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Selective outrage on Paris journalist killings shaped by racism and colonialism

Politicians and mainstream media silent when media workers killed regularly across global south

by Stefan Christoff

Equipment of Palestinian journalist, killed in Israeli shelling, at a hospital in Gaza City July 20, 2014.
Equipment of Palestinian journalist, killed in Israeli shelling, at a hospital in Gaza City July 20, 2014.
Incredible examples of deeply racist political double standards have been on full display over the past couple days across the world, as politicians and mainstream media outlets express unwavering solidarity with the media workers and the accompanying police officers killed at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday in Paris. 
 
Seldom does the world hear such sustained moral outrage, such emotional outcry, voiced by the globe’s most powerful political figures, from Obama, to Ban Ki-moon, in response to the killing of journalists and media workers. In so many ways this clear and pronounced double standard in reaction to the shooting, speaks to the heart of the deeply colonialist and racialized mainstream political framing on the Paris shootings. 
 
At the heart of this moral disaster of a response is a basic tenet: some life is more valuable than others, or by extension, some journalists are more valuable than others. In this case, the life of French cartoonists, at a journal with a clear history of publishing deeply racist drawings, intentionally targeting the faith and culture of Muslims in France, are now to be considered ‘heros,’ according to French President, François Hollande. 
 
Satire is about challenging power, not belittling the oppressed,” wrote comedian Aamer Rahman yesterday and by that excellent definition, a great bulk of recent cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo have little to do with satire. In reality the journal is an arrogant and racist publication, that has consistently worked to enforce oppression and communities in France, already facing an incredibly violent mix of racism, economic inequality and often uncertain immigration status, in a country where right wing nationalist politicians continue to gain political momentum. 
 
The double standard at play is even clear within the scope of those killed in the incident, as French police officer Ahmed Merabet, also killed in the shooting, has received much less mention from the political class in France, although that is now changing in response to the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag. In many ways Merabet’s shooting, on the sidewalk outside of the Charlie Hebdo offices, also illustrates the racial dynamics of French society, where immigrant and racialized communities are much less likely to find space for political expression in the media world, socially pushed into robotic, inherently soul stifling jobs, like those in the police force, or even more common, faceless work in factories within the suburbs of Paris. Immigrant communities in France are right now facing growing poverty rates and socio-economic marginalization, people being hit the hardest in many cases within the context of austerity measures
 
On journalists and media workers, there has rarely been such outrage at the killing of journalists in recent years. 
 
How much have we heard about Rami Rayan, a 25-year-old Palestinian photojournalist with the Palestinian Media Network killed in the US-backed Israeli bombing of Gaza this past summer? Or, Ahed Zaqout, 49, a presenter on Palestinian sport programmes, killed in an Israeli bombing of a residential apartment tower in Gaza City.
 
Do we ever hear French, American, or Canadian politicians speak out on the systemic targeting of journalists in the occupied West Bank, or in the besieged Gaza Strip? The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) wrote this past summer, "Enough is enough: the killing must end now and Israel must be held accountable for these atrocities."
 
Any outcry about the killing of Octavio Rojas Hernández, a reporter at El Buen Tono in Córdoba, in Veracruz state, Mexico? A killing that is unsolved in full, but by many accounts is linked to reports uncovering state resource theft done in collusion with local police, Mexican military forces (increasingly funded by the US Mérida Initiative) being involved with people linked to the Los Zetas criminal gang. 
 
In Mexico, the list of journalist killings linked to police and state officials is long and gruesome, however little do we hear condemnation of the Mexican’s governments inaction on this attack of freedom of expression. Any words from Obama about the increasing danger facing journalists in Mexico (not to mentioned the broader human rights disaster in the country) this past week during the visit of right-wing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to DC?
 
Any moral outrage over the sustained violence and killings targeting journalists in the Philippines, a former US colony still deeply under the economic, political and military sphere of the US. 
 
Last year I interviewed Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina from The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on the real dangers facing media workers in the Philippines. What are some of the dangerous that journalists reporting on injustice in the Philippines face today, I asked Espina at a café in Montréal.
 
“Probably the major threat is murder," said Espina directly, continuing on to explain that, "since 1986, when we were suppose to have recovered democracy over 150 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines.”
 
On a visit to Manila, Philippines last spring, Obama simply heaped on praise for an administration that according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, is presiding over one of the most dangerous countries in the world for media workers, Obama instead stated that the Philippines, is “a vibrant democracy," and that "the Philippines reflects the desire of citizens in this region to live in freedom and to have their universal rights upheld.” Are the universal rights for journalists in the Philippines being upheld?
 
In reality the list of journalists targeted and killed for exercising their voice, their pens, their images, to speak truth to power, is extremely long. However rarely do we see the freedom of the press and the importance of free speech held up so vigorously by the western politicians responding to the shootings at Charlie Hebdo from their colonial bully pulpits in the capitals of France and the US.
 
There is only one conclusion to draw from this difference of response, which is that the humanity and work of some journalists is simply more valuable than others according to Obama, Hollande and also Harper in Canada. Never do we see such theatrical moral outrage invoked when journalists are killed in the global south, as they are regularly, week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year, often in killings linked to very governments armed and supported by France, the US and Canada. 
 
By extension, the political gains for both France, the US and allies, stemming from the Paris shooting are clear. Although politicians now are claiming to be beyond ‘politics,’ most certainly we can clearly read within the statements made by politicians, that the shootings at Charlie Hebdo magazine are already being exploited for political gains. 
 
Most directly, politicians like US Secretary of State John Kerry in recent remarks in Paris, or the national address by Hollande a couple days ago, are using the blood of the killed cartoonists to blur the injustices of the ongoing ‘War on Terror.’ Politicians are figuratively tagging the bombs being dropped right now on Iraq and Syria, supposedly to save the people from the Islamic State (ISIS) group, with the blood of the dead media workers in Paris. All the pronouncements about not being intimidated and standing in solidarity are ludicrous, simply opportunistic slogans being mobilized to justify current neo-colonial military adventures. 
 
Stefan Christoff is a writer, community organizer and musician living in Montreal.

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Montreal, Quebec
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Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician.

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