Be a Charlie… by Tim Challen, KI president

Michael Moore, the American film maker, once said “You can’t debate satire. Either you get it, or you don’t.”

The masked men who forced their way into the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris this morning and shot dead journalists of the satirical weekly newspaper, clearly didn’t know the meaning of the word. Instead, they only looked down the barrel of their guns, peering through their troubled and twisted interpretation of the Quran. ‘Allahu Akbar – the prophet is avenged’, the murderers shouted as they escaped down the streets of the French capital, referring to the newspaper’s numerous printed cartoons that ‘poked’ fun at ‘their’ religion.

A few hours later, on French evening news Amar Lasfar, president of the Union of Islamic Organization in  France, declared that we need to make sure we immunize young Muslims at-risk of falling into terrorism. Although the masked men have yet to be caught, there is a presumption that they were homegrown young men who fell for the the fundamentalist perceptions of ISIS and Al-Qaidah, learning their dark skills on the battle fields of Syria and Iraq.

I grew up amid French culture and as a child watched many times Cabu, one of the cartoonists killed, draw caricatures on a children’s television program. Many of his peers believed he had lowered his artistic and intellectual levels by drawing on a ‘kiddies’ show, and he answered that we were his perfect audience as he inspired us to draw – it worked on me.

Drawing is the greatest form of expression. Your mark is unique, no images are precisely the same, free-moving ink can be so honest  and tells a story no matter your age or skill. Taken to a form of satire, it is a humor-filled mirror that distorts politically correct images into gross representations that above all teach us the meaning of self-deprecation.

Yes, self-deprecation, a currently undervalued word that runs against dangerous trends within our societies, where inflated yet shallow interpretations of information mislead us to be overly serious and vain. In an age of ‘fake reality’, where we spin content into an image of our personal liking we are gradually losing the capacity to laugh at ourselves. Those cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were not anti-Islamic, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, racists and bigots. No, they simply provoked us to re-evaluate, in a humorous fashion, our own meanings and assisted us from falling into generalized and shallow ideals.

And the murderers, still at large (as I write this blog),  apparently not immunized? Why did they not see the point of satire? Was it because of a dis-advantaged up-bringing in a French suburb and falling into the hands of extremists? Are they French, Islamic or immigrants? Are they ISIS or Al Qaida? Who cares! They are humans and there is no excuse for their acts. Let us stay clear of amalgamations and generalizations. They are simply terrorists who preferred to act like cowards, and with AK47s attacked men armed only with pencils.

I have been shot, hurt and left for dead – insulted and abused by others during an act of crime in Nairobi in 2003. And when I finally got up, 9 months later, pouring blood was replaced by a bitter sense of insecurity – did I go out for revenge? Anger has filled me several times over, I have felt misunderstood and at times abandoned – but did I seek destruction or looked for a higher status? No – only the weak and insecure do – such as our terrorists in Paris, those who search for vengeful fixes to their sense of despair and false victimization.

I have looked for the meaning of my life, and have yet to be sure of an answer. However, I am certain of life’s satire, and that is what keeps me smiling and ultimately positive in a life that bears considerable suffering and trompe-l’oeil. To all the young men out there who hold grudges, no matter what don’t take yourself too seriously. Be a Charlie… be brave, be smart and always ask yourself probing questions – and let us prove that Michael Moore is wrong…

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