While the tragic terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo may be a month behind us, that doesn’t mean that a lot of people aren’t still talking about it. Most recently, one of those people is (quite surprisingly, given his reclusive reputation) famed animator and all around wonderful human being Hayao Miyazaki.
Now if you don’t already know who this guy is, you are a deprived human being. Go watch Spirited Away, seriously. The guy is responsible for some of the most beautiful, creative, and thought-provoking animated films of our age. He also has some great stuff to say about the state of animation in his home country of Japan.
But anyway, Charlie Hebdo. In case you’ve been living under a rock, a quick summary: the aforementioned French satirical paper often featured crude, insulting cartoons mocking various religions, and recently contained a few choice ‘toons about the prophet Muhammad, which then sparked a brutal terrorist attack in which 12 of its staff were killed. Since then, sales of the periodical have skyrocketed, and many have marched in support of Charlie Hebdo under the banner of “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”). All in all, the victims have been seen as martyrs for “free speech.”
And what does Miyazaki have to say about all of this? Well, basically, that the Charlie Hebdo comics were a “mistake.”
Clearly, this will not sit well with many. But hey, let’s let the man explain.
“For me, I think it’s a mistake to make caricatures of what different cultures worship […] It’s a good idea to stop doing that.”
[via Kotaku‘s translation from Yahoo! News].”
So basically… He wants people to be respectful of the dearly held beliefs of others.
And, you know, I agree. I’ve been on the fringe about the Charlie Hebdo thing, mostly because I think it’s a despicable publication. The world is a worse place for having more copies in circulation. It’s rude, it’s cruel, and, in my mind, it ultimately serves no purpose other than to cause controversy (as if we don’t have enough of that already). But hey, I can’t stop them from printing. That’s their choice. And that right there is “free speech.”
However, the “free speech” that the “Je suis Charlie” crowd is touting is really a call for freedom from consequences. Now, before I continue, let me offer this disclaimer:
*** I do not, in any way, support acts of violence, and I firmly believe that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was unjustified ***
So there’s that. Now, that being said, that horrible attack does not render the deceased cartoonists spotless lambs.
Say, for example, that some jerk walks into a bar and starts spewing racial slurs about some minority group. He walks out of that bar, and is promptly beaten to a pulp by angered members of that minority. They heard him verbally assault them, so they physically assaulted him. Cause and effect. A wretched deed wrought a wretched deed, albeit one with more severe consequences. I think we can all agree that everyone in this instance is in the wrong, and that while the racist jerk may not have deserved that violence, he did, in fact, bring it on himself.
So it is with Charlie Hebdo. The periodical poked the bear, so to speak, and there were consequences. Freedom of speech will never be able to guarantee freedom from consequences (what we need to start talking about instead in our society is freedom from violence). What I’m trying to say is that what Charlie Hebdo has done and continues to do is a bad idea, because it has terrible consequences. Not just for the publication itself, but for the numerous Muslim French citizens that are already beset upon from all sides in a country notorious for its rampant xenophobia/Islamophobia. Do we really want to stand with Charlie Hebdo in this, and say “Je suis stoking the fires of hatred?”
Now, I fully recognize the need for satire/comedy. And sure, the stuff is bound to get offensive, and that can be good. Hell, even Miyazaki recommends lampooning political figures from your own country, but, as he says, “It’s [sic] just looks suspect to go after political leaders from other countries.” I don’t know how strictly we should strive to maintain this divide, but I do think it’s worthwhile to strive for a more reasonable approach when criticizing the ideas and revered figures of others. Especially when some members of the target group are so prone to violence.
So I stand with Miyazaki on this one. The content of Charlie Hebdo really is a mistake. And further, the entire “Je suis Charlie” movement is a mistake. Forget about free speech, that’s not the issue, and it never really was. So, as a global society, let’s stop purchasing that hateful rag, start addressing the very real problem of violence, and ultimately, just try to stop fanning the flames of hate.
While I enjoyed this commentary, really all I want to do is watch Howl’s Moving Castle now.
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