Tag Archives: Charlie Hebdo

Lies, Damned Lies and Videotape

It began with a flurry of tweets:

Seeing as this was Channel 4’s newsreader Cathy Newman, her tweets not only generated the mandatory Twitter outrage, but also sparked a flurry of news articles.

The general tone was that of the mosque involved making an own goal, missing the chance to convince Britain and Britons that it was part of the community. The slightly perplexed mosque issued an apology.

Then came the CCTV footage that showed that Cathy Newman wasn’t ushered out at all; she visited the mosque in error (this one wasn’t part of Visit My Mosque) and her camera crew was waiting at another mosque down the road. Furthermore, a bemused person at the mosque had mistakenly directed her to a nearby church. She had merely entered the mosque and left on her own again after receiving the erroneous (but well-meaning directions).

This would all be fine except for the fact that the mosque has since received death threats as a result.

Cathy Newman, for all intents and purposes an experienced (and usually, really good actually) journalist knew that her tweets were indirectly saying something significant, signalling something quite deliberate on that day, in the nervy post-Charlie Hebdo environment in Europe, at a time when the Muslim community is even more under the microscope than usual.

Her tweets confirmed suspicions that the whole Visit My Mosque initiative was a publicity stunt; that parts of the Muslim community live “apart” from British values and way of life. That was the signal in her tweets. She didn’t say so explicitly; neither did the news reports of her story. However, this did come to dominate coverage of the whole initiative.

She has since apologised for any “misunderstanding”. Her flimsy non-apology has not been questioned by the mainstream media at all, who knew full well what she was implying with her tweets. There is a pretense here, as if this was just a straight story of a misunderstanding. It overlooks the pressure on the Muslim community and to some extent the mixed pressures of the initiative itself; anything that promotes greater understanding between communities is a good thing, but I can’t help feeling a certain discomfort that the hastily arranged event was a bit of a well-meaning post-Charlie Hebdo scramble to reassure that yes, the Muslim community is part of us, one of us.

The entitlement with which Cathy tweeted and passed judgment sticks in my craw, and the subsequent news stories were a bit of a “gotcha!” moment, as if the mosques were caught out revealing their true selves.

But now that Cathy has been shown to have been blowing it all out of proportion and straight-up lying, she has been allowed a free pass.Why did she do this? There has been no acknowledgment of the unsettling anti-Muslim undercurrent to the whole affair.

And while everyone in the media closes ranks around one of their own, some of us are left wondering what Cathy has revealed about herself.

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I’ve been a fan of Roxane Gray since I read Bad Feminist. She’s thoughtful and honest, unafraid to wade into the grey areas and tease out nuance.

I found myself nodding along to her recent article for the Guardian on the Charlie Hebdo aftermath:

“There are times when silence equals consent, but is the loss of someone else’s life really such an instance? Is it reasonable to assume that if je ne suis pas Charlie, I tacitly endorse terrorism?

I believe in the freedom of expression, unequivocally – though, as I have written before, I wish more people would understand that freedom of expression is not freedom from consequence. I find some of the work of Charlie Hebdo distasteful, because there is a preponderance of bigotry of all kinds in many of their cartoons’ sentiments. Still, my distaste should not dictate the work the magazine produces or anything else. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo – and writers and artists everywhere – should be able to express themselves and challenge authority without being murdered. Murder is not an acceptable consequence for anything.

Yet it is also an exercise of freedom of expression to express offense at the way satire like Charlie Hebdo’s characterizes something you hold dear – like your faith, your personhood, your gender, your sexuality, your race or ethnicity.

Demands for solidarity can quickly turn into demands for groupthink, making it difficult to express nuance. It puts the terms of our understanding of the situation in black and white – you are either with us or against us – instead of allowing people to mourn and be angry while also being sympathetic to complexities that are being overlooked.”

Increasingly, on Twitter, I find myself at a loss for words. Twitter is great for pithy, quick responses, succinct bursts of outrage or joy. Most of the time I revel in the robustness, the rambunctiousness of it all. But sometimes it seems inadequate. I didn’t really tweet much about events in Paris because I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t be trite – but there’s more to it than that. I didn’t really say much because beyond an immediate expression of grief and dismay I knew there was a lot that I was still working out. Gay captures this need for a ‘pause’ perfectly:

“Life moves quickly but, sometimes, consideration does not. And yet, we insist that people provide an immediate response, or immediate agreement, a universal, immediate me-too –as though we don’t want people to pause at all, to consider what they are weighing in on. We don’t want to complicate our sorrow or outrage when it is easier to experience these emotions in their simplest, purest states.

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more I want to pause. I want to take the time to think through how I feel and why I feel. I don’t want to feign expertise on matters I know nothing about for the purpose of offering someone else my immediate reaction for their consumption.”

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500px-I'm_back_baby!….and we’re back. I’m still working through my thoughts on Paris. Nigeria.

The lack of nuance.

The fact that no one deserves to die for what they say.

The fact that Charlie Hebdo was racist and islamophobic and quite frankly, not that clever.

The fact that even if they were, they should not have been killed for it.

The fact that we won’t give the majority of Muslims the benefit of the doubt that like most human beings, they abhor senseless killings and are as appalled as the rest of us and so we call on them to condemn and prove that they’re not all waiting to kill us.

The fact that the killings in Nigeria have been going on for years. And that’s not considered “news”, but this approach ignores the fact that framing matters. Nigeria is framed at a distance. France is close to home.

That matters.

Over the course of several days I’ve read tweets and articles that illuminate some of the things I’ve been feeling and turning over in my mind. I’ve put a few here:

Umournable Bodies by Teju Cole

No Clash of Civilisations in Paris Attacks by David Wearing.



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