On Sunday 11 January, the streets of Paris filled with demonstrators, cities around the world joined in solidarity with those who protested the killings of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo… and we all became Charlie… at least for a day.
WILPF Sections around the world, including our Sections and partners in the Middle East, have put out messages of solidarity against the violence. Millions came together to celebrate – but also to draw our attention to the subtext of all that was happening on that day and since, not by all, but by some: the sub text of hypocrisy, of othering, of militarisation and confrontation.
Demonstrations can be celebrations of humanity, and with Charlie it seemed just that: the desire to show empathy and solidarity with those who suffered and to assert the right and the need to be able to express our thoughts and opinions without fear.
Freedom of expression is a radical idea and one which States and religions have feared and repressed over centuries. It is a vital part of our ability to learn and progress, to enjoy and celebrate culture and diversity, and indeed our humour, but also to ensure accountability and to uphold rights. It carries with it responsibilities; to use that freedom to demonise, to diminish, and to deride is to participate in the dangerous route of “othering” and breaking that common humanity.
This is what is happening now, and over the last week it has intensified as the world “leaders” and opinion formers urge repression and the use of force against what they term as “terrorism” a “terrorism” that is manifested through radical groups such as Boko Harem, ISIL, et al, but is being linked to all Muslims, ignoring the reality and creating a dangerous narrative.
In so doing, we see only one side. We ignore the state terrorism unleashed by Bush and Blair with their “shock and awe,” which created chaos and radicalised opposition. It was the “us and them” they started which is being played out now with appalling consequences – most of it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, where 80% of all attacks globally have taken place. Not in Europe – though Charlie shows us where this could lead if we do not take the right action now.
The “system” that was created by the charter of the United Nations for the prevention of conflict is not working. Our leaders are intensifying the descent into chaos as they seek security based on the use of force and repression; and it will fail – as it always has done.
WILPF has, and continues to advocate the idea that the right action is to change this narrative, away from violent confrontation to one of addressing the root causes of conflicts.
In the words of an eight year old, “they didn’t have to kill them, they just had to talk, that’s all.” Let us talk.
This is what WILPF has been advocating for 100 years and in April 2015 we will bring people from all over the world to The Hague to discuss and debate the power of ordinary people, women and men, to stop war. We invite you to join us.
It is timely, we need to change the direction we are being driven in, we need to create a different course based on human rights, the rule of law, decency and our common humanity – and it is for all of us to make sure that happens.