To be, or not to be. That’s one question.
Like many others, I followed the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack this week. As it happened, as it was commented on, as it now gets unravelled and explained.
Twelve people were killed at the satirical magazine’s offices in Paris on Wednesday. Eleven were injured, and the event grew into what the BBC calls “three days of terror,” with a police officer and four hostages dead, as well as two gunmen. Over 700,000 people have taken part in marches across France, world leaders across regions denounced terrorism, and in honour of or solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, the world took to Twitter to share the magazine cover’s cartoon, because #JeSuisCharlie. Meanwhile, media outlets globally were put into two ethical camps: those that shared the controversial image as an assertion of freedom of speech and expression (or to get eyeballs), and those that did not share it because, had the attack never occurred, they never would have shared what is an incredibly offensive image to many in the first place. This latter group include The New York Times, NPR and the CBC
Another story surfaced this week: the deadliest attack by Boko Haram in Nigeria’s history. Amnesty International has said that some have reported as many as 2,000 killed.
Turn to Twitter, go to Google, and there will be no shortage of massacres, deaths, killings – either symbolic or just plainly horrific – every day, somewhere in the world.
Journalists are killed every year because of their trade. The 2014 Reporters Without Borders round-up of violence against journalists has that figure at 66, which brings the total for the last decade up to 720. That number is small compared to the tens of thousands killed per annum because of their race, their religion, their gender, their politics.
I like #JeSuisCharlie. I like that it makes me feel like I’m adding my voice to a campaign that is ultimately bringing awareness to freedoms of expression and speech, their importance, and their consequences (which, I would argue, reinforce their importance).
But I don’t think it’s anything more than that. This isn’t humanitarian in nature, it’s not a global rising-up to champion our collective human rights. And as it takes up 10 per cent of what is already a tight 140-character medium, a social media ‘campaign’ like this one can pretty quickly turn a note of solidarity into a chorus of emotional rhetoric.
I can’t believe that it speaks to humanity’s compassion, or how our borders can no longer block-out a global intolerance for what is ‘wrong.’ Because really, what would that say about the lack of outrage around events like the one in Nigeria, where casualty counts may match 9/11 in scale?
Yes, there are differences. An attack on a building at the heart of the global financial sector is different than a devastating raid on a town in Africa. A targeted killing of a journalist is different than the death of an individual in a massive, indiscriminate shooting.
And yes, these differences should shape the dialogue around what happened, and why: understanding requires context. But they should not determine how or why they are covered. At least not to the completely disproportional extent that they do now.