When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

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

-OpEd-

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.

Sources

Indigenous Women Of Ecuador Set Example For Sustainable Agriculture

In southern Ecuador, a women-led agricultural program offers valuable lessons on sustainable farming methods, but also how to end violence.

Photo of women walking in Ecuador

Women walking in Guangaje Ecuador

Camila Albuja

SARAGURO — Here in this corner of southern Ecuador, life seems to be like a mandala — everything is cleverly used in this ancestral system of circular production. But the women of Saraguro had to fight and resist to make their way of life, protecting the local water and the seeds. When weaving, the women share and take care of each other, also weaving a sense of community.

With the wrinkled tips of her fingers, Mercedes Quizhpe, an indigenous woman from the Kichwa Saraguro people, washes one by one the freshly harvested vegetables from her garden. Standing on a small bench, with her hands plunged into the strong torrent of icy water and the bone-chilling early morning breeze, she checks that each one of her vegetables is ready for fair day. Her actions hold a life of historical resistance, one that prioritizes the care of life through the defense of territory and food sovereignty.

Mercedes' way of life is also one that holds many potential lessons for how to do agriculture and tourism better.

In the province of Loja, work begins before sunrise. At 5:00 a.m., the barking of dogs, the guardians of each house, starts. There is that characteristic smell of damp earth from the morning dew. Sheep bah uninterruptedly through the day. With all this life around, the crowing of early-rising roosters doesn't sound so lonely.

Keep reading...Show less

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.

The latest