When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
Terror in Europe

Lessons From Skokie On What's Missing In The "Je Suis Charlie" Debate

Jan. 7 silent march in Brussels in memory of the Charlie Hebdo victims.
Jan. 7 silent march in Brussels in memory of the Charlie Hebdo victims.
Arlene B. Tickner


BOGOTA — Skokie is a mostly Jewish district outside of Chicago, Illinois. In 1977, the far-right National Socialist Party of America decided to organize a march there, which the scandalized residents, including thousands of Holocaust survivors, naturally sought to stop, arguing it would incite hatred and lead to violence.

But the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Association, defended the Nazi group's constitutional right to free expression. The U.S. Supreme Court backed the ACLU by ruling that in spite of its violent and racist discourse, the group effectively had a right to express itself and even display the Swastika.

A decade earlier, in a case known as Brandenburg vs. Ohio, the same court ruled it was unconstitutional to penalize a Klu Klux Klan member, also represented by the ACLU, for urging reprisals against blacks and Jews. Recently, the ACLU again defended the Klan's right to publicize its offensive symbols and ideology.

The Skokie case, which in retrospect strengthened an absolute conviction in the freedom of expression, illustrates how it is not just necessary but possible to defend the right to utter an obscene, racist or xenophobic discourse without identifying yourself with the discourse you defend.

That is precisely the message behind the "Je ne suis pas Charlie" (I am not Charlie) slogan that some have taken up in answer to the massive "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) movement triggered by this month's vile attack on the offices of the weekly Charlie Hebdo.

And yet for some political and media circles, not subscribing to "Je suis Charlie" has become tantamount to rejecting freedom of expression, if not to defending terrorism. This is of course worse for Muslim communities, which are routinely expected (as nobody else is) to publicly denounce acts of violence, on the basis of the questionable premise that if they do not, they back them!

Classifying the reaction to events in Paris into an obligatory "being" or "not being Charlie" impedes our understanding of the complexity of events. It also threatens to amplify the orientalist attitudes of the "clash of civilizations" theory forged by the writer Samuel Huntington.

To suggest that Salafist violence is the definitive threat against freedom of speech will distract us from the other dangers threatening this right, often from within Western societies. Think of the massive bugging by the National Security Agency, European and U.S. support for repressive regimes (some of whose leaders recently joined the march in Paris) and the discreet censorship imposed in certain, respectable democracies.

Unacceptable acts of violence like the attack on Charlie Hebdo are not just the fruit of Salafist intolerance. They also stem from certain policies of the West, which, alongside its freedom of speech and rule of law credentials, also has a legacy of slavery, colonialism and exploitation.

It is sadly logical that the racism, xenophobia and police violence that so many marginalized youngsters in Western countries experience creates a fertile terrain for radicalization. Almost a century ago, the U.S. judge Louis Brandeis observed that repression nurtures hate and hatred threatens stable governance. What can we learn from those words?

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Our Next Four Days In Gaza: Digging For The Dead, Hunting For Food, Hoping Ceasefire Sticks

With Qatar now confirming that the temporary truce will begin Friday morning, ordinary Gazans may be able to breathe for the first time since Oct. 7. But for most, the task ahead is a mix of heartbreak and the most practical tasks to survive. And there’s the question hanging over all: can the ceasefire become permanent?

Photo of Palestinians looking for their belongings in the rubble of their housein Deir al-Balah, Gaza

Palestinians look for their belongings in the rubble of their housein Deir al-Balah, Gaza

Elias Kassem

It’s what just about everyone in Gaza has been waiting for: a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war is expected to begin Friday, bringing a respite to more than 2.3 million people who have been living under war and siege for seven straight weeks.

By the stipulations of the deal, the truce is expected to last four days, during which time Hamas will release hostages captured during their Oct. 7 assault and Israel will release Palestinian prisoners from their jails.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

While details of the negotiations continue, ordinary Palestinians know they may only have four days before the bombs starting dropping and tanks start rolling again.

Some will continue sifting through the rubble, looking to find trapped family members, after searches were interrupted by new rounds of air attacks.

Other Gazans will try to find shelter in what they’ve been told are safer areas in the south of Palestinian enclave. Some will hurry back to inspect their homes, especially in the northern half of the strip where Israeli ground forces have battled Palestinian militants for weeks.

Ahmed Abu Radwan says he will try to return to his northern town of Beit Lahia, with the aim of resuming digging the rubble of his home in hopes of pulling the bodies of his 8-year-old son Omar.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest