Considering what Charlie Hebdo staffers suffered during the attack on their offices, followed by the nauseating sight of so many world leaders marching for the freedom of speech they support with heavy caveats at best, the lingering irreverence of the publication is endearing. Cartoonist "Luz", who drew the latest cover, seems to be uneasy with the sanctifying of Hebdo that has occurred in the past week. As he told a French website, it was "people that were assassinated, not the freedom of speech! People who sat in an office and drew cartoons." Furthermore, since Hebdo reveled in skewering symbols, finding themselves as one has been an uncomfortable experience.
I’m reminded of the Buzzfeed essay about the brother of a 9/11 victim visiting the new museum in New York City. In his piece, Steve Kandell explores the horror of trying to mourn his sister in the middle of a tourist attraction with a souvenir shop. This is bad enough, but he wearily notes, "The events of the day have already been exploited and sold in ways previously incomprehensible, why get mad at a commemorative T-shirt now?”
The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists may have dealt more directly with politics in their daily lives, but they still were killed in the middle of doing their jobs – just like victims of 9/11. And considering their sympathy for pro-Palestinian, anti-Iraq war causes (in spite of their obvious dislike of religion), one wonders if the dead would be disgusted by what their murders may be used to justify next.
We can’t mourn victims of political violence properly. As previously noted in this space – and all over the damn website – victims of US wars will never get their deserved respect. But victims of terrorism also suffer. What is worse, to be killed by a state and ignored, or to be murdered by terrorists and turned into martyrs and catalysts for future conflicts?
All in all, I’d rather my life pass unnoticed by all but my loved ones. Being used after death to wage holy war against the Middle East is a grimmer fate, which starts with that first misery and sends conflict scattering like shrapnel out into the world. Whether or not you consider their choice of targets rotten, cheap, or “punching down”, the staff of Charlie Hebdo did not deserve death.
And their friends, families, and colleagues should get to mourn them decently. But the war on terror won’t allow that. Their deaths are politics, and symbolism now. They died for a noble cause of freedom. Now they belong to everyone, especially those who believe the war on terror has been too restrained.
The 9/11 victims suffered in the same fashion. Earlier this year I wrote that the 9/11 Museum could not be a good thing, considering what was done in the name of those 3000 people. They are part of history, yes. History belongs in museums. But history truly does belong to the victors. September 11 can no longer be just the story of a horrible day, because it has been used to justify wars that cost up to a million lives. And to be disturbed and saddened by the Charlie Hebdo murders, but to believe that blowback played a part in the crime is to somehow be full of "sympathy for terrorists."
Former Rep. Ron Paul said that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were about blowback. Free speech advocates, even some libertarian ones are doubtful. Hebdo leaned fairly left and so had many sympathies for anti-interventionist and traditionally lefty causes. They did, however, blaspheme against Muhammed. One of the terrorists said he and his comrades were "defenders of the prophet." However, he also mentioned the west’s violent actions in the Middle East. Are we to believe one half the motivation only? Or that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula does not have political goals, even if they consider them partially in terms of revenge against insulters of Mohammed?
Whether Charlie Hebdo was targeted for sincere religious outrage, political attention-grabbing reasons, or (clearly) a combination of the two, it is still a tragedy, and the men who killed them are still murders.
But why, why, why do I need to say that again and again to prove my commitment to not killing people, when those who throw their lot in with the warmongers feel no such obligation?
Because the warmongers have all the cards. They have the state’s sociopathic gloss behind their bloodshed. They have a semblance of civil liberties at home to contrast with nasty theocratic punishments abroad. (Oh hang on, that was US ally Saudi Arabia. Yes, only in some places is religious tyranny an outrage worthy of bombing over.) And France appears to be responding to these attacks in the most predictable fashion. They are committing more fully to the war against ISIS, and they are arresting people for speech crimes of praising the terrorists. Meanwhile, the Muslim communities in New York City who suffered under the NYPD’s spying campaign are bracing themselves for an influx of prying into their lives.
That is what will be done in the name of Charlie Hebdo. That is how governments commemorate their martyrs.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.