On Labels, Principles, and CH.

As mentioned in my bio, my academic training has made me a bit of a labels aficionado. I do so for the sake of clarity, so we all have an idea of where we come from intellectually. If nothing else, understanding the general helps put the specifics into context. Though it may be this very practise that has made me guilty of rigidity at times, as I tend to put events and people (gasp!) into confined boxes so as to better compartmentalise my thoughts.

Having unwavering principles is perhaps a by-product of this rigidity, as I truly believe that without principles, one would be forced to react to every and any situation foisted upon one’s self without consideration of how it might compromise our character and long-term well-being. Principles = consistency = integrity = character.

Anyhow, in light of the recent CH events, I am taking issue with much of the surrounding discourses.  One’s value of respecting fundamental human rights in others should not be selective, as free speech and solidarity should not be extended only to those with whom you agree. As such, the Je suis Charlie movement, whilst well-intentioned, misses the mark in my opinion. It was not the cartoons that caused the senseless attacks; rather, it was the collective frustration of a radicalised few. An attack on a controversial French magazine by a disturbed few can hardly constitute an attack on “free speech” and “European Civilisation” – necessitating an alienating movement, as claiming so is claiming the latter as essentially superior and further entrenching xenophobia. *cue Edward Said*

I cannot help but agree with Al Jazeera’s Salah-Aldeen Khadr: “Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile.” Far from being a sympathiser of any type of extremist views especially where violence is concerned, in a world that systemically dehumanises perceived differences to the point of rendering them voiceless, it should prompt us to refrain from taking extreme positions ourselves on issues that offend our entrenched sensibilities. The mark of an intellectual is the possession of the ability to understand viewpoints one does not agree with, after all. (Recall Voltaire’s views on censorship: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it) Furthermore, the type of solidarity afforded by Je suis Charlie invites yet further ostracisation of those who could take a joke – albeit in bad taste – as well as those who embrace the role of “free speech” in its totality in progressive society. Ultimately, I am not sure if the movement in question would help unite those who deplore violence or divide those who insist on continuing to ‘other’ and paint an entire group with the same brush. Perhaps Je suis Charlie is not for most of us to jump on the bandwagon to claim; we are definitely not all Charlie.

We cannot cherry-pick theories/labels/viewpoints out of convenience (I.e. When it suits our purposes) much the same way we cannot love somebody only when it is convenient for us to do so (I.e. “I don’t love you on days where I simply don’t feel like it”). We ought to strive to stand for our belief systems with vigour, integrity, and conviction. Do something right or don’t do it at all, right?