Watching world leaders march in Paris after the attacks at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cachère, I was struck by the opportunistic appearance of the moment. During the very same week, Boko Haram murdered 2,000 people in Baga, Nigeria, no o one organized a march of Western leaders, even from a second tier of available politicos, to express our collective outrage at that massacre. It was left to Canada’s John Baird to make a declaration of condemnation. He was the most senior official within the G8 to do so. It would seem that we treat fundamentalist terrorism in the developing world as an expected event, and there is a lax attitude towards what we can do about it. If we consider Nigeria to be a strategic world asset due to its oil reserves and production capacity, then we should expect BokoHaram’s takeover of vast swaths of the country to galvanize the same response as ISIL’s caliphate in Iraq. Sadly, from a moral or a cynical geopolitical point of view, this is not the case. Nigeria’s crisis is no less important than that of France’s yet why do the events in Paris merit such a seismic displacement in our libertarian sensitivities?
My answer is an uncomfortable one; we value the collective freedom of the western press more than we value individuals victimized by terrorism. The French liberté, fraternité, égalité speaks to the collective freedoms cherished in all western democracies. An attack on Charlie Hebdo was emblematic of an attack on western values, regardless of the perpetrators. In this case they happened to be followers of radical Islam; if it had been sixty years ago and French communists perpetrated a similar act of terror there would have been similar push-back from the general population and the political classes. For those who died in Nigeria, their deaths were based on a conflict of races and faiths, not their political beliefs. They did not laugh at Boko Haram, they did not incite their attackers to violence. The radical Islamists of Paris attacked the kosher supermarket because of its Jewishness, but Charlie Hebdo because of its editorial satire. Even between the two attacks in Paris, Charlie Hebdo ended up being valued more highly than the attack against a Jewish supermarket.
As the media coverage evolved in the days following the attacks, there was far more emphasis on the freedom of the press than the plight of France’s Jews. After all, anti-Semitic events and attacks have been on the rise in France for some time; c’est normal, we are used to it. An assault on a newspaper is something special and out of the ordinary, and it just happened to be that some of the editorial staff killed were Jewish as well. It was left to Israel to mourn the dead and bring them to burial. Credit has to be given to the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, for the speech he gave in support of France’s Jews and the community’s right to live in security, but others have made similar speeches over the years and the living conditions for the 500,000 French Jews continue to degrade.
My greatest disappointment was the hypocrisy of allowing many representatives from Arab Middle Eastern countries to march in the streets of Paris alongside Hollande, Merkel and other Western democratic leaders. They represent autocratic countries where journalists are muzzled, jailed and tortured for expressing views contrary to those espoused by their governments. Furthermore, you can be sure that they were not marching in solidarity with the Jews of France. If France wanted to demonstrate its true inner Charlie then these representatives should have been asked to stay home.
In conclusion, the West’s inner Charlie is shallow, fleeting and inconsistent. We wear its values with a veneer as thin as the cardboard the Je suis Charlie posters were printed on.