident, that of the absolute need to defend the European’s cherished ‘freedom of expression’. In his Malaysiakini article titled ‘The value of Charlie Hebdo’ Thayaparan wrote, “Already there is talk of the limits of free speech in the Western context and those very ideals that Charlie Hebdo fought to maintain in its own sometimes crude way, are being challenged again.”
Well, let me disabuse our dear retired naval commander of both notions: firstly, freedom of expression in Europe has been a fable, a myth rich with double standards hypocrisy, and I will come to this shortly. Secondly, freedom of expression is an ideal, but only if truly practised, without double standards or cherry picking. Thus, to claim that Charlie Hebdo has fought to maintain these ideals would be to wear horse blinkers, either out of ignorance or refusal to see the truth. Charlie Hebdo brooked no discerning views
From Wikipedia, we learn that in 2000, the magazine sacked its journalist Mona Chollet after she protested against a Philippe Val article which called Palestinians "non-civilised". Obviously Charlie Hebdo brooked no discerning views. Val Philippe went on to be director of publications. But wait, there is worse to tell.
In 2008 Charlie Hebdo sacked its cartoonist Siné (real name Maurice Sinet) for his cartoon-article on the marriage of Jean Sakorzy, the son of France former president, to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, a heiress.
Let’s leave aside the much-touted (and indeed nauseating) French ‘liberté d'expression’ for the moment and ask, what was it that Sinet wrote of young Sakorzy that was considered so offensive as to merit a sacking after he refused to apologise when ordered by the then editor, Val Philippe? Sinet said of the young bridegroom: "He'll go a long way in life, this lad!" Now, could that just be Sinet referring to Sakorzy Junior’s future prospects in marrying a very rich woman?
But unfortunately for both Sinet and the French ‘liberté d'expression’, Jessica Sebaoun-Darty was not only a heiress but a Jewish heiress. Sinet’s cheeky words galvanized a journalist to accuse the comment as anti-Semitic. Now, whether Sinet was referring to the heiress' wealth or Jewish heritage was not known but regardless, please tell me, how was it anti-Semitic?
Nonetheless, trust politicians to jump on the bandwagon, where then mayor of Paris and French Minister for Culture immediately seized upon Sinet’s cartoon-article as an anti-Semitic insult. No cheeky remark about a Jew!
That was an European salutary lesson that no one must ever question or criticise or even, as in Sinet's case, make a cheeky remark about a Jew regardless of the veracity of the issue (unless it's complimentary or respectful). But please, compare Sinet's comment on that marriage to the deliberate vile and abusive insult to Prophet Muhammad by way of the magazine’s cartoons.
The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Phillippe Val, the man who made the highly controversial and inflammatory decision to re-publish a Danish newspaper's cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed two years earlier in the name of ‘freedom of the press’ (loud, maniacal laughter but with a feeling of awful nausea) and whose article in 2000 calling Palestinians "non-civilised" resulted in journalist Mona Chollet being sacked after she had protested against that racist abuse, agreed that Sinet’s remark about young Sakorzy was offensive and anti-Semitic and warned the journalist-cartoonist to write a letter of apology or be fired. Naturally Sinet refused, as his rights under the French much cherished ‘liberté d'expression’. He asserted his rights with some rather flamboyant flowery flaming words, as a cartoonist would, that he would rather "cut his own balls off". He was promptly fired by Charlie Hebdo, the so-called paragon of freedom of expression.
Though Sinet successfully sued the publisher and won a 90,000 euro court judgment for wrongful job termination, I need to ask my dear Thayaparan: was Sinet’s sacking for standing by his cartoon-article the ideals that Charlie Hebdo fought to maintain?
Incidentally, Sinet was also threatened by the Jewish Defence League (JDL), which posted on its website "20 centimetres of stainless steel in the gut, that should teach the bastard to stop and think". The JDL had been considered by the FBI as the second most active terrorist group. Just wee specks of Western hypocrisy
But those happenings at Charlie Hebdo, the sacking of Sinet and Mona Chollet for merely exercising their rights to ‘freedom of expression’ were but wee specks in the bigger picture of Western hypocrisy on their so-called freedom of expression.
Recall Prince Harry of Wales? In 2006, then only a young 22-year-old, he went to a fancy dress party wearing a swastika armband. He was widely castigated for that. Lord Janner, a senior figure in Britain's Jewish community, said, "What Harry did was both stupid and evil.”
Evil? I have seen 'Dracula', 'Liberace', 'Stalin', 'Peter Pan', 'Hitler', 'Moses', 'Tojo' and even a 'George Bush' at fancy dress parties, all winning at least a laugh or two. But the ruckus evoked from such an innocuous incident by an unsuspecting youth was so great that not only the young royalty was forced into apologising (for what evil?) but also panicked his father, the future King of England into issuing abject apologies and explanations of how silly his son had been, with British ministers wading in, all stumbling forward to prostrate themselves before the Gods of their guilt.
Freedom of expression? Thayaparan, your “Already there is talk of the limits of free speech in the Western context” happened years and years ago, though admittedly not to vile, villainous and vicious abuses against Islam.
Oh, don’t forget David Irving and Ken Livingstone, too. Livingstone was the mayor of London and this was what an Australian newspaper, Sydney Morning Herald, reported on what happened to him in February 2006: London's feisty mayor Livingstone was suspended for a month on Friday for comparing a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard, a verdict the mayor said struck "at the heart of democracy”.
A three-person panel, which hears complaints against local authorities, ruled in a case brought by a Jewish group that Livingstone, 60, had brought his office into disrepute. It ordered him suspended for four weeks from March 1. "Three members of a body that no one has ever elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners," Livingstone said in a statement. "This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law."
David Irving, was jailed by Austria for questioning some matters on the Jewish Holocaust. Personally I think he's a joke. Some say he's a racist with extreme right-wing leanings, but I think he is an opportunistic bloke who made his living by writing for the taste of a fringe right-wing neo-Nazi-ish sector.
I have never read Irving’s books (though I have heard of them) and I don't intend to. Well, Irving has been banned from entering Germany, Austria, Australia and Canada. Holocaust denying is a crime in Germany and Austria. Freedom of expression? What happened to that cherished Western institution then? Christian Fleck, a sociologist at the Austrian University of Graz, has been for freedom of speech, arguing against the trial of David Irving. Fleck said that with people like Irving, one should use argument and not the law against them.
Fleck argued: “Are we really afraid of someone whose views on the past are palpable nonsense, at a time when every schoolchild knows of the horrors of the Holocaust? Are we saying his ideas are so powerful we can't argue with him? Irving is a fool. And the best way of dealing with fools is to ignore them. By outlawing such opinions, inevitably we give them the frisson of the banned. We run the risk of turning them into an attractive proposition." But Professor Hajo Funke, a German historian, disagreed, saying that Irving must be put on trial. Funke explained: "In Germany and in Austria, there is a moral obligation to fight the kind of propaganda peddled by Irving. We can't afford the luxury of the Anglo-Saxon freedom of speech argument in this regard.”
Now you may find it strange if I were to say I agree with Professor Hajo Funke. Besides Jews, there is no one more sympathetic to Jews against Holocaust Denial than a Chinese, because a typical Chinese (or Korean) would become terribly upset when Japan approves its historical revisionism which attempts to whitewash and deny its atrocities in Korea and China. I just so happen to be an ethnic Chinese.
So, fair enough, professor. I accept your hesitation about Anglo-Saxon freedom of speech (which in the first instance was never allowed to be in full bloom), but then, what about the deliberate publishing of the Prophet Muhammad's caricatures by the European media, and in the most vile, abusive and deliberately provocative manner? Shouldn’t what is good for the goose be also good for the gander? So on the first issue of the senseless Paris massacre by a few Islamist militants, Je suis Charlie aussi (also) and I condemn those murders as I would other senseless murders of human beings, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliations, and regardless of who have been the perpetrators.
On the second issue of the European so-called ‘freedom of expression’, if the 'Je suis Charlie' rally had about this fabled claim, I hate to say this but I have to agree with Khairy Jamaluddin's choice of word to describe it, 'nauseating', though I would not use the expression ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’.
Instead I have a far more delightful Malaysian word for the European claim – Podah!