fredag, januar 09, 2015

Am I Charlie?

This week saw the terrible terrorist attack on the satirical French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Quickly, people started showing posters and pictures saying "I am Charlie/Je suis Charlie" in solidarity with the magazine.

Almost as quickly, commentaries started problematizing the "Je suis Charlie"-slogan, claiming that it is easy to show solidarity in such an extreme situation, but that that many have been careful in their support, even directly negative to Charlie Hebdo and other media publishing deliberatively provocing Muhammed-caricatures, during the previous years.

I myself put up a "Je suis Charlie" in social media, even though I haven't published a single Muhammed-caricature. Am I a hypocrit? In my opinion I'm not.

Different institutions take on different roles in a society. The role of Charlie Hebdo has been that of the provocateur - deliberatively attacking all forms of authority. But if we all should take on this role it would make for a very high conflict level in the society. For all practical means we agree to disagree on a wide variety of subjects and downplay these disagreements. Both in personal relations and in society at large this is necessary simply to make things run smoothly (this has its limits of course).

In this situation, humorists have a very important role. I cannot go around mocking people and opinions I think are stupid all the time - because I have to deal with people, and that presupposes a certain level of mutual trust and respect. However, I can laugh of the caricatures. It shows my opinion but takes away some of the personal dimension. The caricatures are also public - a part of our common frame of reference and conversation.

Paradoxically, this is especially important in a time of increased polarization. To counter polarization we both need to build trust between different groups at the same time as we must ridicule authorities.

Therefore we need Charlie Hebdo, Monty Python and Kurt Westergaard. There might come a day when I myself personally need to use the weapon of humour. That day I have that possibility because of them. They take the necessary role of the provocatours. And provocation is necessary to keep the power in check as laughter is the quickest way to undress a tyrant. These humorists keep free speech open on our behalf.

So am I Charlie? Maybe not. But I hope that I could have been.