Why Charlie Hebdo offends me

Middle East
on 12 Comments

Last week brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi shot 12 people dead at the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Although it should go without mentioning, I denounce what these self-identifying paper Muslims did, their actions go against my beliefs and my values. The lost souls and their loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.

The events were tragic. Reports have dramatized what happened by stating that it is an attack on the Western symbol of free speech and the goal was to destroy Western values. In fact, the French president stated that what happened was an act of war. We can contextualize the acts by looking at the atrocities around the world, especially those committed by or through Western powers, and because of it millions of innocent Muslims lost their lives. Seeing how the story was covered in the media I am offended because I have a feeling that lives matter only when they are being lost in the West; lost lives in other corners of the planet are just numbers. Indeed, other lives have as much value as lives in the West and should be respected and valued as well.

I am offended by the hypocrisy of the magazine. Charlie Hebdo believes that freedom of expression should have no limits in criticizing or insulting others, especially when targeting Muslims. However, Maurice Sinet, a former cartoonist at the magazine, was dismissed for suggesting that Jean Sarkozy, the son of the former president Nicholas Sarkozy, was converting to Judaism for financial reasons. He was accused of being anti-Semitic. I am offended because when Henri Roussel, one of the founders of Charlie Hebdotried to voice his opinion about the attacks at Nouvel Obs, Richard Malka, Hebdo’s lawyer, contacted the publication in order to stop them from publishing it. Being critical means targeting everyone. Satire means touching everyone’s sensitive spot. The double standard about freedom of expression is troubling.

I am offended by the official hypocrisy of France. On Monday, January 2nd, France’s interior minister said that local officials have the right to ban shows of Dieudonné M’bala, a comic whose performances are sometimes considered anti-Semitic. The city of Bordeaux was the first to cancel his show. The same comic was arrested on January 14th for posting on social media: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” He posted the comment after what he witnessed at Paris’s march against ‘terrorism’. Another 54 people, including four minors, have been detained for the same reasons. Several have already been immediately sentenced. France invited everyone to march for freedom of press and speech for all (I hope!), and its authorities are arresting other citizens for basically doing the same thing, only the satire is from a different view. I am offended because I am confused about where we draw the line between free speech and hate speech and, more importantly, who draws such limits.

I am offended because in the first few hours following the attacks, I learned about Stéphane Charbonnier, Bernard Maris, Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinsk, Bernard Verlhac, and Philippe Honoré, and whom I did not know before. It was two days later that I learned, by accident, that the cop who was first killed by cold blood on the ground was Ahmed Merabat. The first victim of the slaughter was a French Muslim. He was killed minutes before the criminals broke into Charlie Hebdo’s offices and committed their crime. I am offended because I believe that he deserves the same attention as the ones whom he died defending. Didn’t he give his life in defense of their freedom of expression?

I am offended because when the courageous Lassana Bathily saved 15 Jewish lives in the Parisian kosher market, he was automatically held by the police as a suspect for a few hours. Fortunately, he will be granted citizenship for his heroic action after almost 300,000 people signed a petition on his behalf. I am offended because I feel that we are worthy of “real” news only when we commit crimes; our names and pictures are relevant and newsworthy only when they demonstrate a hatred for “western values”. Otherwise, our good deeds will often go unnoticed. Is it because it’s conflicting the image the media wants us to draw about such events?

I am offended by Paris’s march against terrorism. Heads and representatives of states from around the world marched alongside the French in the city. I am offended by the levels of hypocrisy that were witnessed. Especially when looking at the CVs of most leaders who headed the march. Were the leaders marching for freedom of expression? Some of them would allow anything in their countries but free expression, or, were they denouncing terrorism? Some of them are registered terrorists with a good record of criminal atrocities in recent decades.

And finally, I am offended because I believe that all kinds of terrorism should be condemned and dealt with, including the killings of people by drone attacks in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc., not just the crimes being committed by brown people.

About Hicham Tiflati

Hicham Tiflati is an Islamic studies instructor and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Quebec at Montreal. His dissertation is an interdisciplinary examination of Islamic schooling and identity construction in the West. He has academic and teaching interests in topics such as postcolonial identities, integration, citizenship, and the role of religious education (re) shaping identity.

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12 Responses

  1. michelle
    January 16, 2015, 3:13 pm

    .
    we should all feel more than offended we should all feel terrorized
    the very people we put in place to govern are allowing injustice at the highest levels
    through unjust laws/policy’s they create an imbalance which equals ‘terror’ in every & all
    .
    true acts of terrorism when examined
    would be better classified as organized crime
    .
    equal justice extends beyond
    race sex religion species
    it comes from the core of life
    it is balance
    it is truth
    without it every & all suffer
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

  2. oldgeezer
    January 16, 2015, 3:26 pm

    I am similarly offended both by the act and reaction. It was incongruous to see the leaders who deny free speech pretending to be it’s champions.

    • Walid
      January 17, 2015, 9:36 am

      I’m also offended by all of this, especially that Charlie Hebdo was and continues to be trash. But I find the insertion of Dieudonné M’bala into this piece only serves as a distraction. The guy had been doing to the Jews what Charlie Hebdo has been doing to Moslems and to deny that puts us in the same category of hypocrites. Another point raised by Hicham concerns the death of the Moslem policeman allegedly shot in cold blood as he lay on the sidewalk. Released uncut videotape of the incident clearly shows that the policeman was not shot in the head as he lay motionless on the sidewalk. It’s appearing that he died elesewhere from the scene and journalists are not picking up on that point.

  3. ritzl
    January 16, 2015, 5:38 pm

    When satire becomes indistinguishable from the object of the satire, is it still satire?

    • turveyd
      January 17, 2015, 10:00 am

      Yes. I think the moment when, in the US, Archie Bunker, in All In The Family, ceased being perceived as a figure of fun and became a main-stream US citizen in the eyes of viewers was a pivotal moment in history. At about the same time as America veered slightly to into fringe territory…

  4. MRW
    January 17, 2015, 3:40 am

    Câlice! C’etait bon, Hicham.

  5. Neil Schipper
    January 17, 2015, 6:21 am

    Hello Hicham Tiflati. I have some remarks.

    Charlie Hebdo believes that freedom of expression should have no limits ..

    Maurice Sinet, a former cartoonist at the magazine, was dismissed for..

    So, they do in fact believe in limits. Everyone (maybe excepting a few crank libertarians) accepts some notion of limits. We don’t argue about allowing sex-with-cadaver magazines at the supermarket (though there would be buyers).

    There’s no hypocrisy. There’s editors making choices, which happens everywhere, every day.

    These editors chose a lot of “poke the fundamentalist Muslims”, and they also chose a good amount of “poke the Orthodox Jews” and “poke the Zionists”, all very well documented.

    In one instance, they rejected “poke a high born political prince for marrying Jewish money“. A choice.

    Sinet .. was accused of being anti-Semitic

    As i wrote on a different thread:

    .. 1982 radio interview, shortly after a terrorist attack on Jews in central Paris, in which the cartoonist said: ‘Yes, I am anti-Semitic and I am not scared to admit it… I want all Jews to live in fear, unless they are pro-Palestinian. Let them die.’ Siné later apologised.

    ” ‘ Anti-Semitic’ satire divides liberal Paris”

    If any Charlie Hebdo writer ever said or wrote something resembling:

    Yes, I am anti-Muslim and I am not scared to admit it… I want all Muslims to live in fear, unless they are pro-Enlightenment. Let them die.

    .. even if they later apologized, we probably would have heard about it.

    — (back to your article)

    Being critical means targeting everyone. Satire means touching everyone’s sensitive spot.

    You can’t possibly believe this. Take it back, quick!

    .. the right to ban shows of Dieudonné M’bala ..

    Muslims and Jews walk French streets as minorities knowing that some around them were active, willing participants in acts of physical destruction of members of those minority communities. Were any entertainer to include as part of his show sweaty, leering, jeering suggestive comments that accounts of the organized killing that took place in Algeria or Morocco in living memory, were — ha-ha, hee-hee — contrived or overblown, comments intended for the delight of frustrated, disaffected young people, the French authorities, I believe, wouldn’t have it.

    .. I am confused about where we draw the line between free speech and hate speech ..

    It’s not a small topic, but here’s one starting point.

    “Your worldview is wonky because x. Your political claims are groundless because y. Your policies will be counter-productive because z. You are foolish. You are dishonest.” ==> Free speech

    “The killing of your relatives is deliciously amusing. By mere virtue of birth into your ethnic or religious community, you are loathsome.” ==> Hate speech.

    .. and, more importantly, who draws such limits

    Those who govern. In lands with consent of the governed, this can be very unsatisfactory. The alternatives are worse.

    I am offended because I believe that [Ahmed Merabat] deserves the same attention as the ones whom he died defending.

    I did see articles specifically about him, and video in which his brother-in-law spoke about him.

    After a planned, well-orchestrated group killing, I don’t think it’s tenable that “we” (media producers and consumers) think/feel about the cop who had the shitty luck of being in the way at the time and the intended vicitims in quite the same way. What differences would have relieved your being offended?

    And finally, I am offended because I believe that all kinds of terrorism should be condemned and dealt with, including the killings of people by drone attacks in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc., not just the crimes being committed by brown people

    Do you think the targets of this recent action, satirists and random Jewish grocery store shoppers (as opposed to military targets, like soldiers, or aircraft or munitions manufacturing, storage or service facilities, among other possibilities) were chosen by the planners mainly to dissuade Western powers from continuing their actions in brown people lands? I don’t think that’s likely. Demoralizing the citizenry is likely one objective, but more importantly, in my view, is a desire to inflame the west to more aggressive and costly action — the hunting and killing of more brown people — thereby eliciting even greater enthusiasm among brown people both in the west as well as in brown people lands, to adopt the jihadist Al-Qaeda ideology, an ideology whose stated goal is the destruction of the west under an emergent caliphate. I think the planners want more and more brown people to actively support that ideology, through militancy or by apologetics & propaganda work.

    • Hicham437
      January 17, 2015, 6:29 pm

      Sure you came across the slogan: the pen is mightier than the sword; I agree, I just don’t believe that it is mightier than political/state censorship or lobbyists’ pressures.

      Will they say we hate Muslims and we want them to live in fear? I don’t think they are that reckless. However, Eric Zemmour, a well-known right-wing pundit suggested a better solution: deportation of French Muslims, all of them. Many politicians, including Marine Le Pen, spunk to his defense. And since the attacks, he was granted police protection for his own safety and for the protection of his free speech. Now, can you get away with a similar statement about other races or communities?

      Concerning the boundaries hate/free speech, we cannot deny that, between the West and Rest, there are different and sometimes opposing references of thought and ideologies. For instance, race in the West is a red flag. Targeting one’s race is not free speech. The same about Semitism, though it only includes one Semite people. In Muslim countries, and whether we accept it or not, the top sensitive issue is religion not race or Semitism. It is another good and sensitive topic to tackle.

      Do you think the targets of this recent action, satirists and random Jewish grocery store shoppers were chosen by the planners mainly to dissuade Western powers from continuing their actions in brown people lands?

      In the case of Charlie Hebdo attacks, (in response to your last point) the behavior of the terrorist individual, unconsciously, acts on behalf of the collective behavior of Muslims that is supposed to defend Muslim interests around the world. When states and armies fail defending the interests of their people, individuals think that they should pass to action (similar to the Kamikaze). Moreover, one of the brothers said that he was drawn to extremism after becoming outraged over Western powers and US ‘liberating forces’ torturing and killing Muslims around the world. So he clearly stated the motif behind his action (s) and shouldn’t dismiss that. On Wednesday, January 14th, Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo

  6. Vera Gottlieb
    January 17, 2015, 12:12 pm

    A spiteful hate rag.

  7. Walid
    January 17, 2015, 12:12 pm

    Offensive is the development of the story of how one of the shooters was not dumb enough to leave behind the shoe that had fallen out of the getaway car (in the photo on top under the opened right front door), but not bright enough to have left his ID in the abandoned car. Hicham is surely familiar of the local saying, “Pas assez fou pour mettre le feu, mais pas assez fin pour l’éteindre”

    This Charlie Hebdo story is starting to look like NYC’s 911 in more ways than one.

  8. steven l
    January 17, 2015, 3:11 pm

    What is supremacism if not the use of basic instincts or emotion to justify violence against others. No intelligent individual allows her/his emotions to control her/his life. Initially a pseudo-intellectual reasoning is offered by a leader and the masses blinded by their hyper stimulated primal emotions give uncontrolled power to fanatics. Charisma is a very dangerous weapon of mass construction or destruction. Communist fascism, socialist fascism, Islamist fascism use negative charisma. Primal emotions always available more often than not are used by fanatics to take advantage of masses to achieve their diabolic goals.
    IGNORANCE, fear, envy, misery are the preferred triggers used by Hitler, Stalin, Mao and now days K & K.
    History keeps repeating itself but always with different actors. That is why we need to learn from history and not allow this repeated paradigm of ignorance, violence and fascism to be constantly reenacted. Something is fundamentally wrong in the “human construct”. A minority of vicious individuals throughout history manage to take advantage of peer pressure to provoke human catastrophes.

    • Mooser
      January 18, 2015, 5:11 pm

      “Initially a pseudo-intellectual reasoning is offered by a leader and the masses blinded by their hyper stimulated primal emotions give uncontrolled power to fanatics.”

      Thank you “stene l” for enlightening me, and increasing my understanding. I feel like I understand the Jews in the illegal ‘settlements’ on occupied territory and in Jerusalem much better now. Those poor schlimazels.

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