BY KLAUS JURGENS
FEB 08, 2023 – DAILY SABAH
Press freedom in Europe is not something marvelous; in fact, editors allowing to incite hatred in society are lauded as champions of free speech. (Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç)
Türkiye: ‘The land of mercy’
The proud nation of Türkiye is in the middle of a period of mourning trying to come to terms with the devastating earthquakes that occurred earlier this week. Even seasoned journalists are hard pressed to find the correct words to describe the horrors, sorrows and the unbearable suffering. As I wrote this piece, over 8,500 citizens had lost their lives whilst over 40,000 citizens were injured.
A human catastrophe and a nightmare come true… What can we say? Rescue efforts started immediately but cold weather and the sheer scale of material destruction hamper each and every step. Entire neighborhoods, towns, districts of cities have disappeared.
What the region affected now needs most is aid and help and that arrives as fast as logistically possible with even many major roads no longer fit for traffic. We see images of thousands of volunteers from Türkiye eager to go to the region and support rescue teams with their very own hands. Money is collected, and blankets and clothes are dispatched. Every citizen asks herself or himself “How can I help, what can be done?”
Expressing solidarity not just verbally but in practical terms in a period of human catastrophe and crisis best characterizes this fine nation. It does not take away an inch of the suffering, the feeling of loss of loved ones but it underlines that victims realize they are not alone.
Then there are others, bizarre self-styled “commentators” or “cartoonists.” Enter Charlie Hebdo. Not a person, but a foreign publication.
Inciting hatred in France and abroad
Press freedom in Europe is not something marvelous; in fact, editors allowed to incite hatred in society are lauded as champions of free speech.
Bizarre, highly toxic for harmonious living with each other, dangerous, and above all else, potentially a criminal offense as we shall discuss in more detail in this article.
The French publication Charlie Hebdo, according to Wikipedia, is a French satirical weekly magazine featuring cartoons, reports, polemics and jokes that are purportedly harmless. Another kind of adult-oriented comic magazine perhaps? Something one would expect to find toward the end of even serious broadsheet newspapers where the page with “the funnies” is often read first? Reality – lightyears away from that assumption of innocence!
On Feb. 6, 2023, Charlie Hebdo under the byline “drawing of the day” with a mention of “#Juin” as cartoonist, showed a destroyed building resembling a destroyed town with an overturned car, with the mention of “Earthquake in Türkiye” in the top-right corner and then at the bottom “Don’t even need to send (the) tanks” (author’s own translation from the French language original).
When the news broke that this publication went live and first shocked reactions poured in from abroad as well as Türkiye, commentators everywhere were lost for words, indeed; the author of these lines asked himself “that must be fake news, certainly?” Then the sobering reality kicked in – a quick look at Charlie Hebdo’s website confirmed the rumors.
There are three issues the entire free, democracy- and human rights-loving world must ask itself in the aftermath of this heinous attempt at poking fun at a nation in mourning.
First, what kind of mindset is at work? Second, what kind of editorial line is responsible? Third, what will be the wider impacts of inciting hatred in society at home in France and abroad and not just in Türkiye? A few brief observations about each of these three points can be carried out.
The mindset – it would be easy to blame the parents, the teachers, the peer groups of those who allowed this “cartoon” to see the light of day. A sick mindset like the one displayed only flourishes if society as such has somehow overlooked tendencies and trends within that very society which may make a journalist or cartoonist think “this is accepted freedom of speech or freedom of expression.” Somewhere in France, the undercurrent of belittling other nations seems to have become the staple diet of accepted or at least tolerated “journalism.”
The editorial line – no one can tell me that the owners and publishers of Charlie Hebdo would not discuss which cartoon, which words are used before being published. Two options: The editor herself/himself asked a team member to find something that could be used to insult a nation greatly suffering. Alternatively, that team member went ahead and proposed the drawing’s outlook.
The wider impacts – there is more to it all. The Republic of Türkiye is a great, enterprising and successful predominantly Muslim nation where members of all the world’s other faiths are equally made to feel welcome and are happily at home. It is the role model of and for a multicultural, modern nation state. It hosts over 4 million displaced men, women and children from war-torn countries. Cynics might argue Türkiye stands for, and represents all that what the Republic of France once stood for, including liberty and equality.
But that word “liberty” brings us straight to the gist of this opinion page contribution: “Liberty” is a concept that is based on a harmonious living side by side yet without infringing upon the liberties of fellow citizens. The keywords are respect and solidarity. Our profession is similarly based on those concepts – we must address “tricky” topics the same as “easy” subjects. When we now combine the general concept of liberty within society with two further related concepts, freedom of expression and freedom of speech, we have arrived at the recipe for a successful democracy.
One thing all three concepts cannot tolerate ever is when those liberties are misinterpreted and misused to single out “the other,” which can either be a group of people or just an individual.
Türkiye was targeted
In the case of this week’s Charlie Hebdo cartoon to make matters even worse, an entire nation, Türkiye, was chosen in this context. It stirs up animosity amongst French society, it creates a feeling of shock and uneasiness amongst Turkish society. The shockwaves are felt all around the globe, though.
The cartoon in question cannot be defended with freedom of expression. It cannot be regarded as freedom of speech. It is not simply bad taste. It does indeed incite hatred within society at home in France and everywhere else.
In many countries hate speech is a criminal offense. When will the French watchdog for the domestic media react and tell Charlie Hebdo’s editors in no unmistaken words that this time, they really went a step too far?
The proud and strong nation of Türkiye will rebuild and move on with this insulting cartoon being nothing more than a sad footnote filed under Islamophobia made in Europe. Much more worrisome is the state of media affairs in France herself – much legal and professional food for thought in Paris and all French regions, that’s for sure.
May God bless the victims and give their families the strength to cope, and they shall rest in peace. May we pray for the injured hoping for a speedy and full recovery. May the nation of Türkiye emerge even more united and even stronger.
*Political analyst, journalist based in London
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Political analyst, journalist based in London
Categories: Europe, Europe and Australia, European Union, France
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