10 January 2015

What about you, Charlie?

In the last few days I have watched the drama play out in the aftermath of the cartoonist assassinations at the offices of the political satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It is interesting to note that Charlie Hebdo was originally called Hara-Kiri Hebdo. The term “Hara-Kiri” refers to “hara-kiri” (腹切り, cutting the belly) which is  a form of Japanese ritual suicide, and “hebdo”, which  is short for “hebdomadaire “ (weekly). Hara-Kiri Hebdo was shut down by the French government in 1970 after making some satirical innuendos regarding the demise of French president Charles de Gaulle. The charge was “Lèse-majesté” which is the crime of “violating majesty”, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state. Charlie Hebdo rose like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes of Hara-Kiri Hebdo.  The publication describes itself as strongly left-wing and it publishes severely critical articles about the extreme Right, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Politics, Culture, etc. Some might question the wisdom of the French government in setting the precedent of claiming “Lèse-majesté” at the slighting of a former French president and ignoring the blatant and vulgar insults of the founder of one of the world’s largest religions not to mention the humiliation of six to eight million of its own citizens who happen to be Muslim. In a manner of speaking aren’t the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in question on par with crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre?

As it is, French xenophobia is creating a monster backlash against Muslims and Jews. The “Je suis Charlie” solidarity movement  reminds me of the mistrust among the ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, in 1914. It made every ethnic non-Austrian a suspect of nefarious collaboration with foreign entities. The Czech people of Bohemia were particularly humiliated when they were relegated to third place status by the Hungarians and the Austrians after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. As a result of the death of the Archduke, the Czechs were forced to participate in a conflict that they did not understand on behalf of an empire to which they had no loyalty. One million Austro-Hungarian soldiers died in World War I of whom around 140,000 were Czechs. One of the survivors of this conflict, a man named Jaroslav Hašek, wrote about it in the form of a funny satirical novel called “The Good Soldier Švejk”.

Jaroslav Hašek’s novel  is all about the fateful adventures of the good soldier Švejk during the first world war. It is the most translated novel of Czech literature. Švejk (or “Schweik” in English) has become the Czech national personification. A Czech citizen will proudly declare “Já jsem Švejk”, “I am Schweik”.

Mexican President Benito Juárez once said,  "Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" ("Among individuals, as among nations, respect the rights of others is peace"). To that I would add not only “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) but in terms of respect I am also Je suis Catholique (I am Catholic), Je suis Juif (I am Jewish), Je suis Musulman (I am Muslim), Je suis Hindou (I am Hindu),  Je suis Bouddhiste (I am Bhuddist),  Je suis Confucéenne (I am Confucian), and so on, and so on, and so forth.

We live in a tense world of “dogma eat dogma”. We don’t have to. We can withhold judgment, respect the rights and feelings of others, and live in peace. Join me and good soldier Švejk.

Statue of Josef Švejk in Przemyśl, Poland

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.