When blasphemy is bigotry: The need to recognise historical trauma when discussing Charlie Hebdo

Middle East
on 49 Comments

I first learned of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices through a photograph of one of the cartoonists’ studios posted to Instagram by his daughter. ‘Papa is gone not Wolinski’, the caption read. My reaction was instant and visceral: my own father was a cartoonist with a workspace much like Wolinski’s, and I have experienced the same aching pain caused by seeing it after his departure from it.

I have also spent enough time in France to know that to reduce those cartoonists’ collective body of work to a project of pissing off Muslims is wrong. For the most part, these men spent decades engaged in creating satire of the best sort: that which punches up, ridiculing the powerful – particularly the French State – and providing comfort to the underdog. There is no question that their deaths are an unforgivable tragedy.

But it is seriously misguided, I believe, to channel the palpable grief these deaths have inspired towards an archly Voltairean project of defending free speech at all costs.

This is in fact not the first time Europeans have been killed over offensive cartoons. In 2006 Gunther Grass remarked that the infamous Danish cartoons – which Charlie Hebdo republished – reminded him of anti-Semitic cartoons that appeared in the German magazine Der Sturmer, for which the publisher was tried at Nuremburg and executed.

The key difference between the reception of the Der Sturmer and Danish cartoons, Mahmood Mamdani argues, is that the former are understood to be bigotry, while the latter are considered blasphemous. As he points out, the difference is that blasphemy offends notions of the sacred from within a tradition, while bigotry offends them from outside of it. Mistaking the former for the latter explains why many well-meaning liberals honestly cannot grasp that publishing insulting pictures of the Prophet is not equivalent to depicting the Pope in a bikini.

Whether we view Charlie Hebdo’s Islamic-themed output as blasphemy or bigotry depends on how we relate to two equally divergent historical experiences.

The White French majority overwhelmingly experience it as yet another chapter in an ongoing national historical struggle with clericalism, in which key moments of the accepted narrative of nation-building involved wrestling power away from the Catholic Church. In this view, the satirical depictions of Muslims and Islam, however distasteful they may be, are not merely defensible because they are manifestations of free speech, they must be defended because the tempering of religious power through blasphemy is fundamental to liberty of expression in the French experience.

Within an alternative history of French nationhood, however, the images came as yet another assault on Muslims’ right to citizenship in its fullest sense, to be of France rather than merely just in it. The Prophet metonymically represents the community as a whole, just as the schoolgirl’s headscarf has since the late 1980s. The images thus compound a sense of alienation felt by Muslims across Europe, generated by ethnic profiling, police harassment, physical assaults, discrimination in the labour and housing markets, attacks on mosques and general incivility. They reinforce the perception that the legislative limits to free speech are selectively applied, as demonstrated by the swift banning of a fashion advertisement which stylistically referenced the last supper, and the protracted legal case brought against a prominent Muslim anti-racism activist for her alleged racial vilification of whites. And they continue a long history of using the pursuit of republican values to justify the humiliation of colonial subjects and their contemporary descendants, from brutal public ‘de-veiling’ ceremonies in colonial Algeria, to the cruel pettiness of today’s public school officials refusing to provide alternatives to pork in children’s school dinners.

Some commentators acknowledge that the images constitute bigotry, but argue that we should tolerate the hurt they cause and champion them anyway in order to strike a blow against terrorism. This is the rationale guiding the French government and various media outlets’ enormous monetary contributions to the magazine and the promise to print one million copies of its next issue.

But that logic is flawed.

Islamist terrorist attacks are not aimed at liberty of expression. As Osama bin Laden quipped after 9/11, if al Qaeda hated freedom as claimed, why did it not attack Sweden? These atrocities are better understood as futile acts of vengeance against the West: against its perpetual attempts to spread ‘freedom’ by the sword throughout the Muslim world; against its nauseating recourses to Enlightenment ideals as justification for the resulting carnage. Cherif Kouachi said that he was drawn to violent extremism after becoming outraged over images he saw on television. But it wasn’t cartoons of the Prophet he was referring to; it was those gruesome photographs of US ‘liberating forces’ torturing Abu Ghraib prisoners.

This line of argument may appear to suggest the need for greater legislative restrictions on freedom of speech. But tinkering with anti-discrimination laws is unlikely to amount to very much.

The difficult task of living together in the wake of this atrocity requires that we instead shift the conversation out of the legal and into the ethical realm. It demands that we work towards elaborating an ethics of cohabitation based on a recognition of the universality not so much of liberal values, but of trauma. We have no difficulty recognizing the trauma that gunning down a bunch of guys putting together their weekly magazine has inspired. It’s blantantly obvious. What we need to better understand is how a history that may be different from our own informed the conditions that give rise to this and other similar crimes. We must urgently come to terms with the ways in which the historical traumas of the global south continue to haunt the postcolonial present.

About Chloe Patton

Chloe Patton is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia.

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49 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 12, 2015, 2:44 pm

    Thanks for this very valuable essay. Hadn’t considered French anti-clericalism.

    One lesson is that any message must be considered as an attempt at a communication, a communication between two people (or two life-experiences or two viewpoints).

    The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists may have been so captured by their own anti-clericalism as to have supposed their cartoons carried only that message. Assuming they did not set out to offend Muslims, they (unforgivably) forgot that the Muslims-in-France life experience would give another meaning to the cartoons.

    A heavy price they paid for forgetting.

    I’d like to see some WMD cartoons showing world leaders (especially American ones) threatening the world (or the earth, as you prefer) with climate change — and reminding us all that the USA went to war on a wholly fictitious assertion of Iraq’s possession of WMDs but refuses to make a “war on climate change” despite its reality and world-wide deadly significance.

  2. gracie fr
    January 12, 2015, 5:18 pm

    “The satirical depictions of Muslims and Islam, however distasteful they may be, are not merely defensible because they are manifestations of free speech, they must be defended because the tempering of religious power through blasphemy is fundamental to liberty of expression in the French experience.”

    Nevertheless, 17 French citizens died at the hands of “radical Muslim extremists” a political reality that the French public saw enacted before them on national television. Front National political leader Marine LePen exploited two previous attacks over and over again and will make hay with this latest tragedy . Her ownership of the belief that Muslim hordes are destroying the country has a resounding appeal to “les Français de souche”…the average Joes who truly belief that assimilation is impossible because “those people with their Shari’a Law, strange religious practices, foreign attire and incomprehensible language(s)” constitute a cancerous 5th column, an avant guard for the future “Caliphate”. She is an advocate for canceling citizenship, deportation and a return of capital punishment, a platform that risks to sway voters in the upcoming Vote Départementale in March and Régionales in December 2015 if the Socialist government of François Hollande doesn’t act quickly(….??????…..) to protect France.

    • gracie fr
      January 13, 2015, 3:26 pm

      Blasphemy comes in many forms. The above comes after a discussion with a neighbor (Yes, I live in France) and a cynical educated view of deliberate scare tactics followed inevitably by legislated “shock doctrines”……

      Did the massacre at Charlie Hebdo succeed, in terms of furthering the interests of extreme jihadi al-Qaeda-type Islamic movements? The incident itself is over with the deaths of the murderers, but the degree of their success will only become clear when we see how far French political leaders are lured into an over-reaction……
      http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/paris-attacks-dont-blame-these-atrocities-on-security-failures-9970228.html

  3. James North
    January 12, 2015, 7:38 pm

    This is a great post.

  4. JLewisDickerson
    January 12, 2015, 11:38 pm

    RE: “What we need to better understand is how a history that may be different from our own informed the conditions that give rise to this and other similar crimes. We must urgently come to terms with the ways in which the historical traumas of the global south continue to haunt the postcolonial present.” ~ Middle East Chloe Patton

    SEE:

    ● REGARDING THE FRENCH COLONIZATION OF ALGERIA, SEE – http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/dont-civilizations-again#comment-737140

    ● REGARDING THE “QUASI-APARTHEID” OF FRENCH ALGERIA, SEE – http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/dont-civilizations-again#comment-737147

    P.S. LARGELY UNRELATED, BUT WELL WORTH A WATCH/LISTEN :
    Efterklang – Cutting Ice To Snow Live in Paris 2012 [VIDEO, 04:21] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIwHKxsAQjw
    Efterklang & The Danish National Chamber Orchestra – Cutting Ice To Snow (live) [VIDEO, 07:53] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeRNFnpd160

    P.P.S. Efterklanghttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efterklang

  5. snowdrift
    January 13, 2015, 6:43 am

    The article is a good reminder that Charlie Hebdo isn’t some kind of far-right magazine, but a left-wing publication that degenerated and became a part of a trend of leftists–of center-leftists, actually–who think they’re taking a brave stand by attacking Islam and/or Islamism (and of course the former isn’t far from the latter for these people).

    It’s a group made up of militant atheists (probably the only genuine people in the bunch), pro-Israelis (hm hmm), misguided feminists (there was an article in Jacobin I think it was about “carceral feminism”, this would be “colonial feminism”) and people who are left-wingers, or shall we say identify with the Left, but happen to be racist.

    Almost always, taking this courageous stand against the already ostracized group involves bashing the “naive/foolish/deluded/complacent/antisemitic” Further Leftists, that is anyone to the left of the fearless thinker who isn’t on board with the islamophobia; what this means in practice is that the islamophobia is almost always coupled with a political move to the center that grants additional media respectability to the islamophobe. In other words, coming out as an islamophobic left-winger can help you become mainstream.

    And the best example of that move is the case of the awful Philippe Val, who was the top editor of Charlie Hebdo in the mid-00s. I guess the fact that he was always very pro-Israel should have been a warning sign; he’s the one who took up the cause of the Danish cartoons and led his magazine down that fateful road. This was coupled with appeasing then-President Sarkozy; the most infamous example being the firing of the cartoonist who mocked the marriage of Sarkozy’s most prominent son with a rich heiress, on grounds of antisemitism–which goes to show how the free speech that’s constantly being invoked is highly selective, and mostly means “free to crap on Muslims”. Val was well rewarded: he became director of France Inter, the French equivalent of NPR.

    But Val’s behavior did cause Charlie Hebdo to lose most of its readership. A fact that isn’t brought up enough is that the magazine was dying, and the islamophobia played a part in that. Charlie Hebdo’s natural readership of leftists and anarchists (the publication is too culturally left-wing to attract right-wing readers) was drifting away. Who knows who will replace them, now that the government and various corporate benefactors are granting the magazine hundreds of thousands of euros to save “free speech”.

    • Theo
      January 15, 2015, 8:10 am

      Charlie Hebdo is on the right road to success! Their new sponsors invested millions to save the magazine and with a publication of 5 million copies this week it was a great investment, as on e-bay there are small fortunes offered for a copy of good old charlie.

      I agree with most of above and France can look ahead to the same curtailment of freedom as we in the USA experienced after 9/11. Germany already have a new anti-terror law, whatever it may mean, and I am sure other countries of the EU will follow the lead. Someone said once that “Democracy is lost on the ignorants” and I am curious how the french will react to any tightening on their rights. Americans did not complain at all, a nation of sheeple.

  6. philadelphialawyer
    January 13, 2015, 5:18 pm

    Meh. Bigotry/blasphemy are pretty much the same thing. When one intentionally blasphemes any religion, if it amounts to simple mockery, rather than an honest attempt to dispute cosmologies, etc, than it amounts to bigotry. And that is true if one is “punching up” to Catholics in France or “punching down” to Muslims in France. And it is certainly just as true of “progressive,” allegedly “feminist,” atheist-inspired speech as it is of “old fashioned,” colonialist/Orientalist, right wing speech, when it comes to anti Islamic speech. Claiming to be a leftist, no more than claiming to be engaging in “satire,” does not insulate one from the charge of intentionally hurting others.

    Of course, as mentioned, all instances of bigotry/blasphemy are NOT treated the same legally, and instances in which Christianity and Judaism are the target are less likely to receive legal protection in “Christendom” than instances in which Islam is the target.

    But the law SHOULD treat all instances the same. And, in my view, wide latitude for free speech is the way to go–legally.

    But, as for what people ought to do, outside of legality, I would say that bigotry/blasphemy, like all mean-spirited ridicule, is never a good thing. And that, even when “punching up,” the point should be exposing hypocrisy, greed, etc., and not merely mocking other human beings for the simple sadistic joy of it. Rather than any kind of special pleading based on what “the global South” has experienced, and equally not a fake Western liberal, historically blind caricature of universal “values,” a truly universal ethical approach would be to refrain from making, and to condemn (again, morally, not legally) the making by others, of any speech whose sole or even main purpose is to inflict harm (or trauma) on others.

    • Walid
      January 13, 2015, 9:53 pm

      “But the law SHOULD treat all instances the same. And, in my view, wide latitude for free speech is the way to go–legally. ” (Philadelphialawyer)

      A valorous concept, but I have a feeling you have never seen an actual cover of Charlie Hebdo. Under which of either blasphemy or bigotry would you put Charlie Hebdo’s caricatural depiction of a naked Jesus rear-penetrating an older man and what’s remaining visible of something rear penetrating him with the respective inscriptions “the father”, “the son”. and “the holy spirit”? And this other one of the naked supposedly prophet on all fours in prayer fashion viewed from the rear with the gizmo prominently dangling and a yelow star coming out of his rear with the inscription “a star is born”? Or of a gynecologist’s view of the supposed birth of Jesus shooting out like a rocket from between the wide-opened legs of the supposed mother?

      This is the freedom and the latitude you mentioned that the million Parisians marched for on Sunday?

      http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/687164-charlie-hebdo-mgr-vingt-trois-mariage-gay-moquer-les-religions-un-mal-necessaire.html

      • bilal a
        January 14, 2015, 12:49 am

        Blasphemy porn, coupled with torture porn, is both a method , and a signal, that is a signal of domination, and a method of social control, and disheartening resistance.

        “Krauthammer concludes that “One could not have designed a more symbolic representation of the Islamist warning about where Western freedom ultimately leads than yesterday’s Washington Post photo of a uniformed American woman holding a naked Arab man on a leash.” Like Culture Wars, Krauthammer feels that “The pictures of female US soldiers mocking, humiliating and dominating naked and abused Arab men . . .do not reflect, however, the ethos of the US military,” but they do represent “the most deeply psychologically charged – and most deeply buried – aspect of the entire war on terrorism, exactly as Osama bin Laden would have scripted it,” namely the belief that America is not synonymous with the moral corruption of women and the dissemination of pornography as a form of control.

        Both Rush Limbaugh and George Will were quick to chime in with similar observations. America, according to both, is about pornography. “Americans,” he told readers of the Washington Post, ” . . . should not flinch from this fact: That pornography is, almost inevitably, part of what empire looks like.” Empire, … “is always about domination. Domination for self defense perhaps. Domination for the good of the dominated arguably. But domination.” “

      • philadelphialawyer
        January 14, 2015, 8:26 am

        You seem to have missed my point. The cartoons in question, and the ones you mention, should, in my view, be legal. That is, it should not be against the law to publish them.

        That does not mean, as I thought made clear, that I personally approve of such things, nor that I would march in the streets to protest if some private person were to attack the publisher of such things.

        If you go around dropping “N bombs” among African Americans in the USA, at some point, one of them might do you some harm. That does not mean the government should make the use of the word illegal, or that the private attack based on its use was legally justified, but it equally does not mean that I would attend a rally, or personally approve of one, protesting the attack.

        In my view, the law, the government, should give a wide latitude even to offensive speech. On the other hand, when you go out of your way to deliberately make people mad, eventually, one or more of them is going to get so mad that they are going to do something about it. And that is true no matter whose ox is being gored: Muslims, Christians, Jews, polytheists, atheists, agnostics, folks with no views on religion at all, non religious groups, etc. And when that happens, I have no desire to join in protests that conflate the two, or that act as if deliberate provoking folks by ridiculing them and their beliefs is a fine thing. Nor do I even accredit such protests, even if the works in question did “punch up,” which these did not do. I find such protests to be acts of moral preening, of fake, self proclaimed and self satisfied heroism and victimization. And that it is absurd to “protest” something that is already illegal, and, indeed, whose perpetrators have already been killed for.

        I do think that, because the attacks being celebrated were made against an oppressed, minority group, that there is an added level of despicableness and falsity in the cause and the fake self valorization. So, to the that extent I think I agree with the point you are making.

        (As an aside, I have seen, in my time, all sorts of blasphemous, bigoted, hateful, and nasty cartoons and suchlike, and so I don’t actually have to see CH’s “work.” Moreover, your description of it in no way separates it from stuff I have seen, and already accounted for in my post.)

        I hope that clears up any further confusion.

      • Mooser
        January 14, 2015, 5:44 pm

        “I hope that clears up any further confusion.”

        Okay, I’ve had it, and I’m through with blasphemy and porn, both. I will clean up my speech of it’s blasphemous locutions, and throw out every one of my Rigid pipe wrench calenders from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. None of the girls answered my letters, anyway.

  7. yonah fredman
    January 13, 2015, 6:56 pm

    On the issue of the unequal treatment the religions receive from the satirists at Charlie Hebdo:

    The dynamics of the three religions is certainly different at this time in France and in the world and the satirists aim their sarcastic pens in the direction of the religion that is ascendant and that is Islam, because there are more Muslims in France (and in the world) today than there were yesterday and there will be more tomorrow due to the childbearing propensity of the Muslims and the poor compared to the white Catholics.

    (The Jews are really not a major player in terms of real population in France- 1% or something like that, whereas Muslims are 40% of Marseilles we were told just recently by Walid.)

    Meanwhile aside from immigration and childbearing there are the empty churches and the full mosques. Compare where the church was in 1939 in France and where it is today. Scraping by compared to excelling. (excelling at hating Jews in 1939, but certainly in terms of itself, the Church was far better off 80 years ago than it is today.) Therefore the church is already losing and the satirist naturally attacks the ascendant rather than that which is already on the ropes.

    • justicewillprevail
      January 13, 2015, 7:33 pm

      This is so utterly wrong and nonsensical you hurry to pass by the comment whilst feeling embarrassed for the specious excuse-making and poverty of thought. Of course, the satirists check the league tables that yonie helpfully provides before sharpening their pens. The purpose and point of satire is truly lost on those who take their self-justifying pontificating absurdities so seriously.

      • Mooser
        January 14, 2015, 2:36 pm

        Isn’t it something, “justice”? I get the feeling he’s a very lonely man. I thought he lived in a very inclusive community, but the only place for Yonah seems to be Mondo, where he is trying to make fiends the only way he knows how.

        The moderators, being I guess, not very compassionate, won’t ban him like he wants. It’s pretty funny to see him flailing about trying.

    • philadelphialawyer
      January 13, 2015, 8:14 pm

      “Full mosques” do not make the cartoons an example of “punching up.” To the extent that the cartoons are justified on that basis, ie that, as satire, afflicting the comfortable is A OK, that rationale really does not apply in this case. The mosques may well be full, but Muslims in France are still an easily identifiable and, in practice, discriminated against minority group. They are disproportionately poor, live in de facto segregated slums, are underrepresented in the corridors of power, etc. And, de jure and in practice, ridiculing them in print is seen as something courageous, whereas ridiculing Jews is seen as despicable, and ridiculing Catholics, as you yourself imply, pretty much just passé.

      To use an American analogy, Baptist churches in the African American community might well be described as “full” also, but picking on African Americans is definitely not “punching up.”

  8. Kris
    January 13, 2015, 8:19 pm

    @yonah: “The Jews are really not a major player in terms of real population in France- 1% or something like that, whereas Muslims are 40% of Marseilles we were told just recently by Walid. (Walid? I don’t see a comment from him here.)

    It is so hard for me to get my mind around your figures, yonah. Jews are 1% of the population of France (a nation) and Muslims are 40% of the population of Marseilles (a city). I just can’t figure out what this is supposed to mean.

    I was forced to google for information, and this is what I found: http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/ France has a “high level of religious diversity.” 63% are Christian, 28% are unaffiliated, 8% are Muslim, and Jews are 1%.

    This is not nearly as impressive as 40% Muslims in Marseilles.

    Oh, look, although Jews are only 2% of the U.S. population, Jews are 99% of the population of Kiryas Joel, NY!!!!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population_by_urban_areas

    Shouldn’t Netanyahu be leaning on the French Jews to move to Kiryas Joel, instead of to Israel, where the Jews are only 75% of the population? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Israel

    • Walid
      January 13, 2015, 8:50 pm

      Kris, I did say that elsewhere in a discussion about potential future problems with inner city poverty if France doesn’t wake up and start attending to this pressing problem and to take more interest in what the Gulfies are teaching in the madrassas there.

      But with Yonah, you must remember that anything he reads, he absorbs in its absolute form. Context is totally irrelevant to him. As an example, he asks if one is in agreement or not with one aspect of the 2006 war on Lebanon and he doesn’t really give a damn what was behind it, why it actually started and who really started it. He’s into yes and no answers and doesn’t want to be bogged down by anything else. This is Zionism and he has learned his lesson well..

      • yonah fredman
        January 13, 2015, 9:15 pm

        Walid- this is the new etiquette. bizarro communication. frustrated housewife communication. you are mooser’s apt pupil.

      • Walid
        January 13, 2015, 10:23 pm

        “Walid- this is the new etiquette. bizarro communication. frustrated housewife communication. you are mooser’s apt pupil. ” (Yonah)

        Yonah, Ill take that as a compliment. Thank you.

      • Mooser
        January 14, 2015, 1:14 pm

        ” this is the new etiquette. bizarro communication. frustrated housewife communication. you are mooser’s apt pupil.

        Well, Yonah, at least I have a husband!

        Mooser, Mooser, married Mooser, all day the records play. And when she comes home, I tell her: “Oy, what a day I had today!” I swear I’ll do, a husband’s job, just sit at home, become a slob!
        Mooser, Mooser, married Mooser, that’s me! (Chorus:) That’s WHO? That’s me! (Chorus:) That’s you!

      • Mooser
        January 14, 2015, 2:38 pm

        So nue, so sue, I’ve been on a “Funny Girl” kick lately.

    • yonah fredman
      January 13, 2015, 9:20 pm

      yes, kris, kiryat yoel and marseilles are almost twins in their importance.

      • Mooser
        January 14, 2015, 5:26 pm

        Marseille, Yonah, is very important!

        Gimme the sound of the rolling dice.
        Gimme the whiskey- don’t think twice!
        Gimme the card that takes my blues away!
        Take me away to Marseille!

    • Kris
      January 14, 2015, 11:38 am

      Ooops! Yonah, you said, “The Jews are really not a major player in terms of real population in France- 1% or something like that, whereas Muslims are 40% of Marseilles”.

      So I should have said, “Muslims are 1% of the population of the U.S., and Jews are 99% of the population of Kiryas Joel, NY.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/02/american-muslim-population_n_6076872.html

  9. ricky23
    January 13, 2015, 8:40 pm

    well they sure as hell aren’t bigoted.

  10. aiman
    January 13, 2015, 9:46 pm

    People need to check this out: http://posthypnotic.randomstatic.net/charliehebdo/Charlie_Hebdo_article%2011.htm

    “Thursday 5 December 2013 by Olivier Cyran
    He worked there from 1992 to 2001, before walking out, angered by “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of a certain Philippe Val [former CH editor – trans.] Since then, Olivier Cyran has been an observer from a distance, outside the walls, of the evolution of Charlie Hebdo and its growing obsession with Islam. He went over this long-term drift on the occasion of an opinion piece in Le Monde, signed by Charb [Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the cartoonists murdered in January 2015 – trans.] and Fabrice Nicolino…

    Postscript 11 January 2015: to all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

    ….

    “Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslim world”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

    Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamo-leftists”.

    “In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist – trans.] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel – trans.]? This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

    “Of course, Charlie Hebdo isn’t limited to this one subject. They write and draw on many other topics. I can well believe that many readers buy your journal because of your support for animal rights, or because of [writers] Cavanna or Nicolino, or for the funny pictures, or to congratulate Bernard Maris after his nomination to the national board of the Bank of France, another den of thrills and giggles. But I doubt that many of them don’t get some small, shameful pleasure from your continual repetition of Islamophobic obsessions – without which, the magazine would fall from their hands. There are even some – you can’t deny it – who buy it mainly because of that: to see what “Charlie” is going to shove in their faces this week. I must admit, that’s good business.

    • Mooser
      January 14, 2015, 9:17 pm

      Thanks “aiman”! Very interesting.

      • Mooser
        January 16, 2015, 7:22 pm

        “Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe…”

        Mmme. Fourest’s Wiki page doesn’t mention Charlie Hebdo at all. Or are my eyes bad?

    • Annie Robbins
      January 14, 2015, 10:44 pm

      aiman: the preceding paragraph:

      If it also occurred to me, in the past, to scribble out some furious lines in reaction to some of your exploits, I never dwelled on the subject. Doubtless I would not have had the patience or the stoutness of heart to follow, week after week, the distressing transformation which took over your team after the events of September 11, 2001. I was no longer part of Charlie Hebdo when the suicide planes made their impact on your editorial line, but the Islamophobic neurosis which bit by bit took over your pages from that day on affected me personally, as it ruined the memory of the good moments I spent on the magazine during the 1990s. The devastating laughter of “Charlie” which I had loved to hear now sounded in my ears like the laugh of a happy idiot getting his cock out at the checkout counter, or of a pig rolling in its own shit. And yet, I never called your magazine racist. But since today you are proclaiming, high and loud, your stainless and irreproachable anti-racism, maybe it’s now the right moment to seriously consider the question.

      this article is also linked in the main text of katie miranda’s article here: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/contrarian-perspective-cartoonist

      • aiman
        January 15, 2015, 7:36 am

        Thanks Annie.

  11. piotr
    January 13, 2015, 10:01 pm

    One aspect is that many Muslim, not the majority but too many to call them marginal, treat blasphemy with truly unhealthy vehemence. Pakistan is top of the list in that respect, but this is not the only example. But the race to reach higher levels of fanatical strictness that at occasion leads to murders is not a unique specialty of Islam, and in the last year one can find examples among Christians, Jews, Buddhists and perhaps Hindu as well (I did not follows events in India closely in 2014).

    That said, the blasphemy in Charlie Hebdo represented neither intellectual courage — pandering to majority — nor intellectual anything. It is a bit as if there was a massacre in the offices of pornography publisher — most lamentable, to be sure, but we would not raise placards “we are all pornographers”.

    My last point, one that I made before, is that there is a wide gap between ordinary fanaticism and murderous fanaticism, and historically, the jump over that gap is closely associated with wars. PTSD affecting millions, revenge ideas finding wide currency, devaluation of human life, wars breed madness (and widespread skills in the arts of killing). Fomenting wars is stupid, and “the West” has blood on its hand in that respect. (I put “the West” in quotes because obviously, not all Westerners support those policies, this web site being an example.) In particular, the establishment Western press romanticized jihad against “deserving regimes” even when the latter was associated with indiscriminate terror, and even now did not abandon the idea of supporting the taqfiris in Syria (and of course, the establishment media follow their governments). Now that alumni of Syrian war are finding their way back home, more mad and more lethal from the experience, Western governments are getting second thought, however slowly and gradually.

    • aiman
      January 13, 2015, 10:26 pm

      Rural Pakistan and India share a strong honour culture, origin’s prob in the Punjab that the countries share. In this respect honour killing and blasphemy are both inter related. On blasphemy, it is far from the usual definition. ISIS would be considered blasphemers. It isn’t helpful to look at religions and say “But the race to reach higher levels of fanatical strictness that at occasion leads to murders is not a unique specialty of Islam, and in the last year one can find examples among Christians, Jews, Buddhists and perhaps Hindu as well (I did not follows events in India closely in 2014).” The context of violence is important, in this case the rise of Daesh and the call to arms. If it was a case of simple blasphemy, why wasn’t Charlie Hebdo attacked ages ago?

      • piotr
        January 16, 2015, 5:34 pm

        Years ago there was a case of publishing Satanic Verses and serious death threat. In case you are unfamiliar with the book, the most offending passages were dreams of a madman, but various clerics were not amused, and there were fatwas and even a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie.

        As far as the context is concerned, I wrote “Now that alumni of Syrian war are finding their way back home, more mad and more lethal from the experience, …”. Even fanatics or “self-radicalized misfits” do not readily go from a vehement condemnation to actual killing, but war experience changes that.

        You mentioned India. A while ago a rather naive Australian designer of bath suites made a series with the image of Lady Lakshmi on various body parts (well, where can you can put an image on a bikini?), and there were demonstrations in India, grim fellows carrying placards with the pictures of a model in the offending garments. The young woman was very apologetic and she quickly dropped the design, and there were no howls about the surrender to bigotry and self-censorship.

      • aiman
        January 17, 2015, 5:13 am

        Fair enough. Thanks Piotr.

  12. light2014
    January 14, 2015, 12:38 am

    Takfiri generally refers to a Sunni Muslim who looks at the world in black-and-white; there are true believers and then there are nonbelievers, with no shades in between. A takfiri’s mission is to re-create the Caliphate according to a literal interpretation of the Qur’an.
    How does one begin dialogue with one whose mind is made up and absolutely knows how life should be ordered? The caste system of India also thought it knew who should be considered a Brahmin and who an Untouchable. The Indians themselves , probably influenced by Western achievement and values, made this aspect of Hinduism illegal . Are there any practices taking place in the largely Christian and the largely Muslim countries that should be made illegal or reformed? Who&What will motivate these countries to change? Who &What motivated the Japanese to reduce the power of the Emperor?

    • aiman
      January 14, 2015, 11:26 am

      No, that’s what we are led to think. A Takfiri is essentially a disaffected member of society who clings on to Islam and indulges in utopian, revolutionary practices to give himself a purpose. He is not a theologian of any sorts. The Takfiri is nothing more than the sheep in the barn of megalomaniacs like Al-Baghdadi and bin Laden. Megalomaniacs are a common sight in every kind of politics. Megalomaniacs are also psychopaths. See Tamer Lane or Hitler or even the gods in the Greek myths. They are unable/unwilling to hold themselves to account for their actions. Baghdadi also happens to be a sadist and serial killer who enjoyed blowing up geckos in pet shops.

  13. lohdennis
    January 14, 2015, 12:42 am

    One of the best posts I’ve ever read in Mondoweiss. The best analysis of what is going on in France anywhere.

  14. OyVey00
    January 14, 2015, 4:37 am

    The key difference between the reception of the Der Sturmer and Danish cartoons, Mahmood Mamdani argues, is that the former are understood to be bigotry, while the latter are considered blasphemous. As he points out, the difference is that blasphemy offends notions of the sacred from within a tradition, while bigotry offends them from outside of it.

    This seems like a pretty random criteria to me. I think the real difference is that Christians have grown a thick skin to blasphemy because they’ve been subjected to it since hundreds of years, while Muslims do not.

    Which brings us to the problem of the incompatibility of conservative Muslim communities and liberal Western society. Cohabitation of the incompatible will only lead to suffering on both sides. These terrorist incidents and anti-Muslim sentiment fuel each other, radicalizing both sides equally.

    To address this problem, there is only one humane solution: physical separation. In other words: The West must stop meddling in Muslim lands and trying to impose their values on its inhabitants. For this is the root cause of modern Muslim terrorism: the West invading Muslim countries and trying to change their traditional way of life.

    In return, Muslims in Western societies must assimilate. Which also means accepting that blasphemy will be a daily occurence to them. Those who cannot do so have to be encouraged to leave, for they pose a permanent security threat and cause of social unrest in society.

    • Mooser
      January 14, 2015, 5:33 pm

      “Cohabitation of the incompatible will only lead to suffering on both sides.”

      Yes, many, many people say that about the Jews and the countries of the world. So you figure it would be to everybody’s good to kick them out?

      • Mooser
        January 14, 2015, 5:39 pm

        “To address this problem, there is only one humane solution: physical separation.”

        So, “OyVey00” how does this comport with your own self-described “anti-Jewish sentiments”? Oh, as I remember, sentiments which should be “slapping you in the face”?

        So, I take it your “anti-Jewish sentiments” are not strong enough to recommend “only one humane solution: physical separation”? Or they worthy of a less humane solution?

  15. Boomer
    January 14, 2015, 6:55 am

    Thank you for providing this information and perspective, which prompted some thought-provoking responses as well.

  16. Mooser
    January 14, 2015, 1:17 pm

    Gosh, and I thought aniconsim was common to both Judaism and Islam! Just shows how wrong a guy can be.

    “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”

    • Mooser
      January 14, 2015, 8:49 pm

      I wonder what they did to you back then, if they caught you with a “graven image”. I bet it wasn’t pleasant. But somebody had to teach people images were worth killing over.

  17. Theo
    January 15, 2015, 8:43 am

    I agree with Chloe in her assesment that what may be legal according to prevailing laws, may not be ethical on moral gounds, and ethics, (or true religion, if you prefer), is more important for a society than rigid laws.
    In my simple opinion ethics are the same as what religions usually try to install in us, without that superduper being in the sky and all that mambo-jumbo of rewards or punishments after death. I do to you what I wish you do to me is rule enough for a decent life.

  18. Je Suis Charlie
    January 15, 2015, 1:48 pm

    Blasphemy or bigotry is a false dichotomy.

    This is purely a rejection of the concept of sacred AS sacred. Rejecting ideological dogma is a purely legitimate form of speech and certainly not bigotry.

    Its been said that somehow these Hebdo cartoons aren’t valid satire because the satirized target is less powerful. If the depiction is of mohammed, then isn’t that inferring that mohammed isn’t in any way divine, then? No, its correct to say that it precisely is because mohammed is held AS divine by deluded followers that the satire strikes home.

    • Mooser
      January 16, 2015, 7:28 pm

      Yeah, Charlie, the Enlightenment is the secret weapon in the clash of civilizations! And it’s on our side! Whatever

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