By JULIA KASSEM, Guest Writer
Though I eventually outgrew Dr. Seuss and Spongebob, satire shrouded in animated absurdity manifested itself later in my later affinity for “South Park” and Mad Magazine. For me, along with many others, satire was a way to learn about the problems present in society as I was indoctrinated into revering this society’s alleged virtues. By making me laugh, satire made me eventually understand these frazzled and farcical idiosyncrasies.
I differ from no other in that I am appalled at the murder of another human being. The slaughter of the staff at Charlie Hebdo-including Muslim police guard Ahmed Merabet—is undoubtedly a horrible tragedy. Moreover, what the three attackers didn’t realize is that you cannot kill an idea: a notion similarly ignored by fascists and Arizona’s public school system alike. Yet the perpetrators carried on with their attack: an attack not only damaging a physical dimension, but also a more visceral ambush on Muslims—which can be expected to result in higher cases of racial profiling and, possibly, NATO intervention overseas, predicted to generate even more terrorist blowback. And though we mourn the loss of the 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, many others in the Muslim community can more closely declare solidary with Ahmed: a Muslim whose life—and therefore narrative—remain hostage and casualty to reactionary terrorism.
While the killers aren’t representative of my Islamic beliefs or heritage, Charlie Hebdo too isn’t a martyr for the Western egalitarianism or notions of free speech that I acculturated into. I refuse to accept the notion that this incident is representative of an east vs. west dichotomy by which terrorism exists in a vacuum, festering an inherently violent and incompatible ideology that should be marked with suspicion and, its adherents, waged war against.
Moreover, I refuse to decontextualize and simplify this scenario to defend or justify the rash defacement of, what is to many, a figure of piety, empowerment, and virtue. Satire, in contrast to what this publication was, is funny, witty, and granted, at times, offensive and provocative. Yet satire’s intent is to challenge oppressive authority figures, making light of a serious matter and using comedy to mitigate it of its unworthy and often hegemonic power. Satire seeks to challenge and change this authority.
French (as well as British) society isn’t without its own incubating instances of racism and Islamophobia, validating that the cartoons were presented in particularly poor taste. Painting the prophet as a pedophile or a slapstick suicide bomber doesn’t challenge authority or provoke the status quo; it perpetuates a legacy of institutional racism and hatred against minority groups. Satire tackles social injustices, and Charlie Hebdo only helped reinforce existing ones.
I am for free speech, though I refuse to accept its use in promoting bigotry and spreading hatred. As Albert Camus once said, “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.” In the throes of the Algerian fight for independence, Camus’ advice seemed precautionary. Following last week’s incident, his words rings no less true in hindsight.