There have been two violent assaults on institutions that speak to the power of freedom of speech, but only one of them is securing major attention in mainstream media.
Since reports hit the news of gunmen storming the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has resulted in the deaths of 12 people, there have been numerous essays speaking to the virtues of freedom of expression. In the New Yorker, George Packer lauds the fallen and condemns the gunmen in “The Blame for Charlie Hebdo,” writing:
“The cartoonists died for an idea. The killers are soldiers in a war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance, pluralism, and the right to offend — against everything decent in a democratic society.”
If there is a hell, these gunmen have surely secured a seat in it for their lack of humanity and the horrific acts they have produced. Yet, I take issue with the idea that White people taking on outliers in xenophobic and arguably racist ways under the guise of “satire” is heroic or brave – labels many have since attached to them. Make no mistake, these 12 people should have not died, but as much as we should all champion the right to say whatever we want, we cannot forget that sometimes this has dire consequences.
Packer went on to write:
“Charlie Hebdo had been nondenominational in its satire, sticking its finger in to the sensitivities of Jews and Christians too — but only Muslims responded with threats and acts of terrorism.”
In one instance, Packer, like so many others, hail the majority of Muslims for not behaving like their extremist counterparts, but unfortunately, like so many others, still broadly generalize religions. Christians and Jews are just as capable of exploiting their faith to deny another the right to be. Ask a Ugandan gay man living in fear or a Palestinian child living in the Gaza strip. Then ask the Christians Stateside who support and/or enable them through their own distorted interpretations of dogma.
All of it is wrong, but Western media is far too ready to pounce on any acts of violent protest that involves believers of Islam.
Enter CNN’s Don Lemon, who once again spoke to a guest as if he had just finished eating the loafer he lodged in this throat. Speaking with human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of The Muslim Guy website, Lemon asked one of the dumbest questions ever even by his own standards: “Do you support ISIS?”
Never mind Iftikhar rightly highlighting that very few of the 1.7 billion Muslims are violent; that five of the last 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners are Muslim; that Christians are never compelled to condemn the extremists who bomb abortion clinics or gay clubs “in the name of Jesus.”
No, no, Iftikhar is speaking of Muslims and Islam in nuanced ways as opposed to the typical Western media narrative – Boom! Boom! Allah! – so certainly, he must be asked such a silly question just to be safe.
The question was rooted in 16 percent of French people supporting ISIS. As Iftikhar astutely noted, support of ISIS may not necessarily mean support of the killing of innocent people. It could very well just speak to frustration from a group that’s considered an outlier being mistreated by the majority population.
Much like Black people, Muslims are made into clowns in these racist, xenophobic, strips that antagonize entire groups of people. The retaliation is unwarranted and justice should be served. Still, there is anger because there is unfairness and an imbalance.
And while these mainstream outlets defend the right to stereotype and skewer Muslims in the name of satire, or in Don Lemon’s case, just simply stereotype under sheer stupidity, the other bombing that took place this week is being afforded far less attention.
Of course, the explosion that took place outside of a Colorado NAACP office building did not yield any deaths, but the FBI did call it “deliberate,” and given this country’s history and its lingering volatile state with respect to racism, police brutality, and inequality, it is no less worthy of our attention.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Instead, while news outlets were quick to highlight that the Paris gunmen were Arabic and Muslim, the FBI’s primary suspect in the NAACP office building bombing – a balding White male – was curiously left out.
Yes, a lot of Arabic men have engaged in violent acts of protest, but so have many, many White men. More White men than Arabic in this country, though only the former are deemed the boogiemen here.
Is the NAACP’s right to expression not as precious as Charlie Hebdo? Does a White man’s attack on freedom of speech register as less important?
This is all wrong, but I shouldn’t have had to find out about the latest on one of these unfortunate attacks via Twitter.