Mobilizing millions of people in the name of unity and freedom seem to be a sign of hope. Yet, I am also present to the powerful history of xenophobia in France and a longstanding argument that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are racist.
George Clooney's moving testimony during the Golden Globes as he accepted the lifetime achievement award is a perfect demonstration of the alarming American propensity to dualism in this country. Clooney closed with these words:
And just one last thing I would say is just to reiterate what we have all been talking about today was an extraordinary day. There were millions of people that marched not just in Paris but around the world. And they were Christians and Jews and Muslims. They were leaders of countries all over the world and they didn’t march in protest. They marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. Je suis Charlie. Thank you.
I agree with Clooney that fear is a dangerous device. However, the motto "Je suis Charlie," and the resounding applause that Clooney received in response to these words demonstrate the problem itself. As the American appetite for paradox dwindles, it would seem our hunger for unity at any cost has increased. We are a people I believe as vulnerable to fear as we are to the illusion of sacred cows that would bring us together. And the history from September 11th is that both- fear and what I will call unity ideology- are equally dangerous. It is this unity ideology that encourages us to accept false dualities and create false enemies.
We now live in a world where reasonable people can no longer deny the inevitability of pluralism. Particularly in America today, as well as in France with immigration trends, the narratives that led to the revolutions of our founding are desperately in need of adapting. The truth is that the understanding of freedom, democracy and entitled rights are not the same today as they were in the 18th century. Yet, we continue to draw upon these sacred cows in order to create movements of unity, often at the cost of pluralism.
I highly doubt that freedom of the press as demonstrated by some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is what the early founders of the U.S.A. had in mind. If nothing else, they considered freedom in the context of the abuse and oppression of state religion. Many of the paradigms today including the understandings of humanism, spiritual but not religious and pluralism did not exist in the manifestation in which we see them today. For that matter the only published works on Islam in the 18th century western mind used the term Moslem. So, to assert an immutable conception of freedom, democracy, and entitled rights is counter to the 21st century claims of liberal religion and pluralism. We do not have the same belief in freedom as Washington. We, Americans, do not have have the same understanding of freedom as Parisians. As they say details matter, the devil is in the details.
The unity ideology brings us further from pragmatic approaches to pluralism. Paradox instead takes us to a space where seemingly opposing ideas could bring us to greater truth. The front page of Charlie Hebdo after the tragic killings showed the prophet Mohammed crying with the words "All is forgiven" above his head. What does it mean? The prophet is crying but the paper critiqued Islam. All is forgiven, but nothing can yet be forgiven. In this most recent cartoon, the artist Renald Luzier takes the world deeper than the headlines and cries of "Je suis Charlie" have done. Frankly, having seen many Charlie Hebdo cartoons before the murders (I adored French lit and culture in college), this cartoon speaks the deeper work I felt was absent in their dualistic portrayals of Islam.
So no, je ne suis pas Charlie, mais je travaille à être humain.
Beware of the duality. Humanity is more often present in the paradox.