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
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
you may think I am anti-satire.
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
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.
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.