In January 2015, extremists killed 12 people at the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. The phrase, Je Suis Charlie (“I am Charlie”) swept Twitter and then Facebook and then newspapers and then the world. Je Suis Charlie expressed empathy for the cartoonists as well as support for freedom of speech.
Millions of people, including more than 40 world leaders, marched the streets of Paris in solidarity. These world leaders included British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
But, in a blog, I wrote, “Je suis no Charlie” (I am not Charlie Hebdo). I denounced both the taking of innocent lives and enthusiastically supported freedom of speech and the press. But I could not identify with Charlie Hebdo. While I defended their legal right to publish satirical denunciations of Islam, I argued that Hebdo’s satire was morally wrong.
France’s five million Muslims are a disempowered minority. Young Muslims are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-Muslims (in some neighborhoods Muslim unemployment is as high as 40%). Muslims face housing discrimination and many live in utter poverty. Laws reinforcing secularism seem aimed directly at Muslims. In short, French Muslims are socially, religiously and economically marginalized.
When members of the rich and powerful majority add insult to injustice, Muslim marginalization and Islamophobia increase.
French satirists can mock Muslims but, especially when they hold all the positions of power and privilege, they shouldn’t.
However, “Je suis Turkey.”
Turkey has experienced six bomb blasts since last June that have killed and injured vastly more than the Charlie Hebdo attack. On October 10, 2015, two bombs were detonated near Ankara’s central train station, killing 103 civilians and injuring over 400. On February 17, 2016, 30 people were killed and 60 injured in a bombing in a tranquil neighborhood in central Ankara. On March 13, 2016 a bombing took place in the same neighborhood, with 37 people killed and 125 injured. Today at least five were killed by a suicide bomber in Istanbul.
None of the Turkish victims had done anything to provoke the extremists. Destina Peri Parlak was a 16-year-old high school student who dreamed of becoming a doctor. Ozancan Akkuş was a 21-year-old university student in electrical engineering. Mehmet Emre Çakar, age 16, had recently moved to Ankara to receive treatment for liver disease. Kemal Balut was the father of Turkish soccer star, Umut Bulut.
Over 150 innocent people killed and over 500 innocent people injured and yet we are not Turkey.
The world’s silence has been as deafening as its outrage against the Charlie Hebdo massacres.
No one is talking about the Turkey massacres, no one is protesting the deaths of Turkey’s innocents, and no world leaders officials are marching in Turkey’s streets in solidarity. Facebook has refused to allow its users to overlay their profile pictures with the Turkish flag.
Why were so many Charlie Hebdo but so few are Turkey?
I suspect our support of Parisians and our dismissal of Turks is deeply rooted in various tribal instincts.
It seems we’re hardwired to quickly form judgments about in-group and out-group. Our ancestors who lived on the Serengeti often faced fierce competition with other groups of people over scarce resources. Those who were capable of instantly identifying those who are within one’s tribe and those who are not, likely lived longer and so passed their tribe-identifying genes on to succeeding generations.
Instant judgments of in-group are first and foremost based on looks – the color of skin or hair, the shape of the brow, or general body shape and size. But clothing, tattoos, ritual scars, face-paint and hairdos likely figured in as well. And our various rituals, often religious, helped us signal to members of our group that we can be trusted. Even the way members of different groups smell factors into identifying in-group or out-group.
In-group/out-group judgments are invariably colored good/bad. In-group is good: family, friend, neighbor, sharer of the same values and worshipper of the same gods. Out-group is bad: competitor, enemy, stranger, evil and worshipper of idols. Recent studies show that we make moral judgments based on the “funny” smell of members of other groups. Everyone smells, but those outside our tribe stink.
In-group, good; out-group, bad. Got it.
Those very instincts, by the way, are exploited by extremists with tragic consequences for those that they judge out-group.
We were Charlie Hebdo because they are a lot like us (good) – white, upper middle class, western, European, Christian, enlightened, liberal. We are not Ankara because they are very different from us (bad) – brown, lower class, middle eastern, Arab, Muslim, medieval, backward, and retrograde (some of this is mistaken, but when making hasty judgments, one needn’t trouble oneself with the facts). If we were to actually visit Turkey, we’d notice that they stink.
But, to be trite and obvious, Turks are people, too. Muslim lives count as much as Christian lives. The death of a promising young Ankaran is as tragic as the death of a promising young Parisian. Innocent Muslims no more deserve to die at the hands of extremists than do innocent Christians.
We won’t flourish as harmonious human beings until we overcome our tribal instincts with their attendant prejudices and fears. A good start is standing by our Turkish, Muslim friends in solidarity for their loss.
That’s why je suis Turkey.