Too Much to Think About: Charlie Hebdo, Boko Haram, Nigeria, Free Speech and More

I cannot gather and organize my thoughts effectively, lately. There is so much to write about, so much to read, so many ideas in my head that anything I think about feels like a fragment. I’m having a really hard time fleshing out these fragments into longer pieces with a coherent beginning, middle and end. So, for now, I’m going stream of consciousness on your asses.

Obama and the Unity Rally

Many are appalled that neither President Obama or any of his acceptable surrogates joined in France’s Unity Rally this weekend. CNN decries this as a terrible faux pas, and Forbes is ashamed. A big part of me agrees – someone high up should have been there. However, in the CNN article, Fareed Zakaria tried to look on the bright side a little, implying that perhaps people might back off the flawed idea that if it weren’t for America, there would be no Islamic terrorism.

“Many people have tended to think that Islamic terrorism wouldn’t exist without America,” Zakaria said. “This is really a struggle between the civilized world and a band of extremists. Even if you take the U.S. out of it … the civilized world is up in arms.”

I do believe that’s a bit of a reach, but I’m willing to entertain the idea that some positive may result. I’m waiting to see if any further explanations given, because I really, REALLY want there to be a good reason the administration was absent. When it comes to decisions made by the upper echelons of our government, I always, ALWAYS assume they’re privy to details to which I am not that tip the scale one way or the other.

Today comes news that Secretary of State John Kerry will, indeed, visit Paris, though not until the end of the week. He countered the criticism by saying:

“The United States has been deeply engaged with France from the moment this horrific event took place,” Mr. Kerry said. “And I really think, you know, this is sort of quibbling a little bit.”

Quibbling, indeed. I can see both sides, because I know he’d be criticized no matter what he did, but I still think it would have been better if a higher up could have attended. In my dreams, Obama would come out and state, “No, I could not attend this rally, as I was busy cutting ties with Saudi Arabia, decimating Boko Haram in Nigeria, eradicating the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic, and in the middle of our own country, visiting the people who worked in the Colorado NAACP office that was BOMBED LAST WEEK AND NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT BECAUSE THE MEDIA SUCKS.”

Something of which I AM certain: the lack of high-ranking American dignitaries at this march absolutely pales in the comparison of the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia attending the march. You know, the representative of the country who 48-hours earlier, carried out the first of 20 public floggings of Raif Badawi, the man whose crime was blogging his thoughts about oppression and progressivism.

Je Suis Charlie hashtag

Personally, I have never adopted the use of “Iam(insert-victim-of-atrocity-here)” hashtags. Yet, I’m not at all bothered by those who do – I understand the sentiment behind it. It’s a show of solidarity and support, and I refuse to trash people who make use of that device. There’s much gnashing of teeth over hashtag activism, primarily because it supposedly encourages laziness in activism.I don’t agree – I think most people who use these sorts of hashtags/profile pictures/etc. aren’t deluding themselves into thinking “I’M CHANGING THE WOOOOORRRRRLLLLLLDDDDD by changing my profile picture!” I don’t think they brush themselves off and consider themselves done…I think for the most part they’re people who are activists in some form already, and find it a simple additional way to offer support. The people I see adopting this approach are people I know for a FACT are active in many other ways, doing their best to educate and help those in their inner and outer circles. More importantly, I’ve seen others benefit emotionally as the recipients of this support, and that alone makes it worth it. There’s no harm – in fact there’s much healing – in making people feel surrounded and loved and protected in their vulnerable times.

So, why don’t I also do this? The short answer is that it doesn’t feel natural to ME – to who I am and how I express myself. The long answer? Well, that involves stylistic choices and sensitivity to co-opting or appropriating the experiences of others. It involves a stubborn insistence that I don’t have to “be” the victim in order to empathize with him or her. That people in one life circumstance can see and abhor injustices done to people who are different from them and be outraged. I don’t have to declare that I’m THE SAME as someone else in order to work against horrors befalling them. But I truly appreciate and am not bothered by people who express themselves differently than I do. So, again, you won’t see me belittling the JeSuisCharlie hashtag. You just won’t see me using it, either.

Is the Media Cowardly?

Frankly, I would not want to be the one making the decision about whether or not to publish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons or magazine covers. I imagine deciding whether or not to make every single person who works for your company a clearer target for insane terrorists would be tough. SHOULD be tough. I’ve never worked for a media company, so I don’t know how far down the chain employees are given a choice about what gets published (probably NOT FAR), but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the decision that lost a six-month-old baby her mother, an AA member his mentor, or a sister her newly-not-estranged brother. I love and admire those whose attitudes are along the lines of, “I’m publishing what I want, you fucking bastards! Come and get me!” I just couldn’t imagine also saying, “And come get my low-level employees, too!!!”

I also don’t assume the terrorists have won if other publications decline to re-publish the things Charlie Hebdo published. Questioning the content of the magazine is not equivalent to endorsing their murders, or even questioning whether or not they should have published it. And I have heard NO ONE claim they didn’t have the RIGHT to publish it. Of course they had the right to publish it and remain completely unmolested in any way.

Freedom of Speech

Some people for whom I have tremendous respect have brilliantly argued that:

1. It is not appropriate right now to debate the acceptable limits on free speech in the wake of these murders. The time is not right so soon. I think I agree.

2. It is not appropriate to debate placing limits on free speech beyond not yelling fire in a crowded theater, as it will inevitably lead down the slippery slope to censorship. I think I disagree. Here’s why.

I’m not in anyway in favor of the government placing more limits on what is published in any way, shape or form. I am in favor of serious self-reflection regarding the media we consume and why. I’m a big fan of asking myself the impact what I publish will have on others, and I draw lines. Does it hurt people who are already hurting? Does it perpetuate stereotypes that facilitate oppression? Will my words rub salt into open wounds to no discernible beneficial end? See, I care about stuff like that. That doesn’t make me afraid. I speak truth to power about very touchy subjects. I take strong stands against hypocrisy and try to do it in ways that don’t make the vulnerable even more so. Is that a bad collective goal? Does that equal censorship? Is it wrong to wish for society to mature in this way? I don’t think it is – and discussion is the only good way to hash this out. However, I realize this is about as likely as Obama breaking ties with Saudi Arabia over Raif Badawi.

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Purple Clover. She has written for Catonsville PatchKveller, and has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her writing has also landed in the “Winner’s Circle” on Midlife Collage twice. Her piece for The Broad Side, Leaving Gender at the Door, was chosen as a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

To schedule an interview with Aliza or to talk with her about a speaking engagement, contact her at alizaworthington@gmail.com.

  • Lisa Solod

    Thank you for this! I love your thoughts on free speech especially. Sadly, though, there seem more and more days when the news overwhelms in ways that we could never have once imagined.

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