I am not Charlie, I am Kenji

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I am not Charlie, I am Kenji

Japanese freelance journalist Kenji Goto was executed by ISIS. His only crime was entering the conflict region to report the atrocities being committed under the name of Islam to the outside world. Sitting in my comfortable chair writing this column in safety, I feel helpless and ashamed by his death. At the same time, I feel uncontrollable rage against the savagery of terrorists who hold innocent people hostage and then take away their lives. Right up until his last breath, Kenji exemplified the best of journalism and humanity. I am Kenji. I pray for his soul.

In the aftermath of the attack on French weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris last month, many people shouted out “Je suis Charlie.” Attacking a media organization and killing journalists and policemen because of a cartoon was a direct challenge to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the very basis of democracy. Many people in France considered it a gross violation of the French value of tolerance. Nationwide, an estimated 3.5 million people - 1.5 million in Paris alone - took to the streets for the biggest rally in France’s history. The crowd was bigger than when France won the 1998 World Cup.

For the first time since World War I ended in 1918, the French Parliament sang “La Marseillaise.” In honor of the victims of the terror attacks, members of the assembly and cabinet sang the national anthem in unison. That moment, the ruling and opposition parties, the left and right, became one. The approval ratings of President Francois Holland, who is considered one of the Fifth Republic’s most unpopular leaders, soared. People thought he played the pivotal role expected of the president at a moment of national crisis. On the day that 1.5 million people gathered in Paris, he and some 40 world leaders walked arm in arm in display of their shared resolve against terrorism.

The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy has been a time for reflection. While it is unacceptable to attack members of the media for what they report, people began to examine whether ridiculing and insulting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, can be justified under the right to freedom of speech. In light of the conventional proposition that liberty comes with responsibility, it also is reasonable to ask whether it was justifiable for Charlie Hebdo to show such a “liberal fundamentalist” attitude, as if it were testing liberty’s limits. Freedom of speech has been guaranteed in order to get to the truth, not to be abused. Opponents of the offending cartoon drew a distinction between criticizing the acts of believers and condemning and ridiculing the religion itself. Also, hostile satire is more criticism than lampoon. Such thinking was expressed as “Je ne suis pas Charlie,” or “I am not Charlie.” Of course, those who don’t like Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon are free not to read it. Acknowledging exceptions and sanctuary would only shrink freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, I personally think “I am not Charlie.” Yet, I am still Kenji.

The two men responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack were French citizens who were born, raised and educated in France. Their roots go back to Algeria, which was the last French colony. There are about five million Muslims in France, and those with an Algerian heritage constitute the largest share. Most of them live in banlieues, suburban areas around major cities. With high unemployment and crime, banlieues are becoming slums. And the discontent, isolation and sense of inferiority among Muslims makes them a breeding ground for extremists like the terrorists of ISIS. Failure to address this issue will only result in more Charlie Hebdos.

It is not just France’s problem. As the Muslim population grows in Europe, we say “Eurabia” or “Londonistan.” The birthrate of the Muslim population is far higher than the European average, and it is expected that Muslims will make up 30 percent of the European population by 2050. In France, a novel about a moderate Muslim winning the 2022 presidential election has been published. Half of the inmates in French prisons are Muslims. As Islamophobia spreads in Europe, far-right parties are expanding their influence. And then came Charlie Hebdo.

The attack should be a wake-up call for Europe. Unless class polarization and discrimination are resolved, Europe may be faced with a crisis of unimaginable proportions. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 3, Page 31

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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