As many articles regarding this recent tragedy begin, the attack on Charlie Hebdo is an atrocity that shouldn’t be condoned. It was an attack that was criticized by the American President, various heads of other foreign states, and most definitely the media. This shouldn’t be a surprise – an unprovoked, senseless massacre of journalists in the civilized world of France is a massacre regardless of the circumstances surrounding it.
And as usual when such attacks by a radical Islamic group take place, the world is set afire with the common Muslim debate: does Islam promote violence? Reza Aslan I believe sets this record straight best, and I will leave that debate to those who want to wage it. But for me, Charlie Hebdo brings to light something else about Western, particularly American, culture that is extraordinarily unsettling.
Any attempt to reduce Charlie Hebdo as a political mechanism seems vile and unfair to its victims – a massacre is an atrocity never to be tolerated. Rage is common – anger is common, and that is understandable. Standing in solidarity is nothing of harm, but silence on these issues can even be hurtful, giving off the air that such massacres aren’t the concern of the general public. But as clearly shown by Charlie Hebdo, twelve people massacred for their political satire is a grievance held by social media and the press.
What, however, is unsettling, is that this response is never seen elsewhere. Did you know 23 innocent people were brutally bombed to pieces today early this morning as well for possessing the Shia faith in Iraq? Perhaps so – but for the majority of the American public, myself included, this event was only delivered either by the luck of finding a random article online documenting it or – as I did – searching “Iraq” online and finding this tragic event. I considered posting this on social media, condemning both the acts of Charlie Hebdo and extremist bombs in the Middle East, but I held back and that hesitance is frightful. Because that hesitance isn’t a trait only I share, but a constant fear of those in Western societies who know of the tragedies held in the Eastern world but are labeled as sympathizers to Western violence when they speak out against them.
For Iraq, the media sees it as a barren war zone. People killed there are just numbers in a war, an unjustifiable toll but often unconsidered one. And the double standard of the media couldn’t be more visible: posting about Charlie Hebdo in an act of solidarity is seen as heroic but posting about the violence in Iraq is seen, at best, as political. If you doubt this, think about it in another light: bringing up Iraq during a discussion regarding Charlie Hebdo would be seen by many as an act to reduce the absolute terror of the atrocities of this latest French massacre and a mere political stunt. But if the discussion was regarding Iraq and Charlie Hebdo was introduced to add nuance about extremist violence, no one would bat an eye.
Silence on issues like Charlie Hebdo is unsettling. Silence on issues like the constant violence in Iraq on brown bodies is also unsettling. Both take place outside the United States. Both led to dozens of deaths per attack. But only one is seen as a massacre. The other is seen as a war toll.