Today I am not Charlie Hebdo, and neither should you be, which I don’t say that lightly. Do you remember two years ago? The offices of the French satire magazine were attacked. People were shot, people were killed, and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, not only of Paris and not only across France, but across the world, proudly going into those streets wearing signs that said, “I am Charlie Hebdo.”
I wore one of those signs at one of those rallies. I wrote about why, even though so many times I was offended by things that the magazine had published, I was proud and felt compelled to declare that I too am Charlie Hebdo. Because however offensive some of the things they had done might have been, the idea that their staff was being murdered because of it, was obscene.
Well, that same Charlie Hebdo and their new cover is another and special kind of obscenity also. The cover show hands being drowned in water and Nazi flags being drowned in water, saying “This is what Hurricane Harvey is doing to Texas” and then proclaims the words, “God exists”. That is a special kind of obscenity, and no one should be Charlie Hebdo today.
Forget the falseness and stupidity of the claim that they’re making, as if somehow the hurricane’s floodwaters are only taking down the people the magazine finds most offensive. Forget the ugly stereotyping that suggests we can presume that the victims of the hurricane, by virtue of living in Texas, are members of the alt-right or Nazis or Klansmen. It’s that caption about God that really takes the cake.
“God exists”? This same magazine, which for years has mocked the very notion of God, has talked about and portrayed all the evils of religion; this is where they find God? This is what proves to them that there is a God in the world? Even as mockery. To proclaim that as people are being drowned, that’s where Charlei Hebdo finds God?
The people at Charlie Hebdo need to really look hard in the mirror. They need to remember how they felt two years ago and they need to ask themselves, “How different are we from the people who came in and shot and murdered our colleagues?” They too found God in the death of their enemies. They too were certain about which side God was on, and who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, and celebrating the deaths of the bad guys was totally appropriate.
Now, I understand, Charlie Hebdo has not pulled any triggers. But how many trigger-pullers are they inspiring when they wrap themselves in the celebration of the death of others? When they proclaim that God is most present when the people of whom they don’t approve … And I don’t either, I want to be clear … But in celebrating their death, the truth is they are not so different from the murderers who came into their offices two years ago.
Now we have to ask ourselves, will masses go into the streets today and tomorrow and next week and proclaim that we are not Charlie Hebdo? Will the same people who knew that an act of evil had been perpetrated against the journalists and artists of that magazine, now stand up and say that for the exact same reason that we declared ourselves to be Charlie Hebdo, we must declare that we are not Charlie Hebdo?
And when people say, “Well, no one’s really defending what they did,” that’s not good enough — just like it’s not good enough when people have said to those on the right who didn’t raise a voice of moral outrage after Charlottesville, who tried to walk back President Trump’s words, who tried to smooth things over and said, “That’s not good enough. Someone was murdered. Churches and synagogues were threatened. People were beaten. There’s nothing to walk back.” They were right to say that.
And now it is precisely those closest to Charlie Hebdo who has to raise the loudest voice in opposition.
In fact, for everyone from the center toward the left, all of us who are so hip and so cool that we know how to wink and make fun of and mock, because we understand that that’s the way the world is and that mockery is a form of coping and raising a voice of moral outrage, that’s all true. But now we have to raise a voice of moral outrage when that mockery goes from winking at something, to embracing and celebrating death. That is exactly the danger this magazine spoke out against, but now they are doing the same thing.
Just as we went into the streets two years ago to proclaim we are Charlie Hebdo, we now must walk in those same streets, or record things, or write things, or talk at dinner tables and say, “We are not Charlie Hebdo.” Will we? I hope so. I guess time will tell.
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Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.