July 10, 2017

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One Year After Charlie Hebdo incident

Thiha Zaw
(Nay Pyi Taw)

The seventh January, 2016 was the anniversary of the attack of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, France by gun men. When we looked one year back at France and its people, more loss of lives, misery and sorrow were still there. Just before the end of previous year on November 13rd, gun men and suicide bombers were at large at various places of Paris. Restaurants, stadium and concert hall were attacked systematically killing as many as 130 innocent victims including foreigners. The November massacre made the Charlie Hebdo incident a trifle one. What kind of disasters and terror will happen Paris in this year will be a difficult and bone chilling question.
Paris is not alone. In Calais on the French side of Eurotunnel where there are many temporary shelters for the migrant people, truckers entering Eurotunnel were forced to cooperate by the migrants who want to enter the United Kingdom secretly inside their trucks. These truckers were threatened and attacked if they did not cooperate with those migrants. In Germany, there were sexual assaults on the women in the new-year eve where many of the attackers were from the migrant camps. That made the political life of Chancellor Merkel and her pro-migrant policy very difficult. In Austria and Hungary, new border fencings were erected. Even in Denmark where human rights is the top priority in its domestic and foreign policy, lawmakers are intensely debating whether they should control or seize the money more than 1,500 US$ and precious jewelry items from those who seek political asylum. That is something we have never thought about a civilized European country will do one year ago. Europe is now full of tensions, debates, arguments and counter arguments. Taking into account that Europe is the origin of two deadly world wars, the path of migrants is the sparkling points of these wars and the historical events can repeat its perpetual cycles; this is not a good time to take it easy and let things go by naturally.
The 21st century is the knowledge age. Technology and media are important part of our lives. Media is often quoted as the fourth pillar of the state in parallel with executive, legislative and judicial pillars. The main duties of the media are to inform, to educate and to entertain. Media is responsible for the dissemination of information among the public as to what is happening around the world, in our country and society. Another duty is to educate the public about the etiquette, conduct and discipline for everybody to live in harmony without endangering the welfare of other people or society. Another duty is to entertain the public to get away from the everyday hassles.
As far as I know I don’t see any positive points in the cartoon about Prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo magazine published on 19th September, 2012. It does not inform the public about any positive contribution. I don’t feel like it is either educating or entertaining. So what is the point of publishing that cartoon? Is it going to add something good about the mankind, France and its people or any democratic society? I guess it is something like putting a kind of poison into the society. The people of the Charlie Hebdo magazine can argue that the freedom of expression is the inherent right of everyone on the earth and they have the right to exercise it.
But the article (29) (b) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”  So the question is “Are those cartoons in accordance with UDHR article (29) (b)?
It is very hard to deny that the bloodsheds in Paris in 2015 are just the act of terrorists and not really related to the Charlie Hebdo publications. However according, to the poll done among Parisians in January 2015, 42 % of the respondents approved that these cartoons should not have been published and those responsible should have thought thoroughly about the consequences before publishing.
During the cold war, there is a power game between the west bloc and the communist east bloc leading to the armed conflicts worldwide. Since the fall of Berlin wall and the end of the cold war, there are a lot of debates among the scholars and strategists about the new world order. The famous ones among them are Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama. Their opinions are totally different. In his book named “The End of The History”, Francis Fukuyama said that the end of communism had ushered in the end of conflict and the beginning of the peaceful era. Liberalism has won and there is no other ideology that can challenge the value of democracy and liberalism.
Samuel Huntington, being an older man, has been more cautious about the global outlook. He said that the most dreadful conflicts in the history of mankind are caused not because of ideological differences but because of the clashes between the big civilizations. The conflicts between different civilizations were temporarily subdued in the 20th century because of the strong battle between communism and capitalism. Since the fall of the communism, he predicted that the clash of civilizations can gain the new momentum and resurge in 21st century.
What is happening around Europe nowadays is exactly the same as Samuel Huntington has predicted 20 years ago. There are conflicts between policy makers and rights groups, the public and the government, the local community who share the brunt of migrant crisis and the policy makers living in some distant places. Europe of today is very different from Europe of last year. Nobody knows what the Europe will be like next year. There are explicit fault lines between different societies and countries in Europe. Whether the Charlie Hebdo publications have made that wedge wider and causing the fractured societies around the world is for the historians to decide later? It is for the scholars, historians and media to decide whether the Charlie Hebdo is the asset or the liability for France in later years. In fact, France is one of the super powers of the world from 18th to 20th century until after the 2nd world war. Even before that, it was one of the most civilized countries in the world and has contributed so many things towards the development of the mankind. In the field of medicine, the Pasteur Institute of the France is the original inventor of rabies, small pox, polio and hepatitis vaccines which have saved a lot of lives and relieved sufferings of so many people. It is also involved in the pioneering work in search of Human Immunodeficiency Virus causing AIDS. In the field of engineering, the invention of steam automobile by Joseph Cugnot in 1770, radial tires for car by Michelin and smart card by Roland Moreno in 1974 are only a few of many French inventions. In addition, French are the leading people in arts and architecture, diplomatic circle, foods and beverages. There are so many things for the French to be proud of.
Media worldwide has strongly opposed any restriction on media censorship. But there are definitely some media which misuse that privilege in favor of their personal interests causing detrimental effects on the society. That is why International Council on Human Rights Policy has advised in 1999 that everybody has to balance between rights and responsibilities not to endanger the welfare of the societies in accordance with the article (29) (b) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The pillars of democracy are responsibility and accountability. There is no doubt that radicals and terrorists are responsible for the atrocities of Paris last year claiming so many innocent lives. But the role of Charlie Hebdo publications in pushing some of the strong minded person to the extreme act of terror is not easily discernable and it is very bitter truth for some to swallow. During “I Love Charlie Hebdo” movement held on 11th January last year, 40 world leaders and two million people have walked along the street of Paris in unison in an act of defiance to the terrorism as well as to support the right of the freedom of expression of Charlie Hebdo.
Charlie Hebdo has published special issues of 7.95 million publications in six languages instead of 40,000 regular publications in French. After November incidents, the vigil this year is relatively modest which may be due to security concern or they may have a second thought about Charlie Hebdo aftermath.
In conclusion, rights and duties are inalienable part of our lives. Any freedom of expression contrary to the article (29) (b) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot bring benefit to the mankind and society.
If someone only cares about his or her right of freedom of expression and does not care about the consequences, the dire question is “Is it in the interest of the public or self interest?”


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