Dafke

‘Dafke’ is a word in Hungarian to say ‘stubbornly in spite of better judgment’. The meaning of the Hebrew original is much more colorful.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve read several articles that explained why it was a mistake to display the ‘#JeSuisCharlie’ tag to identify with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. In this post, I will dafke stand by my original stance and insist that I am still Charlie. And Ahmed. And a victim of Anders Breivik. And the Hungarian Roma who were ruthlessly killed by racist extremists in 2009. And the untold hundreds and thousands who are humiliated, persecuted and killed every day for not submitting to a violent ideology – or just for who they are.

In the New York Times, David Brooks argues that it’s a problem to identify with Charlie Hebdo because the cartoons they published are overly offensive, derogatory, and sometimes bordering on the racist. In the debate over republishing or not republishing the cartoons, some participants made the same point. On a similar note, Scott Long in his blog called ‘A Paper Bird’, claims that to say ‘I am Charlie’, one has to agree with everything Charlie Hebdo ever released.

With all due respect, I disagree. By saying ‘Je suis Charlie’, I am assuming the position of the victim – I tell the killers that they have to kill me if they killed the Charlie Hebdo editors and the policemen: because I won’t submit to their ideology either. And that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Charlie Hebdo says: in fact, it’s not the sort of paper I read, and my limited command of French is not the only reason.

Let me explain.

I have a few strong identities myself – I’m a Hungarian and, on my father’s side, a Jew and grandson of a Holocaust victim, and a practicing Catholic by conversion in adulthood. These identities bring about certain sensitivities: for example, I know Charlie Hebdo mocked Catholics and the church, too, but these cartoons hardly registered, even when I saw some of them last week. I could even view them with a positive attitude: the way others see you is an immense resource to better yourself.

On the other hand, I was hurt when the Hungarian government put up a monument remembering the Holocaust, blaming the “Germans” (not even the Nazis) for all of it. Yet we know that Hungarian authorities drafted Jews to work for the Hungarian army in Ukraine as early as 1942, and thousands died because they had no adequate clothing, enough to eat, or weapons to defend themselves. My grandfather was one of them. All of this was perpetrated by Hungarian authorities – Nazi occupation came in 1944 only. So what did I do? I vented my fury and anguish in exactly one Facebook post.

Scott Long even insists that displaying #JeSuisCharlie’ amounts to demanding an apology from all Muslims. Some actually do demand an apology from all Muslims. A lot of Muslims even apologize.

At its roots, Islam might have supplied the very ideology that prompted the killings, as pointed out by this article. Even the name ‘Islam’ means submission, the exact opposite of individual freedom and dignity we hold dear in the West. It is possible that, in the Charlie Hebdo journalists and their helpers, the terrorists saw insurgents of an inferior race. This is actually an age-old mechanism in the psychology of hatred, perhaps best explained by Umberto Eco in his ‘Inventing the Enemy’: haters first deny the humanity of the victims, then proceed to destroy them.

Saying that all Muslims must ultimately think like the Islamists, is just as pointless as to say that I must agree to everything Charlie Hebdo publishes if I want to display #JeSuisCharlie. By demanding an apology from all Muslims, we would deny them the same kind of freedom and dignity that we so eagerly demand for ourselves.

On the other hand, we must draw the line somewhere. From the Third Tower, it’s quite clear: either you respect the life, freedom, and dignity of the individual human being – or you don’t. There’s no in-between, the two sides cannot be reconciled. If you represent an ideology that requires me or others to submit to it, and you’re ready to force us to submit, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.

We don’t have to look to Islam for ideologies like this; they are quite abundant in Europe. Just look at the radical or not so radical nationalist groups throughout Europe. If we believe Patrick J. Geary, even the moral foundations of the European “nations” are flawed this way.

We don’t need jihadists for killings in the name of destructive ideologies. Look what Anders Breivik has done. Or here are a few lesser known facts from my country, allegedly in the middle of Europe: in 2009, several Hungarian Roma, including children, were murdered by radical nationalists. Similar groups regularly organize militant marches where Roma live. In 2012, a prominent columnist called the Roma ‘animals’ in a pro-government paper. Hours after he was born, the first Hungarian baby of 2015 was verbally excluded from the Hungarian nation by the leader of a right-wing party – because he’s Roma. This party commands 12% of Parliament seats. Shall I continue?

Ultimately, these people are driven by the same attitude as jihadists. And here’s where our freedom is weak: simply because they are people, we have to respect their life, freedom, and dignity, too. But then curtailing freedom in order to protect it is the worst possible answer.

Looking to our governments for better safety is right – and wrong. A government cannot defend our freedom if we don’t go out to defend it. We need to be very clear about what we are defending. One could argue that in some countries, people are quite good at this (look at the masses on the streets in France yesterday), but this is not quite true. In yesterday’s masses, the European nationalists were also present. They are similar to jihadists in their constant search for enemies to fight. (And sometimes they kill, too.)

It is not enough to fight destructive ideologies by armed forces and military intelligence. We need to understand why some people are easily recruited – and do whatever it takes to save them from it. We need to learn – and teach others – to tolerate people when they are different or disagree with us.

But this time we need to draw a firm line that separates right from wrong, good from bad. We can no longer pretend that those who aspire to dominate, those who attempt to prescribe other’s thoughts and words, deserve the same protection as others. They don’t. This time we need to learn to speak clearly – it is more important than respecting the sensitivities of those who don’t merit it. I agree with David Brooks in saying that we need to re-think our speech codes. Politically correct speech was instituted to protect minorities from abuse and violence – I appreciate the good intention. But offenders turned it to their advantage: in my country, for example, right-wing extremists also demand politically correct treatment. They get offended – and sue and sometimes take to the streets – when they are called what they are (anti-Semitic, racist etc.). In a country where courts are not very sensitive to coded anti-Semitism or racism, this is extremely destructive.

In short, we cannot have safety if we don’t do the hard work, and educate ourselves on what individual freedom means. Governments won’t do that for us – it’s not their job. In the meantime (or maybe forever), our safety will be limited – but we have our freedom, and we have to stand up for it. As Scott Long in ‘A Paper Bird’ so rightly points out, “This kind of low-cost, risk-free, E-Z solidarity is only possible in a social-media age, where you can strike a pose and somebody sees it on their timeline for 15 seconds and then they move on and it’s forgotten except for the feeling of accomplishment it gave you.”

Our freedom will be as strong as we are. It’s not enough for me to post this, and it’s not enough for you to share. We must all think about the things we can do in the real world – and that’s risky, because we become vulnerable to the vengeance of those who want us to submit.

And then we dafke become Charlie, no matter whether or not we agree in everything or we are otherwise different. And we become Ahmed. And the victims of Anders Breivik. And the Hungarian Roma who were ruthlessly killed by racist extremists in 2009. And the untold hundreds and thousands who are humiliated, persecuted and killed every day for not submitting to a violent ideology – or just for who they are.

2 thoughts on “Dafke

  1. There are several thoughts I’d like to share in reaction to your post, but I’ll start with an easy one — “islam” may translate as “submission”, but doesn’t the Latin word “religio” make the same claim? One noteworthy difference between Islam and Christianity is that Catholics at least not only submit to God but also to the Church (“I believe in the holy Catholic Church”). Only God knows how many terrible things have been and still are perpetrated in the name of some Christian Church or God and at the hands of Christian clergymen and zealots (“God told me to invade Iraq”, dixit George W. Bush, presumably the same God called upon by the Wehrmacht’s motto, “Gott mit uns”?).

    Europe’s past and present is full of violence in the name of some Christian ideology — war, slavery, colonization, genocides, ethnic cleansing, etc. etc., all with divine benediction. No need to go back in history nor very far from your country — what exactly is the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Ukrainian conflict?

    Now, I actually have a lot of respect for believers, Christian or not, if their faith helps them be “good” towards others — ultimately, you’d think that that’s what any religion should be about, as whichever God one believes in, He surely didn’t create us to hate each other. Unfortunately, it seems that no religion is significantly more or less effective than another at helping its followers be “good”. The reason for that is without much doubt that religion is above all a social phenomenon, more than a spiritual one, and part of a society’s set of mechanisms used to organize itself in groups and hierarchies (be they “zombies”, as the sociologist Emmanuel Todd calls the subconscious Catholicism of a certain part of the officially secular French society).

    This leads us to what I believe is at the heart of Europe’s presumed problem with Islam — it’s not about Islam but about the integration of a minority, or rather, of several groups of minorities, which developed in Western Europe as a result of a mix of colonialism and industrialization (at the same time France lost Algeria, it called in hundreds of thousands of Algerians to work in its booming post-war industry). During the first decades of the presence of these minorities, Islam was not an important part of their identities at all, neither for themselves nor for the host nations. But guess what, the hosts had plenty of other means of discrimination, and still today, in a country like France, even an atheist “Arab” whose great-grand-parents accepted to come to France will find it much harder to succeed in school and find a job.

    The rise of Islam in Europe has a lot to do with the persistent rejection of these minorities and their identities, and tragically, while often well-intentioned, Europe’s near-unanimous reaction to what is utlimately a symptom of its inability to come to terms with its own diversity perpetuates and aggravates a system of discrimination.

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