An image from Northern Iraq that I made back in 2005 while working on a story about the struggle of Iraq’s Assyrian Christian community, appears this week on the poster of a new film by Daniel Lombroso about the region’s oldest Christian community. Back in 2005 I had argued that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had bought no respite to a community that had been targeted under the Saddam Hussein regime, and that all pretense to the contrary, the so-called ‘liberation’ of Iraq was about to create even more miseries and difficulties for the very people we claimed we were there to ‘liberate’.
Our silence is hypocritical – we conflate bigotry with ‘free speech’ and celebrate ourselves, while refusing to fight the more uncomfortable, difficult and problematic acts of ‘free speech’ itself as in this case of the young British citizen. Free speech laws and rights are most in need of defense when speech is problematic and disturbing, not when speech easily joins a wide public discourse that is tinged with bigotry and self-congratulations. It takes no courage in Europe to humiliate and mock Muslims for example, because this is the easiest, most trite, and most acceptable form of fraudulent ‘free speech’ we know. It is merely an echo of widely held prejudice in our societies. Only cowards and hypocrites confuse it as something bold. It isn’t free speech if you are hurling abuse against the already demeaned, humiliated and reduced. It isn’t free speech if you are simply parroting the main stream. Our rights to genuine free speech are most obvious when something difficult is uttered about ourselves and our societies, something that stops us in our tracks, and reveals something sour in ourselves.
Paris. France. Charlie.
Of course, this has to be condemned. It is an outrage and cannot be allowed to go without the criminals being caught and prosecuted. Charlie Hebdo was a racist and bigoted rag that hid behind a false discourse of ‘free speech’ to selectively attack certain groups and certain speech. However, that cannot be a reason for such actions and our outrage at their bigotry can’t become a justification for violence. Not against publications, nor against communities either. Much as in response to the Ander’s Brevik’s attacks in Oslo, what is needed now is an effective criminal investigation, prosecution and indictment of the men who carried out this act. What has to be assiduously avoided is the use of this horrendous act for justifications for further wars, racism, anti-immigrant bigotry and humiliation that i fear will most likely be the reaction in a nation like France that is already drunk a vile and crass relationship with its ‘others’.