Twelve people were shot dead in France. That is indisputably a tragedy. France is mourning, as any nation would when their people are attacked and killed for doing what they believed in. It is an outrageous attack. Yet, I have some discomfort in the reference to these deaths as heroic. As if somehow there was a looming struggle that threatened to destroy any sense of freedom in the Western world, and those who were killed won the fight for our freedom. I imagine that to their family and friends the victims are actually heroes. I just don’t see how they are somehow more heroic than peoples fighting oppressive, violent and militant regimes. I may (probably will) be accused of insensitivity, and I get that. I really do. But hang on, isn’t this freedom of expression? Isn’t this an example of the‘No-one has the right not to be offended?’ argument, the right that all major media outlets and those hashtagging #JeSuisCharlie are claiming as an absolute and inviolable freedom?
Lets look around the world and at some recent events. On 7 January 2015, 37 people were killed and 66 injured in a bomb blast in Yemen. The previous weekend, Boko Haram fighters are reported to have killed hundreds of people in Nigeria. Mexico, September 2014, 43 college students went missing in and are feared dead. On New Year’s Eve, a stampede in Shanghai killed 36 people. All over the world, people are killed by crazed gunmen, or by militant or corrupt regimes while fighting for freedom from oppression. But their deaths are not commiserated with anywhere near the publicity we are experiencing with the Paris shootings, or even the Sydney Cafe shootings. And to be frank, the 12 victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings were not victims of oppression, and they were not heroes that gifted the world free speech (a little bit more on that below).
In countries such as West Papua, Palestine, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Mexico, Venezuela, Egypt, and many other countries (as alluded to above) hundreds of thousands of people have and continue to die fighting oppressive regimes – for their right to freedom. Yet, in the same Western media outlets that are proclaiming the inviolability of free speech and the heroism of their peers, the deaths of these freedom fighters and victims of oppression remain largely invisible. They are the nameless, the faceless, the unidentified bodies. They are dehumanised. There is no soft piece about their life, family, friends and work. They are the ‘other’. They are ‘collateral damage’. Just imagine if the victims in Paris were reported on as ‘collateral damage’. It would cause a Westwide shitstorm. Despite the fact that Charlie Hebdo already wear their freedom on the front cover of their own publication, these deaths are amplified as some kind of heroic act in the fight for freedom of speech. And it’s rubbish. They were bearers of that right and they knew it. This is not about free speech. This is about setting a pretext. This is Western Exceptionalism. And our media are complicit in it.