The 55 pieces of art from France or about France that happen to currently decorate my home were not staged to make a political statement or to prove anything to anyone.
I have been a Francophile ever since Madame Nica's French class in my junior year at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. Aside from falling in love with the language, I fell in love with the history, the art, the culture, the architecture, and later the cuisine.
When Madame Nica asked us to submit a 20 page typed, double-spaced assignment critiquing French works of art, I turned in a 159 page document -- neatly hand written. We were new to the country, my father was still searching for a job, and I did not yet have a computer, or should I say a word processor as was more likely at the time. I got an A+ and a reputation of being the crazy, mysterious immigrant for the rest of the semester.
I dreamed of traveling through France for years thereafter until I was finally able to do so after graduating college in two years and landing a full-time job. Given how much I had read and seen of the country through anything I could get my hands on, going there for the first time was like coming home. The first time backpacking through France, I was accompanied by a young German law student, a biker from Sweden, and a couple of mycologists from California, all of whom I had met at a youth hostel. "What's a mycologist?" I asked. "Dude, we grow pot in our backyard" they said with a straight face. I found myself the natural ring leader, the tour guide -- and sometimes the defender -- of a country I'd never set foot in before.
Paris remains my favorite city in the whole world, followed by Nice in the South. I have gone back to Paris and as many French cities and villages as I can over the years. In 2010, I took my parents along to Paris and to the French Riviera as a thank you gift for all they had done for me over the years. It remains our favorite memory together. I still unwind by reading the popular comic books, Asterix & Obelix as well as the Adventures of TinTin, in French. (Yes TinTin is from Belgium).
My appreciation for France and things French came despite anti-French bias surrounding me in my formative years. Nope, nothing from the Qur'an and Sunnah, but growing up in England, we thought of them as "frogs," and in the US, as rude, of poor personal hygiene, and quick to surrender.
Today, as the world recoils from the hideous, heinous massacre at the Paris satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, I find that many are quick to draw lines in the sand: the Muslim tribe on one side, the Western tribe on the other. I guess it's that simple -- when you're a simpleton. Such a binary worldview, shared and fawned over by Muslim extremists and Islamophobes alike, contains many a theme that mostly rotate around the following two:
- "Muslims" are barbarians who hate Western freedoms and will kill us for them
- "The West" is an ungodly, racist place that either forces you into debauchery or discrimination
And so I am asked, "did you condemn?!" While it goes without saying that I, like anyone with an iota of common sense and common morality, OBVIOUSLY condemn the attack; it is the sheer stupidity of such an arrangement that I wish to see more people condemn, before extremists from both sides united in a marriage of convenience, manage through relentless determination to force it upon us all.
Notice what is happening in the aforementioned two themes. Diversity, complex identities, and multifaceted realities are denied, replaced with caricature monoliths wherein "Muslims" are exclusively represented by stark-raving mad gunmen by one side, and "The West" is exclusively represented by irreverent pornographic cartoonists or conservative right-wing Islamophobes by the other.
Traveling through France, I did not like absolutely everything. I skipped the wine tasting and the strip clubs -- I am a Muslim. But that did not prevent me from indulging in the cheese and appreciating the art museums. I will never applaud Charlie Hebdo, but that won't prevent me from standing by their right to try to offend me. I will criticize the cartoons but that won't prevent me from being outraged when morons kill over them. It won't prevent me from spending over 20 contiguous hours trying to persuade activists in Paris to coordinate a citywide mosque blackout in solidarity with the national mood of defiance and in protest against Islam-abuse.
I love my religion and revere my Prophet, but that won't prevent me from vehemently disagreeing with Bill Donahue of the US Catholic League when he intimates that the cartoonists' constant disregard for the sacred "asked for it." The cartoonists have a right to be offensive, attention-seeking freaks. In doing so, they are perhaps asking for being ridiculed as unfunny, trashed for being crass, criticized for abusing their freedom of speech. But they did not ask for death, and they certainly don't deserve it. The criminals who brought it to them are exponentially more crass, abusive, and offensive than those cartoonists ever could have been. I condemn the attack against Charlie, but that won't prevent me from speaking out against the subsequent, misguided attacks on Mosques or the #KillAllMuslims trending hashtag.
I am not Charlie. I am not the terrorist either. I do not have to be Charlie to loathe the terrorists, and I do not have to resort to terrorism to register my displeasure with Charlie.
We are increasingly living in a time of overlapping spaces, and overlapping identities. The reality of most people is multi-dimensional. In such a world, we get to choose what we like and embrace it, and skip what we don't and move on. We are all the product of the collective human experience that is deliciously diverse, very little of which is mutually-exclusive. The idea that it's an all or nothing, and even worse, that it's all good and nothing bad when it's us, and all bad and nothing good when it's the other is wildly offensive.
I don't know about you, but I am tired of being assigned a role in a fantasy film in which extremists from both sides get to play casting agents. I will stick with reality. My reality.