After many half-starts and false-starts… thinking and not thinking… reacting and resolving to not react… the words I would like to say about the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris earlier this week, just won’t seem to materialize.
Too many thoughts, too much talk in general out there… too much of the news cycle, too much that I’d like to say, but can’t in good conscience, because the gist of it is all still half-baked.
And yet, as someone who writes about Paris regularly — over at my site Paris: In And Out — and still feels a strong connection to that city, despite our frequent differences over the years… well, it almost seems incumbent on me to at least mention a little of what’s come to mind.
So, here’s my own small contribution to a conversation that’s been understandably heated, frenzied, impassioned, pained, and far more anguished than soundbites in news cycles will express.
Until this week, I may or may not have ever heard of Charlie Hebdo. I never followed them, and from what I’ve seen of their cartoons, I doubt I would have had much interest in doing so. People are free to say and draw what they wish, and I support their liberty to do so. However the tone of the caricatures on their magazine covers was so far from what I myself would say or draw, it was as if we existed in parallel universes, and never the twain would meet.
It wasn’t that I object to provocation and controversy. I’ve spawned a bit myself, over the years. It was just that the provocation seemed purely for its own sake — and for the sake, quite frankly, of pissing other people off and overtly antagonizing them. I am not French (not recently, anyway), so I can’t say what was truly in the hearts and minds of the creators of that content, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have lasted a week in a job there. I would have quit out of distress at how far they pushed things.
Of course, it’s always dangerous to tell the folks pushing out the limits of the collective margins to “back off”. Because the creators living on the edge often make it possible for the folks in the center to live that much more freely. It’s precisely the antics and undertakings of those who are far wide of the center, which often make the center that much cozier. And safer. And more civilized.
A great example is in the gay community, which has been divided for many years about the role and presence of drag queens. Some say they’re too flambouyant and “out there”. How… embarrassing. Stone butches are often viewed askance as “ersatz men” by mainstreaming lesbians who desire with every fiber of their beings to be accepted as the couple next door and arrange play-dates between their kids and the neighbors. At the same time, those glitzy tassels on the fringe of the gay community were the very ones who took on the cops at the Stonewall Inn, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. Without their resistance and rioting, a lot of people would still be living in misery — both queer and the straight folks who love and care about them.
So, when it comes to either vocally condemning or supporting controversially in-your-face drama mongers on the margins, I’m reticent. I’m not so quick to add my voice to the #JeSuisCharlie / #IAmCharlie hashtag “conversations”. But neither am I all that eager to condemn their approaches. There are plenty of other folks who will do that, for now and all time. Some with bullets. Some with pen and ink.
Suffice it to say, my heart goes out to Paris. It’s no fucking fun living with the aftertaste of that horror, and who knows how long till things can return to normal– or if they ever will? The friends and colleagues I have there… I think of them often, these days, looking at how close to them all the action has been… I think about my Muslim friends in France, and I wonder if they are safe. And as for the people I know who are planning a trip of a lifetime to the City of Light, well there’s nothing that kills the mood like feeling like you need to look over your shoulder on a regular basis.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t agree with a whole lot that went on before, during, and since the attacks and subsequent manhunts. But who am I to judge? Who am I to say? All I can do is wish folks well and do my best to not harm others while exploring the outer limits of my own liberty.