Je ne suis pas Charlie

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 13, 2015

Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe

Surrounded by the immensity of people who occupied every inch of space around Place de la République in Paris, France, on Sunday last (January 11) one could not imagine the amount of people who had turned out in solidarity with the 17 victims who were slain in Paris last week. Billed the French Unity March, people came from all over the country to proclaim the democratic values of France, their freedom of speech and, as one newspaper put it, the core values of Western civilization. Over 3 million people gathered in their towns and villages of France to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. The murders, it seems, touched something in their innermost being.

On Sunday noon when I arrived at Gare du Nord, one of the largest terminals in Paris, I could not imagine the tremendous mass of humanity that would descend upon that city later that day. The weather was mild, the sun shone gloriously (even though some drizzles fell later),and an unusual calm pervaded the city. Parisians were in a leisurely mood having barely awoken from their Saturday night activities.

A quick cab ride took me to the Comfort Hotel Latin where I was staying and later to Rue Marineaux where I met some friends. From that point we joined the crowds that increased gradually as we proceeded along boulevards Poissonniere, Saint Denis, and St. Martin onto Place de la République.

By the time we approached Place de la République the marchers (they called it a demonstration) came to a standstill. Residents waved French flags from their windows as the marchers began to clap methodically. Then, they chanted “liberté.” Intermittently, they sang parts of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, which begins: “Arise children of the fatherland/ The day of glory has arrived/ Against us tyranny’s/ Bloody standard is raised.” The chorus reads: “To arms citizens,/ Form your battalions/ March, March/ Let impure blood /Water our furrows.”

And arise they did to protect the fatherland. Fifty world leaders marched hand in hand along Boulevard Voltaire to Place de la Nation, each affirming the right of free speech even if, in France, it is against the law to deny that the Holocaust occurred. It would be remembered that in 1766 Voltaire uttered the famous words: “I do not agree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The philosopher made these remarks after France executed a baron for blasphemy.

This concern for free speech was the dominant sentiment of the march. It was inundated with signs that read, “Je Suis Charlie,” in honor of that principle. Marchers also carried pens to commemorate the cartoonists’ tools. Later that evening we learned that this was one of the largest gatherings in French history, the French people insisting on their right to insult whoever they pleased, whenever they pleased although the Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, was relentlessly provocative and consistently showed its bad taste. In 2006 Jacques Chirac, the French president, had cautioned that “overt provocations” to other religions ought to be avoided.

On Monday, the Independent, an English newspaper, editorialized: “Let Mr. Hollande, Mr. Cameron and the rest enjoy their day of shouting about love and freedom before scurrying back to their security briefings. If our lives are more imperiled than ever before by murderous fanatics, the policies our leaders have consistently pursued since 9/11 must bear a major part of the blame. Some mass catharsis may be permitted after last week’s abominable events, but our leaders cannot be allowed to forget we know this. They and their lousy decisions and dirty secrets are a far more appropriate target of satire than the fatuous taboos of Islam” (January 12).

Some commentators have suggested that because Islamic societies did not experience the European enlightenment of the 17th century they still live in a savage illiberal state even though they (the Arabs) secured the philosophical writing of the ancients from 500 AD to 1500 AD, at the height of their civilization, and passed them on to the West. Few persons choose to remember the burning of witches in Salem, Massachusetts, and the witch trials in England and Scotland during the 18th century.

Enlightened citizens should condemn the tragedy that took place at Charlie Hebdo’s office last week. Yet I am not inclined to declare unequivocally, “Je suis Charlie.” No freedom is absolute; absolute freedom is tantamount to license and therein lies part of our problem. No one has the right to attack and provoke another’s religion just because he or she privileges those freedoms in their culture.

Some of us believe that Western values are not the only values that need to be protected and that the lives and religions of other people are also important. Those, too, need to be respected. Unrelenting provocation of another’s religion and culture should never be proclaimed as the supreme virtue.

Under the circumstances, I prefer to assert, “Je ne suis pas Charlie.”

10 Responses to “Je ne suis pas Charlie”


  • There are limits to freedom. The only true freedom exist in doing what is right. The Islamist believe they were right to attack Charlie because of the vulgarity promoted in the magazine. Now while I believe in freedom some of those images were very provocative. There is one of the most revered man in Islam bend over naked. That to me was not necessary. But to each their own.

    In most nations there is a level of censorship and that shows itself in media regulations. A media is guided by the laws of the land. And the media can be sued for defamation. In Singapore a government minister must be granted space in a newspaper if statements are made about him or ministry.

    Each nation exercises a level of restraint to ensure that there is harmony. As for freedom it truly exist in the human mind….

  • I wish to quote the author of this article, “No freedom is absolute”. And for every freedom that one person gets another losses their freedom.

    I believe that this article is spot on. We should not trample others to get where we believe we need to get. While some might say that Islam needs to be modernized, so do all other religions. Anybody that believes writings from 2,000 plus years ago are still relevant probably also still believe that Christopher Columbus discovered the ‘New World’.

    I do not believe in any Gods but I respect people enough to not disrespect their beliefs.

    • “Anybody that believes writings from 2,000 plus years ago are still relevant probably also still believe that Christopher Columbus discovered the ‘New World’.”

      Ancient writings become timeless when it elevates moral and ethical values. For instance “love your neighbour as yourself”. If people were to apply that teaching there will be no more wars. “Love your enemies” if you show love to your enemies you will turn them into to your friends. As Martin Luther King once said you cannot dispel darkness with darkness but with light. I remember the day I went over to talk to one of my sworn enemies, it was most difficult for me but it shocked and bewildered him. Later he was to have the uttermost respect for me.. “You should not commit adultery” AIDs was felt most in Africa where millions died leaving children behind to fend for themselves. Those death would not have occurred if the people remained in monogamous marriages.

      The whole issue of freedom is subjected to individual interpretation. Freedom for a teenager means being able to hang out with friends late into the night. Freedom for some married couples is not having a “nagging” spouse. Freedom for society essentially is to live in peace with everyone… To achieve that you have to “die a little to live a lot”….

      • And those are your beliefs. And I will defend your right to them. But they are not my beliefs.

        Your statement about AIDS in Africa is a western vision of what happened. It also justifies my statement about ancient beliefs and sayings. While one can ascribe promiscuity to some of the cases I would say categorically that ancient tribal and cultural practices provided furtile ground for the vast majority of cases.

        • Stop punishing me with your intelligence…
          http://www.avert.org/africa-hiv-aids-statistics.htm

          1. Out of the 34 million HIV-positive people worldwide, 69% live in sub-Saharan Africa. There are roughly 23.8 million infected persons in all of Africa.
          2. 91% of the world’s HIV-positive children live in Africa.
          3. More than one million adults and children die every year from HIV/AIDS in Africa alone. In 2011, 1.7 million people worldwide died from AIDS.
          4. Since the epidemic of HIV/AIDS, more than 75 million people have contracted the illness, and over 36 million have died from an HIV-related cause.
          5. 71% of the HIV/AIDS-related deaths in 2011 were people living in Africa.

          • Information is not punishment. Do you understand the concept of “Cleansing” in southern Africa. If a married man dies and leaves a spouse behind for her to become marriageable she has to be cleansed. This cleansing occurs when one of the brothers of the dead man sleeps with his brothers wife. If one man dies of AIDS and I would assume that his wife also has AIDS. Then she has to be cleansed. This means the brother that does the cleansing has now contacted AIDS and this goes on and on ad infinitum.

            So quoting figures would mean nothing unless the tribal custom of cleansing is changed to be something else. And this is where this conversation started. Age old customs and sayings hamper modern societies.

        • That is ‘fertile ground’

  • Well you guys have to excuse me if I do not wail and weep over a Magazines Portrayal of a long dead deity. Especially when the same magazine had the most nasty portrayal of a living black woman, and this did not give rise to the indignation being expressed in here.

    I refuse to weep in empathy with those who do not reciprocate. Do not expect me to ignore convenient exhibitions of moral indignation. The images of my living black sisters are more sacred to me than anyone’s deity.

  • Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England is a 1644 prose polemical tract by the English poet, scholar, and polemical author John Milton opposing licensing and censorship. Areopagitica is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defences of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression. It is regarded as one of the most eloquent defences of press freedom ever written because many of its expressed principles form the basis for modern justifications of that right.”— Wikipedia.

    Areopagitica written in 1644 was perhaps one of the foundations in defence of free speech in the Western World. John Milton main argument was the freedom for all books to be written and the people reading these books will ultimately be the judge. Freedom of expression and free thought has always been a fertile battleground down through the centuries. Our free press emerge because of early thinkers such as Milton. Today free press must be jealously guarded. In the run up to the 2010 elections the PNM paid the “gladiator” $1 million to use his podium to advance their cause. How free is the press today? The current head of MATT had his education or part of it paid for by the PNM. Yes politicians have always understood the power of the media in shaping public opinion and free discourse. But what about religious ideology?

    While Western culture was shaped by European Renaissance thinkers, Greco/Roman political and philosophical thinkers and Christianity. Islam remained without any other influence expect 7th century thinking and remains unchallenged. The ideas propagated in Western world view is “haram” to a devout Muslim. So there is a clash of ideologies that is only getting started. Yes Western freedom can be deemed excessive, especially to a devout Muslim. As I write there are jihadist in the millions whose on stream of thought flows from the Quran a book that has a 120 verses with instructions to “bring discomfort to the unbelievers”. While 17 people were killed in France just across in Nigeria the Jihadist struck and slaughtered over 2,000 poor innocent souls, taking their women as sex slaves and child brearers. The world did not express such utter rage as they did for the 12 killed from Charlie. Why? It is a question I hope will be answered in time. After all they were far more innocent, non provocative people.

    Yes Jihadism is on the rise in Western nation but has been like a plague in Islamic and some non Islamic Eastern nations. In India about 10 million Hindus were slaughtered by the jihadist in some of the most bloody conflicts by Islamic invaders that span over a 1000 years. Today India is threatened by jihadist Pakistan with annihilation. The conflict in Kashmir continues to attract jihadist wanting to enter india.

    Yes it may all seem distant to us but with globalization and changing demographics in 50 years we may all be dead or obedient to the Sharia. While Western population declines with less than 2.1 children the average for Muslim families is 8.1 and growing. Even here in TnT they are having up to 20 children from several diffrent wives. So freedom will be challenged even more through the passage of time.

  • 17th century speeches by John Milton ,Mamboo?
    Well I’ll be darm,as we like to say on de streets.
    I could not for the likes of me, guess for a second, dat the broken down Mayaro primary school, you attended, use to teach English prose ,during the summer vacation, mi amigo?
    Hey folks ,are you like me ,beginning to suspect , that dis is really, our elitist, Christian converted,QRC educated ,country hating piasano, by way of Berbice river chap,TMan,trying to show off his fine learning?
    What does a guy, who only learned to read on his 70th birthday, knows about John Milton?
    Speaking of suspect,and like most of desperate, scared Trinis,I also suspect, that de Tin Pan soldier, turned glorified National Security big wig, in cuz Griffy,as well as the rest of that UNC dominant PP,Mud-squad, with their fake expert-Yankee advisers,drunken Irish William Braton/closet Mafia -Rudolph Gulianni, ain’t have a clue, as to how to curb dis escalating ,T&T crime menace.
    22 murders for 2015 already, and he Griffy, and that childish, loquacious ,un-electable legal bum of an AG,is still salivating about death penalty, war tanks ,-and don’t be surprise ,military DRONES -as a deterrent for runaway crimes.
    Wanna bet,we will soon here them and their boss,de Siparia Queen, Auntie K, idly boast,that crime fell,since 22,is better than 32?
    In de interim ,let the gun toting criminals reign,and our porous agua borders remain that way.
    Last week,a young man, got murdered,allegedly for defending his chick ‘me think,’ at 4am ,and now ,a wheel chair bandit struck a wonderful ,spirited,19 year old Caroni young lady ,who ‘does normal teenager stuff.”

    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/WHEELCHAIR-KILLER-288997521.html

    Speaking of which, who will now take care of this fatherless /motherless 11 months baby,she left behind?
    What next,a foul mouth,simi loco ,once homeless San Fernando opportunist ,now living in a comfortable hospital room ,attacked Health Minister Fraud ,and in the process,murdered 5 Foreign doctors, because someone chastised him ,for pinching a female nurse butt?
    As to press freedoms,and terrorist activities in France? Trust me ,they’ll work out their problems ,either domestically,or internationally ,via NATO ,or UN Security Council.
    Since we in T&T, cannot always depend on the Venezuelans to do our anti Islamist jobs ,maybe our present leaders have a coherent plan in the pipeline, to keep our pro ISIS/Al Quaida goons, at bay,si?

    http://m.jamaicaobserver.com/mobile/news/19-Trinidadians-arrested-in-Venezuela-_16360749

    Three questions:-
    1.How is that one time PP ,chief Dougla /Weedhead – Anil,and his wife doing folks?
    2.If he was not caught with his symbolic pants down,in a seedy motel,getting his fix ,would we the public know,that the PP supported pro Islamist, religious gangs ,ummmmm ..community activists,in like manner to their previously condemned PNM counterparts?
    3.Where would that former Horse Police / football golie, Lennox Phillip, aka Yasin Abu Bkar, be today,if he had tried that 1990 attempted Coup stunt, in say France,England , Belgium ,Canada ,or worst yet,when Basdeo Panday, or Manning were in charge politically?

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