This cartoon at its best has sparked massive civic engagement – which is essential for any society if change and justice are to be brought about. It opened the eyes of the world to the brutality of Islamic extremists once again – and constant exposure to the atrocities that innocent citizens are in danger of, is extremely important. As a result, the masses took to the streets and social media, giving momentum to the protest against the attacks with #jesuischarlie displayed boldly and defiantly. Freedom of expression is not just a pretty jewel we all shine often with our praises only to place it nice and safely in our treasure boxes, after all. Well done, world.
World leaders, too, had no option but to state their stances on the matter, reaffirming the zero tolerance of extremist violence. Of course, once leaders condemn such acts publicly, they then make themselves liable to be held to account for failing to act in accordance with these statements. So when Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan felt the need to condemn these attacks publicly, the Nigerian people and the rest of the world came to question his own precautions, or lack thereof, against such attacks in his own country. And as much as Jonathan may have been praying that it wouldn’t, Boko Haram came up.
Surely the freedom of expression should be limited in instances where it insults the religion and faith of others, one thinks. Well, don’t feel too bad for being what seems the only person who isn’t quite feeling this #jesuischarlie fever, you actually share this sentiment with Pope Francis among many others, if it makes you any feel better. But on a serious note, there is great harm in the nature of this cartoon. True, it’s a form of protest and protesters often use controversial and offensive gestures intentionally because they’re provocative. People talk about what’s provocative therefore that’s what’s best going to render the protest effective. On the other side of the coin we have the glaring issue here, which is using a significant religious figure, Prophet Mohammed, as a symbol who pardons and perhaps condones the acts of extremist Islams. This, of course, is not true and that’s what makes this cartoon so disrespectful to many Muslims. Extremists are seen by the Muslim community as defectors, those who warp the teachings of Prophet Mohammed to pursue self-serving interests which contradict the peaceful nature of Islam. Suggesting that the prophet would approve of this violent behaviour, “in the name of Islam” is then not only incorrect but sacriligious.
The saddest possibility here is that there may be a deeper analysis to the statement in this cartoon. Perhaps it isn’t mocking Prophet Mohammed and all of Islam for pardoning extremist violence. Perhaps the satirical explanation lies in ridiculing the mentality of extremists by pointing out the absurdity of their thinking because Islam in fact teaches peace and not war. If this is the case, despite Charlie’s often rude and unforgivably offensive usual work, do we then drop all arms and apologise for all the unnecessary protest? I doubt it. I think in this sense, this cartoon reveals the inaccessibility of some protest means such as satire- and that’s something we should be addressing especially if it’s shoved in our faces (re: many others who have been using satire as a shield e.g. scientific genius, Matt Taylor and rapper, Red Foo and their sexism/satire fallouts). Interpretation of the irony is often the step further which too many citizens avoid or are simply unable to do. That’s where the misinterpretation of ‘art’ becomes controversial and too many artists are discredited and shut up.
So let’s keep our banners and hashtags up in support of or condemning this protest. Mixed feelings and opinions are the clearest way to show that some people just don’t get your intentions in your message. Outcry against your work means 1) You’re hitting a raw nerve and people’s conscience is being shaken out of placidity and ignorance, 2) You’re being offensive and (perhaps intentionally) insensitive or 3) Your message is not being conveyed clearly or effectively enough to win the hearts and minds of the people and all you’re doing is turning away the few who weren’t even the initial enemy.
At the end of the day, to achieve social justice the truth must be said, I agree with Charlie there, radical Islamists killing millions in the name of their Prophet must be brought up and ridiculed but to undermine an entire belief system and faith and thereby infringe on the dignity of others? Low. A line MUST be drawn. If change is going to happen there needs to be more cooperation and unity and frankly, I don’t see Charlie’s insensitivity and sensationalism achieving this, assuming that he truly is a social activist as he claims, and not just a money-blinded, anti-religion zealot.
And so the world was divided…