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Asian Americans are Charlie Hebdo

 
 

Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie. Can you tell I was a Francophile in high school? (The man can conjugate an irregular verb!) My French high school teachers were teachers’ union radicals who had an impact. I loved everything French for many years. I even lived in France–in Paris, but also on a farm in the Pyrenees. I grew to love everything French, including their screwy handwriting. I envied the Vietnamese their colonizer. They had France, while the Philippines had Spain. My love for France waned as an adult. Mostly because France had changed–its immigration issues, the rise of the right-wing. Foie gras.

But when the Charlie Hebdo murders occurred this week, it all came back. And I was in shock for the death of the French satirists.

After my last post of 2014 on my distaste for SNL’s “Asian American Doll,” you may think I am anti-satire.

Au contraire!

Hey, I’m the guy who writes a column called “Emil Amok.”

Satire is in the blood of anyone who dares speak the truth in a derisive tone. I’ve done it all my life. And usually from the position of an Asian American pricking someone’s balloon.

Asian Americans, of course, are natural satirists in an absurd modern world, where minorities must continue to speak out or be ignored. Humor and sarcasm only make the irony bearable.

People don’t always agree on what’s funny. Or what balloon is worth pricking. Some balloons and their makers get used to all the blowing that have made them large and prickable. They like the rich lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. And some have even learned to prick back at the lowly.

But real satirists aren’t that cowardly. They understand the purpose of satire in a free society and they go after the high and mighty.

Satire attacks to clear the air. It exposes the truth so that people see the big picture. And hopefully, it’s all accompanied by an explosion of laughter.

And more discussion.

When I saw the SNL doll parody, I got angry.

But I didn’t want to shut SNL down. I didn’t even demand an apology. I simply spoke out.

It’s the gift of free speech in an open society. Free speech begets more speech. You discuss, you talk (or write). You spend hours at the sidewalk cafe with others, nursing your demi-tasse.

And that’s at the crux of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

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The response from the gunmen was an attack on the way we do it in a free, civilized, and democratic society.

Satirical barbs are invitations to debate, not for bullets.

The gunmen disagree. I wish they had drawn a cartoon rebuttal.

When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe the headlines that included the line “a French satirical magazine.”

I didn’t want people to think the satirists were somehow lower in the food chain than, say, the writers at The New York Times.

The fact is they were journalists. A truth-teller is a truth-teller.

It takes courage to do that in these days when the more truth you tell, the more it costs you.

For the cartoon satirists at Charlie Hebdo, it cost them their lives.

The magazine, known for skewering the authoritarians in government, religion, and the military, had the right targets.

Charlie Hebdo had the sharpest sticks. And the most courage.Interesting now how some journalism organizations won’t even publish some of the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. But the Washington Post will.

So now it’s our turn as a global society to respond courageously to those who will bully us into silence.

Salman Rushdie issued this statement about the killings yesterday:

Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning “fear of religion.” Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

It applies to all religious zealots, and maybe to a lesser degree to the nuns I knew with their deadly rulers.

Conan O’Brien, whom I last saw in a jester’s outfit in college at the Harvard Lampoon, said this last night: “All of us are terribly sad for the families of the victims to the people of France, and for anyone else in the world tonight who now has to think twice before making a joke. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

It’s true. We’re all thinking twice before telling a joke these days.

In a free world, that’s not freedom.

Charlie Hebdo is a reminder of the courage it takes to live up to our ideals.

Nous sommes tous Charlie.