17 deaths in three days. Not uncommon in some parts of the world, gigantic sorrow and horror in Europe. So why should we care?
France has a long history of democracy. With the United Kingdom and the United States of America, it was one of the first countries in the world to write and adapt a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. Even then, the declaration already included the article about freedom of speech and press. It was the stepping stone in the abolition of monarchies and aristocracy. To this day, the French motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, the French revolution and the history of democracy are rigorously and extensively taught in schools. French people are proud of their long and controversial history, and that pride and sense of revolution still sparks in them today. The French are one of the most united nation in the world through their history and this is what we see through #JeSuisCharlie. The ordinary French citizens are not tweeting #JeSuisCharlie to say that they agree with the blasphemy drawn by Charlie Hebdo, but to say that no citizen deserves the death penalty for their words. No man has the right to act as God and decide upon the death of another man.
Personally, I didn’t find the Charlie Hebdo drawings particularly funny or witty, but mostly just extremely simplistic, intolerant and at times even heinous. Most of the controversial covers (like the prophet drawings in 2006) have also been largely condemned by the public, even by the French government. Yet our Western democracy and principal of free speech lets us publish these covers. It is the same law that today protects our increasingly intolerant and populist extreme right wing groups, who are gaining momentum in Europe. It is also the same law that protects jihadists and religious people that preach freely online and offline. It is the same democratic principal of free speech that let us make political and religious statements, like this blog post. So do not be misguided – you may use the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie without agreeing with Charlie Hebdo’s work and legacy. It is about the unification of people and the unity of a country that grew out into a universal sentiment of solidarity. It is the comprehension that any politically misguided opinion does not deserve the death penalty. Our democracy does not now and will not ever tolerate violence as a solution.
In turn, what I do condemn is the opportunistic, populist hate speech that the right wing opposed to immigration has already started to propagate. Starting in France, the president of Front National Marine Le Pen is already calling for closure of the visa-free Schengen zone and a referendum on death penalty, even though death penalty is forbidden in EU states. In Finland, the day of the attack, the Finns Party MP Jussi Halla-aho did not miss a beat to share a death threat he received in his e-mail days before while MOCKING the possible future marches against islamophobia. Finland already got its knuckles rapped by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)’s report in 2013, stating that everyday racism had increased because of the public critical discussion of immigration. Halla-aho may laugh, but this is why we need those marches against racism – whenever a terrorist attack is committed, the everyday racism spikes against ethnic minorities. By Friday evening, 15 anti-Muslim attacks had been reported in France and the islamophobia is feared to increase. Considering France has the largest population of Muslims in Europe, it is not a fear we can take lightly.
As I will march today in Paris at 15:00 (GMT+1), I will proudly say #JeSuisCharlie. Not because I’m a cartoonist, a journalist, or any sort of controversial writer, but because I would have the right to be one if I would so wish. I have the right to criticize my surroundings without having to fear for my life. But mostly, because I am one with the French people today. I will walk with them and hope to feel and be part of their revolutionary unity. I am part of the European unity, which we sought when creating the European Union.
I hope you will join the movement for the universal human rights.
Deputy member of the executive board of the Social Democratic Youth of Finland
Member of the international committee of the SDY of Finland