#JeSuisCharlie: Why it should matter to justice activists

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“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” 

~ Voltaire

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it. »

~ Voltaire

For the last few days and I believe for the next few weeks also, I am and will continue to grieve the events of Paris and the slaughtered people of Charlie Hebdo as well as the police officers, hostages, and the death of a poor dog caught in all this insanity. This is therefore a very difficult blog for me to write but one that I find necessary to explain certain things to the rest of the world.

Charlie has been a pillar of free speech for years before it was even called Charlie Hebdo (the name derives from the character Charlie Brown in Peanuts and is an inside joke about President Charles De Gaulle; Hebdo means weekly). Most people in France (who are old enough) remember its earlier version called Hara-Kiri. I read many people’s comments on Facebook, Twitter and the numerous articles in the world’s press. For days during the unfolding between the slaughter, the hostage situations and the manhunts, I was glued to my computer screen (and TV set) and witnessed the world’s reaction to all of this (and mourned/cried a lot). It mostly felt like a horror movie in which the ending is really bad for the heroes. I still carry a deep pain in my heart as of this writing. I particularly can’t look at pictures of Cabu without having tears.

Some said that Charlie « had gone too far ». What I find fascinating is that these comments mostly come from people outside the country who don’t understand something: French satire. So let me give you some historical context for this.

French satire is a tool to express anger, rage, revolt, humor and rejection of the status quo which has been around since the days of Queen Marie Antoinette and to ridicule and fight the then Royalist Feudal system which kept millions of French in dire poverty while a tiny elite of aristocrats were living in Versailles and other castles. They were the 1% of their time, while the rest of the country was its 99% (sounds familiar?). Satire is even older than that as you can find it in the most oppressive kingdoms in history where the only people who could ridicule their rulers were the « bouffons » or court jesters. They could be funny and obscene but they were allowed, weirdly enough, to have their say. No one else could.

Satire (particularly French satire) is based on a total rejection of any « ism », whether it is the then « Royalisme » (from royalists) of the kings and queens, or the « ism » of religion, the « ism » of capitalism, the « ism » of all racism, but also ridiculing the ridicule. It can explain also why Charlie Hebdo is also the only newspaper in France (satirical or not) which takes strong positions on animal rights (as the cartoon in this blog shows). Yes they can be vulgar, obscene, provocative, even downright unpalatable at times. But they say their truths with their best weapons: their pencils and words. That is the essence of a free society (at least ours) that what you say can’t and should never be policed by violence, whether it’s the state, corporate manipulation or in this case, fanatics.

They were not the only ones. Before he died (or was murdered, depending on who you believe), the comedian Coluche (a legend here) was also very much like Charlie Hebdo: vulgar, outrageous, provocative. He even did a mock « gay wedding » with a fellow (gay) comedian at a time when you couldn’t even talk about gay rights, let alone gay weddings. He never said he was gay (he was married) but bluntly said on television 30 years ago that « he had tried it but in the end, that didn’t work out » (and got a big laugh). This shocked a lot of people 30 years ago but now he is a reference impossible to ignore in France’s political and social discourse. Coluche’s outrageous exterior was hiding a heart of gold and he founded « Les Restaurants du Coeur » (Restaurants of the Heart), which 30 years after his death, still feed poor people (of all races and creeds), help them with legal issues, provide services to re-insert them into society, etc… The best satirists and sometimes the most outrageous and provocative people (at least in France) have proven to be also the most generous to others. Cabu was vegetarian and was seen many times protesting animal cruelty. Charb, Wolinsky, Cabu, and Tignous and the other victims present at the newspaper meeting (ironically about racism) that day, as well as Luce Lapin (who was wounded but fortunately is alive) have always took positions for denouncing absurdity while making people laugh at it. But their position on animal rights is not even the point here.

France is a secular country. As such, we don’t follow anything but secular laws, not religious laws. In fact, you’re not supposed to even show your religious affiliations in Federal systems like Public Schools (Private & Religious schools are a different matter). Racism is an offense in our laws, mocking religion is not. Charlie is anti-racist and never mocked people based on their race. But they have the right to mock religion. So whether one religious community feels insulted or not, our right to free speech is protected by law. And for the record, nowhere in the Koran does it say that you can’t do a drawing or any representation of the Prophet. This is an idea that has been around since the 15th century only and has become culturally accepted by some Muslims but not all. Religions tend to change in time. There were a time when women had no soul for the Catholic Church. Animals still don’t according to them. I was raised Catholic but would never have criticized the right of Charlie to mock the Catholic religion (and they did).

When I moved to the United States, I was ready to follow its laws. There is a reason I never moved to various countries in the world, it’s because I didn’t agree with their laws because they had religion as their state laws. Separation of « Church and State » is a sacred right we won with the French Revolution. It is not debatable even if it may insult various groups.

A society where anyone can say anything is what allows vegans, environmental and human rights activists in general to be bold and daring at exposing uncomfortable truths to society.

When I was at the Montpellier Republican March (not to confuse the word « republican » as a party as a lot of Americans did, it means March for the Republique), I felt compelled to document visually this day by not just filming the other 100,000 plus people who were there with me but to hear their voices, their feelings. Muslims talked to me. Children talked to me. Even a French-Mexican woman talked to me (I had never met a Mexican living in France, only in Los Angeles). There were people who said that Charlie Hebdo went « too far ». But all of them, Muslims included, said that what these fanatics did had nothing to do with Islam and that, even though they disapproved of caricatures of the Prophet, they also approved of the right of others, in a free society, to ridicule him. It is interesting to know that, besides the threats that fanatics (using religion as an excuse) had made to Charlie, it’s mostly the Catholic Church who sued them most over the years. But that is meaningless, Catholics burned down theaters in France when the movie « The Temptation of Christ » was released. So fanatics can use any religion as an excuse and atheists (like the former Soviet Union’s stalinists, the Nazis, and so on) can use non-religious ideologies with the same zeal to kill as well (and they killed millions of people). And as all the Muslims I met told me, the Prophet would never had agreed with this, no matter how offended he would have been.

Joe Randazzo of the Onion said it well:

« This will be framed by many as the latest salvo in an ongoing war between the West and Islam, when what this really amounts to is the slaughter of innocent people. These murderers don’t represent anyone but themselves, their own twisted view of reality. They don’t stand for an entire religion anymore than the Westboro Baptist Church stands for an entire religion or the Ku Klux Klan stands for an entire race. »

As activists, we are in a unique time. We live in an extremely bipolar society. It does a 180 in just a matter of hours on every issues. One day, Foix Gras is banned in California, the next a judge changes it back. One day, some guys write a silly cartoon, the next 12 people die for holding pencils from guys who want to police free speech and freedom of expression with violence. This has never been seen before in the West but is common place in repressive regimes in other countries where journalists and human rights activists are commonly put in jail, even killed, for far less than what Charlie did. Let’s never forget that.

I defend the rights of Charlie to continue to be funny, obscene (at times) as much as I defend the rights of people like Bill Maher to trash Rush Limbaugh (and vice-versa), or the rights of someone to trash Michael Moore. As Moore explained in his movie « Sicko », he helped a guy maintaining his website, the biggest anti Michael Moore website on the web, with a check so that the guy could pursue his constitutional right « to trash him into the ground » so he could pay the medical bills for his sick wife. I also defend South Park to also be obscene, funny and gross. I can’t always stomach South Park, but I do stomach Maher and like him (even when he trashes religion, which is not something I always find smart or agree with). No one, I hope, will walk into his show with guns to silence him. Bill Maher has a very good response, for instance, for those who hate Rush Limbaugh: « Don’t listen to him ». That’s the point. I personally can’t stomach Rush Limbaugh, therefore I don’t listen to him. But I would never tell him he doesn’t have the right to his opinions, however distasteful, racists, sexists, I find them.

I gave my business card to the mother of a child I filmed at the march and she saw on the card that I was a vegan. Her reaction was: « This is not about that right? », she said, offended. I was dealing with lots of emotions and just said « no, it’s not. » She went as far as asking me if I would spread the mini-documentary on « these kinds of Facebook platforms ». So much for free speech and freedom of being a vegan. I wanted to say « well it’s MY freedom of expression and the freedom of animals » but was too emotionally distraught and didn’t want to antagonize on that particular day. Now I regret it.

After a few days, It has never been more important to me to defend free speech because when that right is repressed for anyone in society, it is repressed for all. As activists, we already have a hard time spreading our message but if it weren’t for that free speech we cherish and the chance we have to (so far) live in societies which allow that, how far our message would go?

Joe Randazzo in the Onion, once again, formulated it well:

« Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter. It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate. It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it’s grown. »

Activists should applaud the ideas of free speech, even the offensive ones because without them, there is no freedom at all. Politically correct thinking is often used by politicians and corporations to repress our rights and manipulate us. Satire (even the less palatable to some), has in the past and will continue to point out the truths that others choose to ignore.

Ross Douthat, of the New York Times (not exactly a satirical newspaper) probably had the best point:

« But we are not in a vacuum. […] because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed. »

If we’re to succeed as activists of all kinds, we need to keep our society as free speech zones for all (even the ones we disagree with). Because when this freedom disappears, it disappears for all, including and particularly us. When I saw the outpouring of worldwide support, it didn’t remove the pain but it cushioned it. After all, Cabu’s cartoons were around when I was a kid. He used to draw cartoons on a children show I watched as a kid (proving that he was not just outrageous). The others were French institutions in their own rights. We lost very important people because these people were some of the few who dared resists the status quo, the ridiculous (by being more ridiculous than the ridiculous, if you know what I mean), questioning everything, mocking everyone, regardless of political, religious inclinations and, like all good satirists in history, pointed out truth where others didn’t dare go because of their bias for being politically correct, stay in power and maintain conformity.

What this teaches us all is that we have to fight for all to express themselves or none is free to speak.

And let’s not forget the others who died or helped in this tragedy. Several policemen/women died in this tragedy, among them a Muslim and a black. Others saved hostages, like a Muslim man working at the kosher grocery store. At the march, I saw Jews and Muslims holding hands in solidarity because they recognized that these killers in no way represented ANY religious beliefs. But they also recognized that this freedom of speech and expression is what gave them their right to practice their faith. It’s what gives us OUR right to be the voice of the voiceless, to be vegans, to be animal, human and environmental rights activists.

This is a wakeup call to the world and the world responded by saying #IAmCharlie. But certain forces (you saw them heading the Paris march) will make sure that we try to forget this moment of truth by pushing us back into the darkness of ignorance and conformity. In fact, I know for sure that, if Cabu had been watching the march, he would have drawn a cartoon to mock these political opportunists the following day. They are already taking advantage just like they took advantage of 9/11. Some people here are even starting to talk about « False Flag » attacks. Look up the term.

It is up to us all whether this tragedy taught the world a real lesson and to see how far we have grown and how far they will keep us ignorant.

Below various links and cartoons as well as two videos: mine from the march in Montpellier (subtitled in English) in which I interviewed as many people as I could to hear the voice of citizens (not the official media) and one on the New York Times website about the Charlie staff in 2006.

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Cartoon from Bidu: What are cartoonists still able to laugh at?

« I drew a tomato… » « It’s pretty, it’s cool, no risk with a tomato! »

« Mmm I don’t know… Have you thought about the fundamentalist vegetarians? »

My video (subtitled in English) of the Montpellier (Hérault region of France) march with over 100,000 people and various interviews.

Charlie Hebdo is not dead. Guns can’t kill free speech. 3 million copies (compared to the usual 60,000) out because the world demanded it. Article from The Independent.

As of Jan 14, 2015: 5 million copies out in various languages, including Arabic (online only).

More on what is Charlie Hebdo about and its history on Wikipedia

Interesting article of Islam’s hijacking by extremists.

Video on the New York Times website (subtitled in English) of the Charlie Hebdo staff in 2006.

Excellent article from the New York Times: Islam’s Problem With Blasphemy

Update January 16, 2015: Finally someone said the truth on TV. Chris Hedges about Charlie on Breaking the Set

Update Jan 16, 2015: Great article from Chris Hedges about the real problem with North Africans in France, Message from the dispossessed.

Update Jan 16, 2015: Also great interview on Democracy Now! of Tariq Ramadan and Rick McArthur about the bigger picture.

Jeremy Scahill on the Hypocrisy of World Leaders at the Paris march.

I agree with Bill Maher on this: Real Time with Bill Maher: Self Censorship vs. Free Speech (HBO)

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Below: I can’t be manipulated. I support the families of Charlie Hebdo but, however, the emotion doesn’t affect my capacity to think.

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VEGANISM IS ABOUT INCLUSION

love-538685_1280I have had this blog on my mind for quite some time. But I finally decided to write it because I see something that really bothers me just continuing.

I always considered (particularly after reading The World Peace Diet) that Veganism was not just about other animals in the literal sense but also about including everyone from the human community. After all, we are animals too.

But what I tend to see when I browse through Facebook or other social networks is a lot of anti-religious hate from vegans not only towards pre-vegans but also, and particularly, towards other vegans because they follow a particular faith.

I am a former atheist. I understand the point of view of an atheist and for clarification, I haven’t embraced any new faith. However, I do see things from a different, more spiritual, so to speak, perspective. I do not like being ridiculed by religious pre-vegans because I am a vegan and it doesn’t agree with their beliefs anymore than anyone else. I get it!

I also get why vegans reject religion. All religions, even the most peaceful ones, have some really nasty sides to them. But that is dogma. In other words, it is interpretation.

What I regret is that people who attack vegans and pre-vegans because of whatever faith they have miss out on the opportunity of educating and showing a different vision of their faith.

For example, a few years ago, I saw a wonderful documentary called A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values To Help Heal the Planet which, being non-Jewish myself redefined Judaism to me from a different perspective.

Another example is that beautiful documentary shared by Will Tuttle recently (who is featured in it as well as French Vegan Monk Mathieu Ricard) called Animals and The Buddha which also shows a vegan perspective of Buddhism worth sharing with those in their community who think differently. I even shared it on the Dalai Lama’s pages in the hope that this would open his own perspective.

Now I wish I could find a Christian or Muslim movie from a vegan perspective but that may yet happen. After all, there is a Christian Vegetarian Association (which also supports veganism) and a Muslim Vegetarian Association which I found both exist online. I know vegan Muslims as well as vegan Christians as well as atheist or agnostic vegans and so on. We all share one thing in common, regardless of beliefs, we love other animals and we want to spare their suffering. That is ALL that should matter.

I also want to point out that I work with activists here who are Muslims AND Vegans. Do you think we care if we are from different cultural/religious background? We don’t. We work for a common goal.

We are all on the same boat. We try to enlighten our own communities within our cultural/religious frameworks. And let’s face it, if you’re atheist and believe that religion is going to disappear overnight, you’re delusional.

All I am asking is that, instead of criticizing someone’s faith or lack thereof, we give people a vegan alternative within their own conceptual view of life. Who can pretend to know more than anyone else about life and death? To think that we or anyone else have the answers is just ego at work. The only things we know are that we have one planet, we are one species and we have to protect other species from the insane side of humanity. And this is not going to work as long as people see only the outer limits of others instead of encouraging common grounds and offering a different perspective (of faith for example) as the two movies above do.

Veganism is about inclusion and compassion. It is not about division and hate. When vegans despises pre-vegans and vegans alike because they don’t agree on the same things, they just bring even more hate in this world.

Instead of wasting their time doing this, they should realize that we all belong to the same human family and that we are all born with compassion in our hearts. Hate, sexism, religion, racism and speciesism is not something we are born with, it is something that is taught to us… just like eating other animals. Let’s extend this vegan principle of love and compassion to those who need to be enlightened, not cast them out because of our own prejudices against them.

So next time, you hear someone of faith ridiculing you about being vegan, why not ask them to watch a documentary or give them information about people who do vegan education in their own community. Not doing it is missing the point of our message and missing the chance of maybe having another new vegan join our family.

THE THREE MAIN THEMES OF THE WORLD PEACE DIET

This text is my answer to Dr. Will Tuttle’s challenge to name what are the three most important themes in his book as I was taking his course in 2011. I would love to hear your take on it if you have read his book. If not, go grab a copy of the World Peace Diet as it is maybe the most important book you will ever read.

1.        How to bring back Sophia As we have seen when reading the World Peace Diet, the link between the treatment of animals and the treatment of women is undeniable. As was seen also in the book “The Chalice and the Blade” written by Riane Eisler, we used to have more equalitarian societies in which women had positions of power but didn’t act like Amazon warrior princesses (the type fantasized by men on television). What will bring back Sophia? First education of women is I believe a number one priority particularly in the developing world as women are exploited and taught to have a lot of children. It is a fact that women who have education choose to have less children and gain control over their own bodies which had before been dominated by men. Raising women’s consciousness raises the world’s consciousness. It also brings more compassion and therefore less cruelty to animals in the process. Women were the original gatherers; they should lead the way to a peaceful cohabitation with animals away from the male hunter mentality which has brought animal suffering, human suffering and environmental destruction. Restoring the female qualities of compassion and nurturing will bring about a better world. Women have to rise above men’s conception of them as just a piece of meat and in some countries inferior beings. When women do that, they also help raise consciousness in men and therefore in animals too.

2.        Cruelty to animals and science and religious reductionism

Humans have to cultivate compassion to all. There is nothing in religion or science that justifies pain to animals. It has been showed many times now that most “research” in laboratories on animals are totally unnecessary and barbaric. There is even less excuses nowadays to experiment on animals when so many alternatives are available. Most drugs that have been tested on animals and considered “safe” have been showed to be harmful to humans in the end. Being on a vegan diet should also reduce the need for medication and bring back sanity in science. At least, it is my hope that this happens one day. As long as there is a large money incentive to torturing animals in labs, it will not change. As for religion, all of them proclaim a message of compassion. Jesus is thought to have been vegetarian as well as the Prophet Mohammed. Buddhism and Hinduism are religions that technically include vegetarianism in their philosophy. But we know for a fact that humans love to interpret religion to meet their own agendas. So just like religious authorities (Christianity) used to say that women had no soul, they still don’t accept that animals also have a soul and a karma as well. We see here in both science and religion that there is a need to extend compassion beyond the so-called needs of mankind and stop seeing animals as just inferior machines here on earth to serve us.

3.        Social programming

What I think is the most important aspect taught in the World Peace Diet is how social programming and what we have been told since birth affects everyone on this planet. This is the recurring theme of the book. We are programmed, and we need to deprogram ourselves to free ourselves and therefore free the animals too. Veganism is a total rejection of the status quo, of the ingrained values of society at large. When we go Vegan, we make a statement that we will not accept cruelty to animals, we will not accept the lies of the medical community regarding health, we will not accept the brainwashing we get constantly from our piers, our families, the government, etc… When we eat animals, we eat pain, fear, torture, and chemicals from this and from what we inject in them and that makes us sick. This is the most powerful statement of the book. It teaches us to be free. And by being free, we help free animals and other human beings as well. It is a win-win situation. We also free the planet from our greedy polluting habits, whether they are physical or psychical. I believe that emphasizing the liberating aspect of Veganism to people is the most rewarding aspect of being a World Peace Diet Facilitator or being a Vegan in this society. I think the most brilliant thing I’ve read recently is your quote of Chuang-tzu. I love your take on it when it comes to people:

“This is the same with us. The people we get angry with are empty boats. There is a karmic wind propelling them, and their words and actions, and it is essentially the programming of our culture. Why yell at or be angry with someone who is propelled by the cultural program?” So thank you for that. It will remind me NOT to get angry with people at my job every day.
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