Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
PARIS, THE NEW NORMAL? — Diana Johnstone files an in-depth report from Paris on the political reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings; The Treachery of the Black Political Class: Margaret Kimberley charts the rise and fall of the Congressional Black Caucus; The New Great Game: Pepe Escobar assays the game-changing new alliance between Russia and Turkey; Will the Frackers Go Bust? Joshua Frank reports on how the collapse of global oil prices might spell the end of the fracking frenzy in the Bakken Shale; The Future of the Giraffe: Ecologist Monica Bond reports from Tanzania on the frantic efforts to save one of the world’s most iconic species. Plus: Jeffrey St. Clair on Satire in the Service of Power; Chris Floyd on the Age of Terrorism and Absurdity; Mike Whitney on the Drop Dead Fed; John Wight on the rampant racism of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper;” John Walsh on Hillary Clinton and Lee Ballinger on the Gift of Anger.
I Refuse to be an Imposter

The Dangers of Being Charlie Hebdo

by LOUIS YAKO

I remember growing up in Baathist Iraq, just one example of a country destroyed by hypocritical notions of “freedom” and “democracy”, how school children, state employees, and people from different walks of life were expected to join the official state-sponsored and planned gatherings to show support for the Party, the President, and the nation. In such gatherings, most common slogans chanted included: “We are all Saddam Hussein”, “We all love Saddam Hussein,” and so on.

The connections between “Je suis Charlie” and “Je suis Saddam Hussein” are powerful. Undoubtedly, Many of those chanting “Je suis Charlie” are concerned about their freedom of expression and speech, just the same way Iraqi people loved their country and hoped for nothing less than a life of prosperity and freedom. But Iraqis, like French Muslims, also wished to have a political system that is fair, and treats each and every citizen with respect and dignity. Yet, going out to streets and chanting “we are all Saddam Hussein” was hardly the ideal way for Iraqis to have a meaningful dialogue to discuss their freedoms, frustrations, dreams, and aspirations with the ruling Party.

As such, it is fair to say that most of those who chanted such slogans probably did not mean them; they merely repeated such sound bites like parrots. Iraqis, to put their case into context, might have chanted for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: feeling intimidated by the regime, fearing that they would lose their jobs, or may send the wrong signal of being unsupportive of the Party’s teachings and ideology, and some may have truly believed in such slogans.

What is certain is that few dared to opt out, to speak their truth, and to pay a hefty price for doing so. Those who rebelled against the official script knew well that it is absurd to chant “we are all Saddam Hussein,” because they knew it was simply not possible to embody someone else, no matter how much we care about and feel connected to that person or the institution they represent. Indeed, how can anyone other than Saddam Hussein himself be Saddam Hussein? Can all Iraqis at once embody one man; know his intentions, how he feels, how he wakes up, how he sleeps, and how he thinks and acts?

These questions must be borne in mind just the same before we chant “je suis” any person, institution, or thought. What they simply tell us is that no person can truly get under the skin of another, let alone speak on behalf of another, even if that other is alive, let alone if they are dead. If not thought carefully, our solidarity for just causes can backfire, especially when we are...

CounterPunch’s Top Stories
DIANA JOHNSTONE
Paris. What do you say when you have nothing to say? That is the dilemma suddenly thrust on political leaders...
ANDRE VLTCHEK
A hundred years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have a pair of Muslim men enter a...
MIKE WHITNEY
“If undercharging for energy products occurs deliberately, it also effects those who introduce these limitations. Problems will arise...
TARIQ ALI
It was a horrific event. It was condemned in most parts of the world and most poignantly by many...
MICHAEL HUDSON
On the Senate’s last day in session in December, it approved the government’s $1.1 trillion budget for coming...
GREGORY ELICH
The cyberattack on Sony Pictures unleashed a torrent of alarmist media reports, evoking the image of North Korean...
AFSHIN RATTANSI
Paris. The so-called West doesn’t like freedom of expression. When I began working at Al Jazeera, then investigating Al...
VICENTE NAVARRO
Something is happening in Spain. A party that did not exist one year ago, Podemos, with a clear...
PEPE ESCOBAR
The Roman Empire did it. The British Empire copied it in style. The Empire of Chaos has always done it. They all...
Visit our archives for even more interesting articles from past CounterPunch authors.