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Updated: Reactions to Charlie Hebdo and the terrorist attack

Photo of candles and a "Je Suis Charlie" banner arrange as a memorial

Updated: Reactions to Charlie Hebdo and the terrorist attack

Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

This piece was updated to reference Roxanne Gay and Gary Younge, writing for the Guardian.

Brother Karekin M Yarian, BSG, an Episcopal friar in San Francisco, has written a Facebook post on his complex feelings about Charlie Hebdo and the public response to the terrorist attacks in France.

His Facebook blog, written under the name PunkMonk, expresses sympathy for the victims of these attacks, but simultaneously explains why he can’t identify with the solidarity message of “Je suis Charlie”.

In response to criticism of his position, he’s also shared a Slate article he found relevant. The article, titled “Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist”, holds that we can regard Charlie Hebdo as heroic for standing up to threats of violence, but still condemn them for racism and mean-spirited attempts to provoke and inflame an oppressed minority within France.

From the Slate article:

This, in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia. France is the place, remember, where the concept of free expression has failed to stop politicians from banning headscarves and burqas. Charlie Hebdo may claim to be a satirical, equal-opportunity offender. But there’s good reason critics have compared it to “a white power mag.” As Jacob Canfield wrote in an eloquent post at the Hooded Utilitarian, “White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire.”

So Charlie Hebdo’s work was both courageous and often vile. We should be able to keep both of these realities in our minds at once, but it seems like we can’t.

It’s a complicated response to an enormous tragedy, and one that can be hard to express; the comments on both articles have been largely negative and suggest that in each case the respective author is blaming the victims of violence.

On the Guardian, acclaimed graphic artist Joe Sacco has posted a disturbing but appropriate cartoon response, titled On Satire. The imagery is disturbing but relevant. Sacco asks us to question what it is about Muslims in this time and place that some of them are unable to laugh off this satire, and suggests that asking that question is a better course of action than demanding that they accept our worldview and mockery of their faith. The cartoon, which may be disturbing, is available on the Guardian.

Dyab Abou Jahjah, activist and writer, had no difficulty in supporting free speech and the rights of Charlie Hebdo, but took the moment to express solidarity with Ahmed Merabet, the 42 year old Muslim police officer who was executed by the gunmen.

The Guardian covered his family, and their appeal to unity and peace, in a recent article.

From the Guardian article:

Ahmed Merabet, the police officer gunned down in the Charlie Hebdo attack, was killed in an act of barbarity by “false Muslims” his brother said in a moving tribute on Saturday, where he also appealed for unity and tolerance.

Speaking for a group of relatives gathered in Paris, Malek Merabet said the terrorists who ignored his brother’s plea for mercy as he lay wounded on the street may have shared his Algerian roots, but had nothing else in common.

“My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims,” he said. “Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”

Has it been difficult for you to express yourself in talking about this tragedy? Do you feel comfortable navigating the complicated intersections of grief and caution, perhaps in pastoral situations, when talking with people effected emotionally by this tragedy?


Roxanne Gay and Gary Younge, both writing for the Guardian, have published similar pieces. Younge makes an argument against polarized debate, asking us to consider both points of view, and Gay asks us to consider nuance and thoughtfulness in our responses.


Posted by David Streever


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Rod Gillis

Here is a link to an article at the Anglican Journal, Je Suis Charlie Is Not That Complicated by Michelle Hauser. Good article!

Rod Gillis

Re the update and Roxane Gay, she achieves her goal of writing a thoughtful piece–but two criticisms. One, for someone concerned about “group think” she tends to assume a lot about how “we” feel. She writes, “Within our social networks, we can feel less alone. We can feel less impotent. We can make these gestures … We can change …. We can share our anger …that we may not be able to … etc” .

Who is “we”?

Two, Gay writes, “…why the rhetorical urge to take the place of the fallen? What does it bring them? I, too, have ached since hearing the news of what happened in Paris but je ne suis pas Charlie et je ne suis pas Ahmed et je ne suis pas juif.”

Gay parses the metaphor Je suis Charlie, Je Suis anyone, too finely. A number of other commentators offended by or uncomfortable with too close an association with Charlie Hebdo’s content make the same mistake and miss the same point.

Robert Martin

David, I am not stating that calling a cartoon racist is supporting terrorism. What I am saying is that the punkmonk appears to be throwing every book and label at a cartoon, the cartoonists, and everyone else. And he has various value judgments he makes up and down the line. He spends more time vilifying culture and the victims, and others not even involved, than examining the murderers. He also says we are blind to our racism and xenophobia and that these cartoons are just like anti-semitism.

In short, he does not need to arrive at the conclusion that the best way to avoid Muslim murders is to not draw cartoons, because he does not need to get there, he simply needs to say, they are racist, antisemitic, etc, and thereby achieve the same end.

Now that I read his post more closely, I would state that I find his post to be full of nonsense, and similar to other comments I have read and heard where the blame is cast at the feet of the vicitms and others not even involved.

Rod Gillis

Folks interested a counter point to Karekin M Yarian might check out George Packer’s, The Blame For The Charlie Hebdo Murders in The New Yorker.

He writes, “They are only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades. …The one that has brought mass rape and slaughter to the cities and deserts of Syria and Iraq. That massacred a hundred and thirty-two children and thirteen adults in a school in Peshawar last month. That regularly kills so many Nigerians, especially young ones, that hardly anyone pays attention. …Because the ideology is the product of a major world religion, a lot of painstaking pretzel logic goes into trying to explain what the violence does, or doesn’t, have to do with Islam.”

Read the entire piece here:

June Butler

At first, I was reluctant to comment on the killings in France, but yesterday I finally linked to a post by cartoonist Joe Sacco on my Facebook page and added the following commentary:

“Neither speech nor satirical cartoons should be censored. It goes without saying that it is barbaric to kill because of words or cartoons. Still, je ne suis pas Charlie. I understand that people use the metaphor to stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. I stand with them in their right to publish whatever they choose, however offensive to one group or another. If I had cartoon skills, I would not use them to draw cartoons like those of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, thus “Je suis Charlie” does not resonate for me. I believe my adoption of metaphors should be those that are authentically mine.

My thoughts and prayers are with the grieving families and friends of those who were killed and with the people of France in their horror and grief. May love triumph over hate.”

What followed was a lively discussion on my page with comments still coming in today. One FB friend blocked me but then repented and unblocked me, with the result that his comments disappeared temporarily, and several of my comments made no sense during the time I was blocked.

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