Est ce que Je Suis Charlie?

The attack by Islamic terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the death of twelve people is appalling enough, even without the implied attack on a free press and freedom of expression. We are naturally outraged, and the impulse to join together in solidarity under the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner is almost overwhelming.

But I’m resisting the temptation, and I’m not very happy, because it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Here’s why. First take a look at the Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons, with English translations.

Some of these cartoons are vile, for example this one.

iTumRdEJePilN-e1348078503609Compare it to this antisemitic cartoon from the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer.

der_sturmerBoth cartoons vilify an entire religion and by implication all its followers. Now you might say that satire is meant to be offensive, and of course it is. The great tradition of British cartoon satire held nothing back, and Steve Bell is its torch bearer. Here’s an example of his work.

Steve Bell cartoon, 28.06.2012The image of George Osborne is personalised, as with Muhammed, but it’s not implicating every Tory voter as scum of the earth. Or presenting a stereotype, as in the Der Sturmer cartoon, inviting the reader to tar all Tory voters with the same brush.

The point is that if freedom of expression is sacrosanct, then some of those expressions will inevitably be racist, zenophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic. You have to ask who produced them and why. So the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ meme is fine when you’re defending an abstract right, but the Devil’s in the details. It’s such a big tent that any racist, zenophobe and Islamophobe can happily crowd in, along with the people who genuinely care about freedom of expression.

And I’m choosy about the people I associate with.

Act of Terror: Citizen Photographers

2013_01_AOT_Poster

In 2009, Gemma Atkinson filmed the police searching her boyfriend on a mobile phone. The police officers claimed that filming them was illegal under counter-terrorism law and demanded she hand over the phone. She refused, was detained for 25 minutes and handcuffed, while they tried to get the phone out of her pocket. In the end, both she and her boyfriend were released.

Atkinson made an immediate complaint, taking her story and the footage above to the Guardian. She took her case to the High Court to get a judicial review of the Metropolitan Police guidelines, which should clearly state that the Terrorism Act only applies where “the images are considered ‘likely to be useful’ to a terrorist.” The Met changed the language to avoid a judicial review.

Atkinson then made a complaint against the specific officers involved. But the IPCC exonerated them, despite their conflicting accounts, saying they weren’t aware of the law! The IPCC awarded Atkinson compensation, which she used to make an animated film highlighting the right to photograph the police while carrying out their duties.

In fact, they (and us) are being filmed all the time – by CCTV cameras – but the police “own” this footage in the sense that it’s rarely available to the public. Citizen photographers are essential to monitor police activities, to make sure they’re serving the public and not abusing their own positions of trust.

After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, then there’s nothing to fear.

Below is the link to Gemma Atkinson’s film, with a Guardian comments section, and here’s the press pack. If this bothers you as much as it does me, please consider reblogging or publicising the film. There’s a copy inside the press pack. Thank you.

Act of Terror