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Aylan Kurdi, Charlie Hebdo & the Value of Free Speech

Aylan Kurdi, Charlie Hebdo & the Value of Free Speech

In their latest plea for attention, Charlie Hebdo created an image labeling 2-year-old refugee Alan Kurdi, whose dead body washed ashore of a Turkish beach last September, a “groper in Germany.”
You might remember Alan’s story; he was a Syrian refugee who drowned alongside his mother and brother in an attempt to find salvation in Greece from the violence that plagues their homeland. Only his father, Abdullah Kurdi, managed to survive the boat ride — despite Kurdi’s fight to save his family.
Terry Glavin from the National Post, who interviewed Abdullah’s sister Teema Kurdi, wrote, “There’s a terrible story [Abdullah] told about swimming from one to the other, finding one [son] who seemed to be alright and then going to another, finding him drowned…and then going back to the first boy and finding him drowned. He made it but his wife didn’t.”

It is state-sanctioned oppression ironically appropriating the language of human rights.

Although his body washing on the shores of Turkey became the face of the recent refugee crisis, Alan is only one of hundreds of refugees who suffered such a devastating fate and at a time when many Western countries — which, may I add, have (and continue to) export violent immigrants by the boatload (read: colonizers) — are closing their doors and turning their backs on the consequences of their past and present imperialist agendas in the Middle East.
But for the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, this was just another opportunity to exploit their own privilege and mock the oppressed to make a buck.
Their latest comic depicts men with bulging eyes and drooping tongues chasing after women with their hands outstretched in front of them with the caption, “What would little Alan have grown up to be? Ass groper in Germany,” linking Alan to the recent string of sexual assaults blamed on refugees and migrants in Cologne, Germany.
The “comic” produced at Charlie Hebdo re-opened the tender, unhealed wounds of everyone grieving over the refugee crisis — especially Alan’s father, who described his reaction thusly:

“To be honest, after seeing this picture, I could not hold back my tears. I cannot even describe the feeling of bitterness that I experienced at that moment. What they did is horrible; it is an outrage to the memory of my son. Alan was only 2 years old when his life was cut short. The editorial staff should show respect to Alan, to me and to my family. But the opposite has happened. This magazine should have treated the memory of the victims with respect — especially children.”

Queen Rania of Jordan came up with her own response in a Twitter post with the caption: “Alan could’ve been a…doctor, teacher, a loving parent.”
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But this was not the first time employees at Charlie Hebdo — with the entrenched support of the French government (a support of $1.2 million, to be precise) and an army of racist followers — created hateful images based the deeply upsetting and heart-wrenching photos of Alan’s lifeless body.
Yes, they were behind the “comic” depicting a Christ-like figure walking on water next to a young child’s legs sticking out from the sea with the caption, “Christians walk on water” and “Muslim children sink,” with the punchline, “Proof that Europe is Christian.”
And of course, time after time, the Hebdo-apologists quickly hid under the blanket of “freedom of speech” to defend the group’s latest hate speech. Too bad the blanket isn’t big enough for everyone.
Globally (and particularly in France), the concept of “free speech” has quickly become a tool of the oppressors against the oppressed. You see, in a country where it is illegal to protest in solidarity with Palestine, a bunch of white, French men making disgusting, racist, xenephobic cartoons about one of the most historically oppressed people in France (Arabs and Muslims) is not innocently pursuing “freedom of speech” — they’re engaging in open hate-speech. It is state-sanctioned oppression ironically appropriating the language of human rights.
In France and in many other Western countries, the “right of free speech” is only granted to those in power. Minorities and oppressed people are stripped of their rights to demonstrate, wear particular forms of religious clothing or even simply speak out against the oppressors.
Muslims are the most oppressed group of people in France; even after the French withdrew their control over former colonies in North Africa, the Muslims who lived in France were shuttered away into impoverished ghettos (called banlieues), where they face intense discrimination in employment, housing and education.

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In this climate of institutionalized bigotry against an impoverished minority, politicians became very selective over who enjoyed the privileges of free speech — and who were maligned and prosecuted for engaging in hate speech.

Muslims — especially Muslim women — have faced an 80 percent increase in hate crimes in the past year, and a whole slew of laws were enacted banning Muslim veils, banning halal options for Muslim schoolchildren, forcing hundreds of mosques to close down and French politicians are given carte blanche to spew bigoted vile aimed at the entire Muslim community.
In this climate of institutionalized bigotry against an impoverished minority, politicians became very selective over who enjoyed the privileges of free speech — and who were maligned and prosecuted for engaging in hate speech.
Where were the loyal #JeSuisCharlie band of hashtaggers, French flag profile picturers, and freedom-of-speech flag-wavers when a 16-year-old was taken into police custody in France for creating a parody that mocked a recent Charlie Hebdo cartoon by simply replacing the word “Charlie Hebdo” with “Quran” on the magazine cover?
Arab and Muslim protests — either against Israel’s war crimes or against France’s attacks on the Muslim community — are outlawed and are often met by severe police brutality.
Where was the outrage when Charlie Hebdo executives fired a cartoonist for being “anti-semitic” for writing a sentence mocking Jean Sarkozy, the son of former French president Nicolas Sarcozy, as converting to Judaism for financial reasons? The writer was then charged with “inciting racial hatred,” a crime Islamophobes are exempt from facing consequences for.
I guess those hiding under their exclusive “freedom of speech” blanket pulled it just too far over their eyes and ears.

Written By Hoda Katebi.
Image: Twitter

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