I was sitting in my office on Wednesday morning when I learned with surprise, stupor, and fear of the horror of the Charlie Hebdo attack. This moment struck me three times, because of three of my different social identities: an Arab, an artist, and a Frenchman.
The Arab in me thought: “Here we go again…”
On September, 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center attacks, I was living back in Paris and quickly discovered the humiliation of being judged and analyzed from head to toe by each and every person because of my physical appearance, which reads as Muslim. Though I am an agnostic, many people take me to be a Muslim because of my appearance, because they think that every man with North African heritage who sports a beard is one.
It would be great if people could make the distinction between extremists (men crazy about religion who kill in the name of archaic beliefs) and Muslims (people who have faith in a monotheistic religion). Muslims are not extremists. They are believers. Saying that “all Muslims are extremists” is just like saying that “every pair of high-heeled shoes is going to hurt your feet”: this is a basic, general view that means nothing. You have to take into consideration the passion that a person puts into their actions and the social context.
The artist in me is promising: “I won’t give in to fear.”
After reacting as an Arab, I then reacted as an artist. To me, an artist who dies for their art is nearly the most beautiful expression of their success. This is where my obvious love of drama and theatrics becomes apparent. Moreover, as cheesy as it sounds, Charb’s affirmation resonated with me: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” At 11:15am, I shed my first tear of the day. I then received some death threats. My favorite was: “I will follow you, fuck you up, and chop your head off.” Included was a reworked Microsoft Paint photo of yours truly, decapitated. This loser didn’t even know how to use Photoshop! Bless his heart.
I’m no stranger to this tiny moment of cold sweat dripping down my neck when I ask myself whether or not I should continue making art. Instinctively, my reaction was: “Fuck it! I will do even more and piss off all of you extremist bastards.” Political cartoonists, just like every person today who expresses her or his vision of the world through art, is saying to extremists: “……………..”! We’ll do our job anyway!”
The Frenchman in me thinks: “Damn! We failed.”
Finally, after the Arab and the artist in me responded, the Frenchman in me was sad. Sad to know that these men, born in France, fell into radicalism in the heart of Paris; sad to know that so many families have lost their loved ones; sad to think that maybe France has missed the mark when it comes to ensuring the integration of the first generation of French-born immigrants.
I am sad to know that my sister will be worried when she walks down the streets and that my brother will have to live his religion in secrecy. This is the absolute opposite of the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity upon which France was built. I have no doubt that the French will stand up against this awful and disgusting act. The extremists wanted to hurt France, but I think that they have made it stronger. Funnily enough, a journal that was on the verge of closing down will now be reborn out of the ashes of this tragedy with more readers, more solidarity, and more French pride than ever.
Tagged as: 2Fik, censorship, Charlie Hebdo, Featured, Paris, terrorism