It is so early in the year that I keep forgetting to write the date as 2015 and Armenian friends have yet to celebrate Christmas. I wish I could write that all’s well with the world, but it’s not.
Wednesday, January 7, will forever be remembered as a black day in France: Some are already calling it the French 9/11.
In my office in the Israeli capital, I was struggling to send The International Jerusalem Post to press before the predicted snow storm. Israelis, and Jerusalemites in particular, famously carry on as normal in times of war and terror, but the threat of snow stops us in our tracks: Millennia-old collective memory of siege conditions kick in and we wipe supermarket shelves clean and retreat to our homes before the first flakes have a chance to settle.
Going quickly through my emails on Wednesday morning, I pushed aside a joint statement from the International Federation of Journalists and its affiliate the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate condemning the killing of Al-Masirah TV channel correspondent Khalid Mohammed al-Washali, who died on January 4 in Dhamar, south of Sanaa. “The reporter was one of the four people killed by a roadside bomb blast, allegedly carried out by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and became the first journalist to be killed in 2015,” read the statement.
As we now know, he wasn’t the last.
Within hours of receiving the statement in which IFJ General Secretary Beth Costa complained that “Yemeni journalists have been under attack from all warring sides in Yemen who are bent on undermining the independence of media” – and mentally putting it to one side as not urgent – I began to hear the first reports and condemnations of the attack in Paris on the offices of the weekly satirical paper Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were killed.
This, of course, grabbed my attention, as the terrorists probably wanted. By the evening, my Facebook feed was filled with memes of “Je suis Charlie” to which I responded “Nous sommes tous Charlie.”
We’re all Charlie, but not everyone wants to admit it yet. Even now.
I am not a fan of Charlie Hebdo, but nobody deserves a death sentence for producing satire in sometimes bad taste.
Israeli satirical TV shows like Matzav Ha’uma (State of the Nation) and Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) are often offensive but the more difficult the state of this wonderful country, the more I appreciate the power of humor and satire to help deal with it.
The Jerusalem Association of Journalists, of which I am a board member, sent condolences to counterparts in France as did the Government Press Office, Jerusalem Press Club, the prime minister, president and many more organizations and important personages.
A redline had not only been crossed, it had been redrawn in blood.
But shocking as the attack was, I noted that the European Federation of Journalists referred to it as “the ‘massacre’” – in quotation marks. True, it described the slaughter as “a barbaric act of violence against journalists and media freedom,” but it obviously hesitated over the word “massacre.”
How many dead victims does it take to become a bloodbath rather than a trickle of drops of blood? Perhaps it depends partly on location (pity the family of Washali in Yemen whose death went largely unnoticed in the West); perhaps it’s numbers – a Facebook friend in Pakistan is still clearly in mourning following the Peshawar massacre last month in which more than 150 schoolchildren were killed so horrifically, along with their teachers.
Maybe in this day and age it doesn’t resonate if there’s no footage on YouTube.
A French-born Israeli friend makes a pertinent painful point about the huge popular movement that arose across France.
Florence Touati-Wachsstock notes: “In the streets and on social media, people are protesting with these words: ‘Je suis Charlie,’ meaning that by targeting those journalists, the terrorists targeted French people. I support this movement of course and have posted these words on my Facebook profile too.
“But I am wondering why in March 2012, when a terrorist killed three children and a man in Toulouse, although the authorities severely condemned it, there was no such popular movement. The quite modest demonstrations that took place at this time were mostly composed of Jews.
“So I am asking the question: Why in March 2012, nobody claimed ‘I am Gabriel’ or ‘I am Myriam’?” says Florence, referring to victims of the Toulouse Jewish school massacre: Rabbi Jonathan (Yonatan) Sandler; two of his three children, Aryeh, aged six, and Gabriel, aged three; and the eightyear- old daughter of the school principal, Myriam Monsonego.
“Is it,” she asks, “maybe because for the last 15 years the media (Charlie Hebdo included) and the political authorities fired back at the two communities, treating equally victims and terrorists? As if the Jewish community which has always lived quietly in respect of the French Republic’s values was responsible for being targeted by criminals. The incapability of French society to understand that immigrants who were daily suffering from racism could also be criminals led the Jewish community to feel abandoned by the French and this was felt as a show of dissent by the Republic.
“The majority of the Jews in France don’t trust the country anymore which even led some to leave it,” says Florence. “Now it is time for the rest of French citizens to wake up from this nightmare and realize how much it hurts. Will they be able to look at themselves in a mirror and realize how indifferent they’ve been?” She adds a prayer that the tragedy will be translated into some meaningful action.
Sadly, that seems unlikely. The world is too afraid – not of terrorists – of the need to be politically correct and display moral equivalence.
As the attack on the café in Sydney last month caused Australians to respond with the “I’ll ride with you” campaign for those who felt they could fall prey to an Islamophobic backlash, so here, too, we can see the hesitation to call a spade a spade, thus handling the terrorists another weapon.
I also emphasize: Not all Muslims are jihadists, but all jihadists are Muslims.
Refusing to acknowledge this fact, or the global intention of jihad, does not save the lives of anyone: Muslim, Christian, Jew or any other religion and creed.
Many commentators (and friends like Florence) express the wish that the Charlie Hebdo attack will act as a wake-up call, but, as I’ve noted before, we are way past the wake-up stage. Years ago the world pressed the snooze button when confronted with the ugly images of death by Islamist violence.
We’re nearing the panic-button stage.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was preceded just before Christmas by two other attacks in France that can be assumed to have radical Muslim undertones, even if people were too scared to voice the suspicion in public.
And it’s not only in France: I am not the only one wondering why the name of the garbage truck driver involved in an incident in which six people were killed in Glasgow has not been released.
Canadians, who are more used to snow and thankfully less used to terrorism than Israelis, have also been left with open questions and wounds after the October 2014 shooting and hit-and-run attacks.
Israelis out of necessity came up with a term for that type of “running over” attack (pigua drisa) years ago.
Earlier this week, Jerusalem Post staff met with an inspirational group of South African students (SAUJS) interested in hearing suggestions about how to cope with BDS and other anti-Israel and anti-Semitic movements and acts.
My advice was: Pick your battles, don’t get lost fighting every detail; emphasize that Israel is on the front lines of the war against jihad, a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and includes attacks on Christian and Muslim communities; never feel ashamed of standing up for Israel and what you believe to be right; and above all: Keep a sense of humor.
Kill humor and you’ve lost the firstname.lastname@example.org