[Opinion] A total of 3.7 million people took to the streets to show support for the French population in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, with a total of 1.5 million attending a solidarity march in Paris.
Obviously, I was appalled at the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the other attacks in Paris over the past few days. The actions of brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly were atrocious, massacring innocent civilians in the name of Islam. This site covered all of the ongoing situations and I was moved by the support the world rallied up to show France, in their time of struggle.
However, being the cynical reporter that I am, I couldn’t help but notice a number of glaring, hypocritical points in the aftermath of the event. These ranged from the message of the solidarity march in Paris, to the way the media covered the death of police officer Ahmed Merabet.
The blinding piece of classic public hypocrisy that I witnessed during the aftermath of this horrific event was the solidarity march in Paris. Over 1.5 million people turned out, to march through the streets of Paris, and to show their support for the victims. This, do not get me wrong, is a wonderful message of world strength and togetherness. Despite this, however, the message they passed on – that the world is together against terrorism – is one I find hard to believe.
Over 3.7 million people showed their support by massing onto streets around the world, and countless more shared their support through social media – hashtags such as #JeSuisCharlie trending worldwide (I do disagree with the use of social media ‘hashtags’ to show support for a situation, but that is an entirely different argument) – and similar mediums. The number demonstrating this support was truly impressive, and the single message being spread throughout was world solidarity, a diverse community from around the world, together as one.
Yet, there is are problems I have with this message. It is hypocritical, and so are those spreading the statement. The reason 3.7 million people ventured out of their homes to march, to show support, was not because of world solidarity – even though many may have thought so. The reason these people went out to march and to show support was because the event in question – the Charlie Hebdo shooting – occurred in the Western world.
The shooting and following terror attacks tragically claimed 17 lives, but so to do many terrorist bombings, shootings and massacres around the world on an almost daily basis. However, Charlie Hebdo gained notoriety because it occurred in France, a Western country. Had it happened in Nigeria or Pakistan or Syria, nobody would have reacted. It would have been an everyday occurrence.
But people cannot be blamed for that. The world has become desensitised to violence in those regions, because it has become expected to have occurred. However, I disagree with the idea that an individual or group – no matter how large in number – can claim to be demonstrating solidarity throughout the world, when they have only noticed the event because it occurred in Western, ‘modern’ society. People reacted because they were shocked, they saw that they are not immune to terrorism, because they live in the Western world, with powerful military and law enforcement, they are not safe from radicals touting explosive devices.
Just days prior to the France incident, and one of the main reasons that the aftermath to Charlie Hebdo irritated me, was a massacre in Baga, Nigeria. A massacre. In France, 17 people were killed. In the attack in Nigeria, up to 2’000 people were killed – with at least several hundred confirmed dead. An entire town, a settlement whose population prior to the attack had been over 10’000, is now virtually non-existant. Its residents fled, those who failed to flee fast enough murdered and butchered – men, women and children – and the buildings themselves razed to the ground.
Still, nobody has reacted to the Baga massacre. As many as 2’000 people were indiscriminately killed – all ages and genders – by a group of terrorists, no different to the radicals that attacked France, and yet there is little public interest, virtually no declaration of support and certainly no marches of people – not 37, let alone 3.7 million.
What is the differences between the attacks?
There is just one. The Baga massacre occurred in Nigeria. The Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred in France. The Baga killings were carried out by radical Islamist militants of Boko Haram – Nigeria’s older answer to the Islamic State – while the shootings in Paris were carried out by radical Islamists – one of whom, Coulibaly, had declared his support for the Islamic State. There death tolls, 17 in France, between several hundred and 2’000 in Nigeria.
However, it is not just the hypocrisy of solidarity march that has angered me about the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo. The media coverage over the shooting of Parisian policeman Ahmed Merabet was a particularly sore topic for myself.
Now, the shooting of Merabet was an awful act, approaching the injured police officer as he begged for his life, before executing him from point blank range in the head. It was a sickening attack on a man that had put his life on the line, and ultimately sacrificed it, to protect the city and the people he loved.
Merabet was a 42-year-old French police officer. When he was killed the media covered the story, and many covered it sensitively and appropriately. However, a worryingly large number also produced articles that, in my opinion, were offensively brazen with their titles.
Many an article on Merabet’s death ran with headlines along the lines of ‘Paris Gunmen Shoot MUSLIM Police Man’. Now, yes, these headlines are factual. Merabet was a devout Muslim, and the gunmen who killed him were reportedly acting in the name of Islam.
Nevertheless, I cannot agree with the style of titling that these articles and publications chose to use. While it is wholly acceptable to mention within the article that Merabet was a Muslim, the shock should not come from the fact that these extremists – who, personally, I feel lost the right to be called Muslims when they chose to commit such a vile act – executed a fellow Muslim, but rather that they killed, in cold-blood, a police officer pleading for his life. Merabet’s death should not be seen a horrific tragedy because he was a Muslim that was killed, but rather because he was an honourable police officer, protecting the city that he loved and was murdered by two extremists while serving and protecting the safety of the people within it.
Ahmed Merabet’s brother, Malek Merabet, put the tense situation between the French population and the Muslim community over the shootings into clarity very eloquently, while addressing press in Paris.
“My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims,” he said. “Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”
Malek reminded France that the country faced a battle against extremism, not against its Muslim citizens.
Merabet added, “I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes and antisemites. One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither colour or religion”
In general, I believe that although there were only good intentions among those offering support to the Charlie Hebdo situation, there are issues of consistency in this support and solidarity people proclaim – although not all of that can be blamed on the people showing this support. Some of this blame comes down to the media, both in their lack of coverage of similar situations in certain regions – where these acts are almost expected – and in their sometimes insensitive or brash mannerisms to titling articles and reporting stories.