ARE YOU REALLY CHARLIE? AND WHAT HELL DOES THAT MEAN?
You can’t have escaped the social media trend hashtag: #jesuischarlie (or #iamcharlie) in support of the artists who lost their lives in the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo. As an artist myself this has struck a chord with me, not solely because the victims were artists too, but because these artists were killed for expressing something through their work. If art is not expression then it is not really art at all, all be it provocative or controversial. If artists pandered to everyone’s tastes or beliefs then no one would be able to create anything at all. The beauty of art is that it asks questions, it challenges, it makes us think. If you consider a piece of art as racist it’s an opportunity to speak out about justice and tolerance. If you consider a piece of work to be sexist it’s your opportunity to speak out about equality and respect. Without art or expression we would be dull and lifeless, lacking in opinion and wading knee deep in apathy. Are we to be silenced or use our creativity for good?
In response to the attacks a number of artists, including myself, have created artworks expressing solidarity, many with the ‘je suis charlie’ hashtag. But as we adopt this hashtag, do we really think we are 'Charlie’ and will that really make a difference? There are many people who would answer no on both accounts, suggesting that using this hashtag is in fact disrespectful to those who lost their lives. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of dying men, nor can we claim to take on their pain or the loss their families feel. We cannot possibly compensate for the weight of the grief involved in such a tragedy. Further still, what of the other tragedies that have taken place elsewhere? Where are their hashtags and artistic expressions of support? Is the hashtag 'je suis charlie’ a gimmick? A shallow excuse of support?
After the attack had happened, it was Charlie Hebdo that placed these words on their website: “ I am Charlie. Because the pencil will always be above the barbarity. Because freedom is a universal right. Because you support us… ” Now, my translation may be a little shady, but essentially it is a personal invitation for support in the fight for our freedom of speech. So no, we are not Charlie Hebdo, but yes, we are individuals with the right to express, the right to challenge, the right to fight with the peaceful instrument of a pencil, a pen, a keyboard or smartphone over the use of a firearm. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything that Charlie Hebdo publishes.
Personally, I don’t think that the use of je suis Charlie is disrespectful. In fact, it is the opposite. Those who use it are standing together. Will it bring back lives lost? No. Will it change any of the tragedies? No. Will it prevent other terrorist attacks? Maybe not. Is it futile? I don’t think so. When I have faced tragedies of my own a word of support does not go amiss, and it does change things. It gives me courage to carry on, it gives me faith in human kind. It makes me think that together we can make a difference, somehow.
The problem is not that our words are futile, it is that we do not speak enough. I don’t think we should remain silent just because there’s a chance it may not change anything by speaking out. Yes, it is unfair that other tragedies have not had enough coverage or support, but that should not be our benchmark. It’s time to step up, not just as artists and writers, but you, as you update your statuses and share your thoughts. It’s down to you and me to create a culture where we have a voice and speak out about injustice, and more importantly those issues that something can be done about.
So no, I am not a victim in the sense that the Charlie Hebdo artists were, and nor would anyone using the hashtag claim to be, but that was never the sentiment. I am a victim of an attack for my right to a voice and I for one am speaking out. I want you to have a voice too, to stand up for what is important to you and whether you agreed with the messages in their art or not, the Charlie Hebdo artists did just that. Would they not have wholeheartedly wanted that for you too? I want to speak out for injustice through my art and my writing. I want to see things change. I am an artist. I am a writer. And yes, in the sentiment of Charlie Hebdo, I am Charlie.