01/15/2015 12:46 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT

Charlie Hebdo's Cartoons Were Racist, Not Satirical

BERTRAND GUAY via Getty Images
A man reads, in a newsroom in Paris, the last issue of French satirical weekly Charlie on January 13, 2015. A defiant Charlie Hebdo cover of a crying Prophet Mohammed above the slogan 'All is Forgiven' was reproduced by media around the world on January 13, its first since many of its staff were slain in a jihadi attack that killed 12 people on January 7. This week's post-attack edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo will be made available in six languages including English, Arabic and Turkish. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

There is no doubt in my mind that what happened to the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo was an unacceptable tragedy. Nobody should die because of their views.

Still, despite the tragedy of the lives lost, I still cannot stand behind the "Je Suis Charlie" slogan. And the automatic herd of people rushing to back the slogan without applying critical thought to it or educating themselves about the publication is a deeply troubling phenomenon. A phenomenon where death and tragedy is used to censor criticism and stifle questioning for the sake of a misguided politeness.

Yes, there is such a thing as respect. We can have respect for the family and friends affected by this horrible attack. But, we can also call out the elephant in the room: Charlie Hebdo was a notoriously racist publication, one that made its fame and capital through Islamophobia, among forms of bigotry.

We tote free speech and solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without questioning the limitations of free speech. Is racism a part of free speech? Can hate speech be excused? People scream in unison "it's just satire!" But to me, and others, satire is something like George Orwell's Animal Farm, not racist caricatures of minorities with elongated noises and frightening eyes reminiscent of early Nazi propaganda with anti-Semitic illustrations of Jewish people.

"Je Suis Charlie" is not a slogan that resonates with me, because I, like many other minorities, had our identities ridiculed but utterly dehumanizing cartoons. And while "Je Suis Charlie" has galvanized some to march and demonstrate for free speech, it has motivated others to participate in hate crimes against Muslims, such as the several mosques attacked in France. In one instance, a mosque was firebombed.

While we must always stand for free speech, we should not be afraid to voice valid criticisms of a highly controversial publication simply because of a fear of being perceived as callous. If criticizing the racist, sexist and homophobic tendencies of Charlie Hebdo is callous, then what do we call the actual racist, sexist and homophobic drawings that they published?

Racist caricatures are not satirical, they are racist. Satire is not meant to be deeply offensive and dehumanizing, it is meant to criticize and poke fun at those things that are offensive and dehumanizing. Satire is an attempt to simplify complex social issues and add an element of humour to pull people's interest into them. A racist drawing is neither critical, humorous, nor the result of deep contemplative thought, but an easy way to satisfy already angry people who are trembling with xenophobia and paranoid discomfort that immigrants are coming to take over their way of life.

We can bow our heads in mourning and acknowledge when a terrible thing happens. But we can't allow to rob our capacity to be critical human beings.


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