Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Laughing in the face of extremism

By Zac Bears

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People hold placards during a rally in support of Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, after an attack at the headquarters of the satirical newspaper killed 12 people. (Julien Muguet/Maxppp/Zuma Press/TNS)

People hold placards during a rally in support of Charlie Hebdo after an attack at the headquarters of the satirical newspaper killed 12 people. (Julien Muguet/Maxppp/Zuma Press/TNS)

When I awoke to the news of the premeditated murder of 12 people, from custodian to editor in chief, at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris Wednesday, I realized the true danger of extremism – not just acts of violence, but the polarization of our world. It inspires people like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher to deplore all religions and persons with religious belief, and Internet agitators to equate the “violence” of law to a brutal massacre, comment about the ineffectual nature of gun control and invoke the immorality of leftist thought.

Fourteen years ago, another act of terror pushed politics to an extreme in the United States. Near 90 percent approval ratings for a president elected controversially less than a year before, and George W. Bush’s capacity to lead America into two wars barely expose that extremism. We still see it today, from a cross-party defense establishment unwilling to admit its own acts of torture to the basic inability of Congress to pass a budget.

There is no doubt in my mind that more people live on our society’s extremes than can be healthy for a nation. The gap of income and wealth inequality is wider than at any point since the Depression. Republicans have moved to an ideological extreme, accepting tactics of fear, division and bigotry to engage some voters. Democrats have responded to those tactics with rancid attacks on the statements of conservative icons, like Rush Limbaugh. America’s racist reality has reemerged from PC prison with ugly, continuing examples of groups turning their backs on the truth, unwilling to look beyond ideology, tribalism and, again, extremism.

But the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks transformed our society in an even more sinister way. Islamophobia became rampant in the weeks and months after the attacks, with those whom Americans perceived to be Arab (a broad grouping of races and ethnicities, many non-Arab) facing “harassment, violence, and workplace discrimination,” according to a 2006 study. This resulted in an increase in premature births, low birth weight and other negative birth outcomes in Arab-American women after 9/11. Researchers found no such increase for any other group by race, ethnicity or national origin.

This time, I waited for a different response. Perhaps Charlie Hebdo’s message of satire and criticism, attacking extremists and showing the Prophet Mohammad as appalled by violence in the name of Islam, would not be lost on the people of France. But people have attacked mosques across France, and unless you listen to NPR, most media have allowed a least a few Islamophobic voices to broadcast live.

Je suis Charlie means more than being angry that people were killed. Je suis Charlie means understanding what the cartoonists and editors of Charlie stood for: secularism, not as a mandate of irreligion, but an essential freedom and opportunity for diversity, and humor, not as a tool of hatred, but one of social justice and accountability.

Je suis Charlie means avoiding descent to the terrorists’ level. Their act of hatred cannot inspire hatred in response. Je suis Charlie means continuing to laugh in the face of extremism. A task made much harder in the wake of murderous carnage. But we can all remember a time when something was taken from us senselessly. We can all remember a time when all we wanted was to attack those whom had taken it from us. And then we can all remember how much better it felt to laugh than to seethe in anger, to smile than to cry. That’s what Charlie brings to painful events, and we have to keep laughing.

Zac Bears is the Opinion & Editorial Editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @zac_bears.

9 Comments

9 Responses to “Laughing in the face of extremism”

  1. bill on January 9th, 2015 8:14 am

    Isn’t deploring all people with a religious believe just as bad as someone equating all Muslims with terrorists? And though all religions have extremists, you’d have to admit that Islam has the most violent.

  2. Kris on January 9th, 2015 1:38 pm

    You just compared the slaughter of 12 people in the name of a man who consumated a marriage with a 9 year old, to the Republican party. Congratulations on your first step in de-escalating the polarization of our nation.

  3. Arafat on January 12th, 2015 9:00 am

    It is no wonder that Muslims are so focused on Islamophobia. Lacking convincing arguments, charm and positive contributions to their surroundings, being feared is their only chance to gain at least some kind of “respect”, and to scare the less brave into not warning the world about Islam’s obvious genocidal nature and its prophet’s thirst for blood and underage girls.

  4. Arafat on January 12th, 2015 9:01 am

    I often wonder how a human brain takes all information coming into it and changes reality into just the opposite. Beyond my comprehension what makes a lib brain become so stupid.

  5. Josh Katz on January 27th, 2015 3:39 pm
  6. Josh Katz on January 27th, 2015 3:39 pm

    Certainly an inconvenient truth

  7. Zac Bears on January 28th, 2015 10:11 am

    Because racism and bigotry necessarily consist of hate-motivated crimes, and not a system of media and political institutions? Ghettoization and stereotyping are a sad omission by someone trying to accurately portray hundreds of years of anti-semitism. Any person who is discriminated against knows that they are all in the fight together, and dividing those attacked for religious belief into separate groups is incredibly stupid.

  8. Josh Katz on January 29th, 2015 6:06 pm

    So you don’t believe anti-Semitism is dangerously on the rise in European country’s such as France? Looking forward to a column confronting this topic and discussing the situation of the thousands of Jews in Europe who are fearful of their lives due to recent events. No division whatsoever here ( Stupid really?). I think you can use more creative words than that. Just pointing out that you completely omitted that there is real world anti-semitism in the United States ( which no one is talking about) and in Europe. I’d be interested to hear your perspective on that

    http://forward.com/articles/213546/anti-semitic-incidents-double-in-france/

  9. Zac Bears on January 29th, 2015 8:01 pm

    Anti-semitism and Islamophobia in Europe must be addressed in concert. The sickening bigotry of the far right in most countries often extends to both Muslims and Jews. I take bigotry very seriously. I hope you will note that we published this column on 8 January, the day after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, but the day before the end of the hostage crises. 9 January, and the days following, began a period of anti-semitic attacks that haven’t ebbed. Just as I was ashamed of the Islamophobic attacks on 7 Jan., 8 Jan., etc. I was ashamed of the anti-semitism in the days that followed. I didn’t write on it here, as I was responding to the attack on journalism, its perpetrators–radical extremists self-identified with Islam–and the backlash against Muslims (or those identified by bigots as Muslim).

    Anti-semitism in the U.S. has been battered for years. Well-established groups, like the ADL, fight it on a daily basis and have for over 100 years. Most people I know learned about the dangers of anti-semitism in elementary and secondary school. I know I did. And I take it very seriously. But I don’t think it’s as big a problem in the United States as Islamophobia. The people who are physically attacking Jews are quite often the same people attacking black people, Muslims, gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people, and others. But no one is getting on a mainstream news network, even after the most deadly strike by Israel on Gaza, and blaming that attack on the ‘perils of Judaism’ or the ‘sick teachings of the Talmud.’ That’s not the same for Islam.

    I will also say that FBI statistics are notoriously bad. < http://www.splcenter.org/home/2012/spring/fbi-bias-crimes-against-muslims-remain-at-high-levels> < http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hcrvp.pdf> < http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4614>

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