*Self-Righteous Warning on this piece: I am being very holier-than-thou below*
It has been a week and, whereas the news of the assassinations at Charlie Hebdo went around the world quickly, the ins and outs of who, why, where, when, how are starting to sip slowly outside of Western Europe. Especially in the US where, expect for some very informed people on the East coast and some well-done liberal figures, people just don’t seem to get it.
I am not here to have a go at Americans. It’s just that I know a lot of them, and saw a lot of them who decided to talk about it and their reaction towards what happened ranges from baffling to angering, especially from at least 11 Youtubers (all American for some reason) who I had always considered as being clever, informed, sensible, sensitive and on top of things.
Now, I understand people might not know (or care) about the full extent of the assassinations and attack. I understand that people don’t give a crap and have no opinion. I am the same about many things. what I don’t understand is the people who know little but insist on talking about. Why the need to advertise that lack of knowledge and lead others to complete disinformation and twisted truth on the matter? I don’t really understand what’s happening in Nigeria, no matter how much I read about it, so I don’t go and broadcast uneducated opinions about it. Maybe it’s just me…
I follow about 80 Youtubers of various nationalities and backgrounds and some of them addressed the issue of Charlie Hedbo quite well, some were actually funny and witty about it. However I have also been hearing a couple of Youtubers with huge following talking about Je suis Charlie, all with the usual “for those who don’t know…” followed by something that is nowhere near the truth and usually around the description of Charlie Hebdo.
“Charlie Hebdo was the head of a Catholic magazine who was killed for opposing Islam”
“Charlie Hebdo are an extremely islamophobic and racist magazine”.
“Charlie Hebdo are a far-right paper who want to get rid of Muslims”
“Charlie Hebdo have a history of purposefully offending Islam”
“Charlie Hebdo are a bit like the KKK”
“Charlie Hebdo is more extreme than the Tea Party”
And counting. What the fuck?! There is obviously a lack of information (or lack of wanting to get the information, in some cases) and yet, it doesn’t stop them from adopting a very clear positioning throughout the rest of the video.
Yes, I am French so it is easier for me because in France, we have been talking about nothing else for a week. It is not difficult for me to know what happened. Even when you try to just close the newspapers and turn off all media, you will know what, where, when, who, how and what capacity. I understand it is not the case for everyone and, yes, except for some “very serious” media – as some like to call them – not all are running a fully comprehensive coverage of what happened.
Actually, I am not here to decipher on how they got such distorted information. The fact that most of them rely firstly on Twitter to get the everyday news can be a hint. But for God’s sake, if you read the first three lines on Wikipedia about Charlie Hebdo, all the above quotes would not have occurred. For me, that spells “I could not even have bothered to check. I am just going to soliloquise for the sake of it”.
What I am here to mention is their reaction in the face of the backlash they had, mainly from their European following and be able to answer to them because there is nothing I hate more than 100-something character long, hit & run tweets.
Here’s the most common tweets for them:
“No need to be so rude.” I used to get that quite a lot from the students who made a huge mistake, cheated or knew they did something very wrong that has angered others. They turned themselves into the victim of some kind of violence so the focus changes and they get an apology. Less focus on how you said it, not what you said. It reminds me of dog-punching children who got shouted at and who cry after saying “Mummy is so meeaaannnn…” looking for sympathy.
“Okay, I just made a mistake, it’s fine.” Well, no. I do admire you for saying that you made a mistake but the “it’s fine”? That’s a no no! You have hundreds of thousands, millions for some of them, of followers. A lot of them will be teenagers with an even shorter understanding that you have, as an adult. People are using YouTube as a form of media and are trusting you to tell them something correct so saying that Charlie Hebdo is a far-right islamophobic and racist magazine, which is the complete opposite of the truth, is not just a mistake. It’s disinformation and twisted lies. You cannot go denouncing the lies spread by homophobes and racists then do the same and expect nothing in return. Whether you like or not, being a Youtuber with a following gives you a responsibility and if you decide to go on this path of informing and commenting current news – especially the assassination of journalists – you have to look at the facts and be accurate. If you don’t, your uneducated vision of events will do nothing but spread further misunderstanding. People will be increasingly under the impression that the deaths were somehow deserved.
“I say whatever I want, it’s free speech that’s what the whole thing is all about. It’s satire” The “whole thing”?! You obviously don’t understand the “whole thing”. Satire is not just about saying anything offensive that pops into your head willy nilly. Satire is a hell of a work to do because it has to have double-meanings that are conscious; it needs to send out messages that are obvious but also hidden. It needs to get people to think and laugh, sometimes. Seriously, saying that Charlie Hebdo is racist and to say “It was satire, you don’t understand” when people call you on your shit is just writhing, desperately trying to land on your feet when you’re in free fall. As for the freedom of speech, it comes with a responsibility to at least not willingly and unapologetically spread lies. And if you do, people will indeed smack you down. That’s democracy for you. Like we all did with Steve Emmerson from Fox News and his “Birmingham is now Muslim-only city”. Like him, you bow, grovel and apologise for being a clot and a liar. That’s what adulthood and humility is all about. Calling into your freedom to talk bollocks is doing nothing but discredit you even more.
“Alright, I am not making videos anymore…”. The passive-aggressive attempt to make it about yourself. I am wrong, I feel bad about it and need some comfort. Cue the “Not all white people are racists” in the debate about Black Lives Matter. Let’s make it about me!
“You people, always blowing things out of proportions.” There it is, the worst and yet most commonly heard phrase coming from the US at the moment.
We, Europeans, are blowing this “out of proportions.”, as if we were being ridiculous and childish, making a fuss for nothing and trying to draw attention on us unfairly. “Barely 10 people died”, “no kid was killed so it’s fine”, “it’s not like they killed thousands of people” are sentences I heard from many, many American people I know, including friends.
A very close friend of mine told that “this whole Je suis Charlie thing is the worst PR stunt she had ever seen”. PR? For what? Tourism in Europe? Come to visit us, we are nice and liberal. Aw, “for people to buy Charlie Hebdo”… I blocked her email and will be for a while…
First, this “whole thing” happened a week ago. France is still in a national state of shock and wondering so yes, when you go on such territory, be prepare to be dealing with people who take it to heart. It doesn’t make us any less understanding of satire or lovers of Charlie Hebdo. Spreading lies about the nature of Charlie Hebdo, especially to compare them to KKK, is like saying that Kennedy was a “too right-wing anyway” a week after he was assassinated, or that all the girls assassinated by Elliott Rodger in Isla Vista were all “slags and whores to being with”. It gets people to think that somehow, it’s not such a loss. That’s not going to go down well either.
Now, regarding the matter of the killing itself, maybe it’s because that kind of thing doesn’t happen every other three months in Europe. We are not used to our papers filled with news of people all guns blazing barging in somewhere and shooting everything that moves for important or trivial matters. So we are in shock, yes. Maybe it’s out of proportions for the US but please, a bit of empathy to understand that we don’t see this all the time. Patronising us into shutting up is not the answer.
Also these people were not just killed randomly too, they were assassinated, they were targeted for being something, for saying something through the publication of a couple of drawings. It puts everyone else in danger, not just of a bomb, but of being targeted for speaking out, for saying something, for writing something. I never buy into global psychosis, it’s irrational but knowing that people can be targeted for publically expressing an opinion makes me wonder every time I thought of writing something on this blog for the past week. “Can anyone get my email address and more?”
There is something in these attacks that do not make us victims of fate but targets for what we say. In that case, where does it stop? Will it ever stop? In a world where being offended somehow makes you right, will it ever stop or become the norm?
When the bombings in London and Madrid happened, the first thing we thought was that it was retaliation for the illegal war in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people were dying. When France had to live through that wave of terrorist attacks back in the 1980s and 1990s, we knew that it was yet again a matter of geopolitics where we were paying the price for our positions in the Middle-East and especially Iran. It was tit for tat, an eye for an eye.
Today, we just don’t understand why such violence for so little. It’s drawings. Just fucking drawings! People were killed because they published drawings from someone else. We are now in the middle of soul-searching trying to understand the implication of that, which is mainly the attack on free speech. We are not talking about censorship here but death. People dying because they somehow said something that offended others who then decided they deserved to die. To not live anymore, to live orphans and widows behind.
We are “blowing this out of proportion” because the act itself is beyond anything we had before. Sorry we are not accustomed to people regularly deciding on the right to live or die of strangers, it is hard to stomach. We are now rallying to find out the ins and outs of all this so we can prevent this without impeding on the freedom of press or civil liberties, rather through education and understanding. So when we open YouTube to find someone giving out irrelevant and uneducated information with definitive judgements to thousands, if not millions of other people, who are all to ready to listen and believe it, we get angry. Yes.
If only it had been done in a satiric way, many artists are doing it right now and it’s fine because it’s well-thought out, worked on and cleverly put (for most of them) but there was nothing of such in what these very Youtubers broadcast to their following.
I am actually not offended or angry by these Youtubers, such terribly disappointed.