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Are you Charlie Hebdo? Or just Charlie Adobo?

02:04 AM January 15, 2015

As a guy who writes a column called “Emil Amok,” of course, I was outraged last week when terrorists gunned down the cartoonists at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo.

But is it too much to say, “Je suis Charlie”? (I know how Filipinos love to “French-ify” whenever possible).

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Almost immediately there was a response to utter that phrase. But then surprisingly, there are a few contrarians. The “I am not Charlie Hebdo” hashtaggers have begun to surface.

But why? Some called Charlie Hebdo’s satirists racist and insensitive, hence the anti-Charlie backlash.

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What a bunch of pig fat.

That people can say “I am not Charlie Hebdo” is precisely the reason the world should identify with Charlie Hebdo.

In the Philippines, where people can still remember martial law, you especially should relate to Charlie Hebdo.

But to understand Charlie Hebdo is to understand the nature of satire.

As someone who writes a column called “Emil Amok,” I felt a certain kinship with the cartoonists in Paris. Satire is in the blood of anyone who dares speak the truth in a derisive tone. I’ve done it all my life. And usually from the position of an Asian American of Filipino descent pricking someone’s balloon.

Global Pinoys are natural satirists in an absurd modern world, living as we do as far-flung strangers in strange lands where we must continue to speak out or be ignored.

Humor and sarcasm make the irony of it all bearable.

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But then, people don’t always agree on what’s funny. Or what balloon is worth pricking. Some balloons and their makers get used to all the blowing that have made them large and prickable. They like the rich and powerful lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. And some have even learned to prick back at the lowly.

But real satirists aren’t that cowardly. They understand their purpose in a free society is to go after the high and mighty.

Satire attacks to clear the air. It exposes the truth so that people see the big picture. And hopefully, it’s all accompanied by an explosion of laughter.

And more discussion.

It’s the gift of free speech in an open society. Free speech begets more speech. You discuss, you talk (or write). You spend hours at the sidewalk cafe with others, nursing your demi-tasse.

And that’s at the crux of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

The response from the gunmen in Paris was an attack on the way we do it in a free, civilized and democratic society. Satirical barbs are invitations to debate, not for bullets. The gunmen disagree. I wish they had drawn a cartoon rebuttal.

When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe the headlines that included the line “a French satirical magazine.”

People shouldn’t think the satirists were somehow lower in the food chain than, say, the writers atThe New York Times.

The fact is they were journalists. A truth-teller is a truth-teller. It takes courage to do that in these days when the more truth you tell, the more it costs you. For the cartoon satirists at Charlie Hebdo, it cost them their lives.

The magazine, known for skewering the authoritarians in government, religion and the military, had the right targets. At Charlie Hebdo, they had the sharpest sticks. And the most courage.

And unlike other reporters and news organizations, their satire clearly struck a nerve and exposed the folly of Islamic zealotry for all the world to see.

Interesting now how some journalism organizations won’t even publish some of the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. So now it’s our turn as a global society to respond courageously to those who will bully us into silence.

Salman Rushdie issued this statement about the killings:

Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning “fear of religion.” Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

It applies to all religious zealots, and maybe to a lesser degree even to the nuns I knew with their deadly rulers.

Conan O’Brien, whom I last saw in a jester’s outfit in college at the Harvard Lampoon, said this on his US television show: “All of us are terribly sad for the families of the victims to the people of France, and for anyone else in the world tonight who now has to think twice before making a joke. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

It’s true. We’re all thinking twice before telling a joke these days.

In a free world, that’s not freedom.

Charlie Hebdo is a reminder of the courage it takes to live up to our ideals.

So what shall it be for the Global Pinoy?

Charlie Adobo must be Charlie Hebdo.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist based in the U.S.

twitter@emilamok

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TAGS: Charlie Hebdo, Freedom of Speech, Islamic extremism, Paris terrorist massacre, religious zealotry, satire
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