Why I still support Charlie Hebdo

Russell Blackford, University of Newcastle

You know the shocking story: in January 2015, two masked Islamist gunmen launched a paramilitary attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine. The gunmen murdered twelve people: two police officers and ten of the magazine’s staff, including the much-loved editor and cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier (known as “Charb”).

In the immediate aftermath, many people expressed solidarity with Charlie Hebdo’s staff and their loved ones, and with the citizens of Paris. There were vigils and rallies in cities across the world. Twitter hashtags proliferated, the most viral being #JeSuisCharlie: “I am Charlie.”

Yet, as with the Salman Rushdie Affair in 1989, many Western commentators quickly turned on the victims. In an article published in Free Inquiry (warning: behind a paywall), I responded that these commentators deserved a special hall of shame.

Some folks don’t like Charlie

Charlie Hebdo has more than its share of enemies. Its style is irreverent, mocking and caustic. It attracts attention from fanatics, particularly from Islamists who are incensed by its frequent drawings of the prophet Muhammad. Importantly, however, its ridicule is aimed at fearmongers and authoritarians. It is an antifascist magazine, and it treats racial bigots with particular savagery and relish. Its most despised targets include the Front National – France’s brazenly racist party of the extreme Right – and its current president, Marine Le Pen.

While the corpses of the murder victims were still warm, however, some commentators insinuated that Charb and the other victims had it coming. Most deplorable of all, perhaps, was an op-ed piece published by USA Today within hours of the attack. This was written by a London-based radical cleric, Anjem Choudary, who has publicly expressed support for the jihadist militant group ISIS (or Islamic State). Choudary openly blamed the victims, along with the French government for allowing Charlie Hebdo’s freedom to publish.

With evident approval, he stated that the penalty for insulting a prophet should be death, “implementable by an Islamic State.” He added: “However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.”

While Choudary’s apologetics for murder were especially chilling, much sanctimonious nastiness issued from more mainstream commentators. All too often, it came from individuals who identify with the political and cultural Left, as with an article by Teju Cole published in The New Yorker on 9 January 2015.

To be fair, Cole’s contribution to the backlash was milder than some, and certainly more eloquent and thoughtful. He even makes some reasonable points about threats to free speech that are not overtly violent. But his article is worth singling out for comment precisely because of its veneer of sophistication.

Cole appears aware that much of what looks insensitive, or outright racist, in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons could easily receive anti-racist interpretations when viewed with basic charity and in context. He alludes to the fact that one cartoon in a back issue of Charlie Hebdo was explicable, in its immediate context of publication, as a sarcastic attack on the Front National. Yet he dismisses this point with no analysis or evidence: “naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism”.

Well, was it being used to satirise racism or not? Little research is needed to find the context of publication and discover that, yes, it actually was used to mock the racism of the Front National – so what is Cole’s point? And why the sneering word naturally? It is calculated to suggest bad faith on the part of opponents. The thought seems to be that Charlie Hebdo’s defenders would say that, wouldn’t they?

Despite his knowledge and intellect, Cole discourages any fair search for understanding. Despite his brilliance as a writer, he belongs in the hall of shame.

The refugee crisis in Europe

More controversy has come to Charlie Hebdo with the current refugee crisis in Europe. The magazine has ridiculed harsh European attitudes to Syrian refugees, but predictably there has been much moral posturing and hand wringing in the mainstream and social media. A recent report on the ABC News site summarises the international reaction and includes images of the relevant cartoons. Opportunistic, or merely obtuse, commentators allege that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons mock the refugees themselves, particularly the drowned Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi.

That accusation is seriously and obviously mistaken, and the point of the cartoons is not especially hard to detect. They attack what they portray as European consumerism, bigotry and heartlessness.

Nonetheless, in an astonishingly clumsy article published in New Matilda, Chris Graham takes jabs at those of us who supported Charlie Hebdo last January. He writes: “Did you hashtag ‘Je Suis Charlie’? Blindly? Without really knowing what the publication actually represents?”

Well, what does the publication actually represent? Graham hints that it’s something rather sinister – perhaps some kind of white or Christian supremacism – but if that’s what he thinks, he doesn’t spell it out so it can be refuted.

At any rate, there is no great secret about what Charlie Hebdo actually represents: it is, as I stated earlier, an antifascist magazine. It is, furthermore, anti-authoritarian, anti-racist, anti-clerical, and generally anti-establishment. In brief, Charlie Hebdo is a vehicle for radical left-wing thought of a distinctively French kind, one with antecedents at least as far back as the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Speaking for myself, then, I certainly did not act blindly in expressing my solidarity, and I frankly resent that suggestion. By contrast, I’ve seen many people blindly accept the claim that Charlie Hebdo is some kind of racist publication.

Graham describes the cartoons in a way that reveals his confusion. He even comments on one of them: “Apart from the fact it’s not funny, it also makes absolutely no sense. Maybe the ‘humour’ is lost in the translation.”

Maybe any humour could lose something in the literal-minded translation that Graham offers his readers. More to the point, it might be lost on someone who displays no understanding of the French tradition of satire. In any event, why expect that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons will be humorous in the ordinary way? Why shouldn’t they be bleak and bitter and fierce, with no intent to elicit giggles or guffaws?

As this episode plays out, I welcome the newly established JeResteCharlie (“I remain Charlie”) project, and I’m pleased to see a recent contribution to the debate by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie supports JeResteCharlie, he explains, “Because we are living in a time in which we are in danger of backsliding in our commitment to freedom of expression. That is why it is important to emphasize these values yet again right now.”

I agree, and I still support Charlie Hebdo.

Critique and its responsibilities

I don’t suggest that the ideas and approach of Charlie Hebdo are beyond criticism, though I do question how far that was a priority in early January before the murder victims had even been buried. That consideration aside, there is always room for fair, careful interpretation and criticism of cultural products such as prominent magazines.

There is certainly room for debate about whether Charlie Hebdo showed good taste in so quickly exploiting Aylan Kurdi’s death to make a political point (though, again, the cartoons do not mock the boy, whatever else may be said about them). Nothing I have stated here is meant to show that Charlie’s Hebdo’s approach to satire is tasteful. Then again, the magazine’s willingness to flout ordinary standards of taste frees it to make timely, appropriately caustic, comment on French and international politics.

We need good cultural criticism, but we also need some scrutiny of the cultural critics. Much of what passes for cultural criticism merely examines cultural products – whether novels, movies, video games, cartoons, speeches, items of clothing, or comedy routines – for superficial marks of ideological impurity.

This approach ignores (or simply fails to understand) issues of nuance, style, irony, political and artistic context, and the importance of framing effects. It fails to discover – much less appreciate – complexity, ambiguity, or instability of meaning.

There may be occasions when the excuse of irony is offered in bad faith. When that is the accusation, however, it needs support from careful, detailed, sensitive, honest argument. Meanwhile, authors and artists should not be pressured to create banal content for fear of dull or dishonest interpreters. There are some contexts, no doubt – e.g. in writing posts like this one – where straightforwardness is a virtue. In many other contexts, that’s not necessarily so.

Fair, useful cultural criticism should display some humility in the face of art. It should be grounded in an understanding of context and the relevant styles and traditions of expression. If we propose to engage in critique of cultural products, we had better show some complexity and generosity of response. That is how we earn our places in serious cultural conversations.

The Conversation

Russell Blackford, Conjoint Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Leave a comment ?

22 Comments.

  1. Doris Wrench Eisler

    I believe in freedom of speech, one of the four freedoms that supposedly justified World War II.
    But it isn’t just the freedom to criticize Islam that is at stake. Just try criticizing the West and its record regarding Muslim countries since 9/11, or even the First Gulf War. No one deserves to be killed for expressing an opinion, no matter what, but I’d be more “Je suis Charlie” had they criticized the West equally.
    Let’s get real, the numbers killed in the name of “our values” far exceeds the other side, so far anyway, in this lopsided crusade.

  2. “If we propose to engage in critique of cultural products, we had better show some complexity and generosity of response. That is how we earn our places in serious cultural conversations.”

    Okay, let’s do some serious cultural criticism then.

    My idiocy and the Hooked Nosed Jew. As a child I had heard the term, and in my idiotic curiosity, at each given opportunity I would study the noses of Jews looking for the hook, which I could never find, and I was too afraid to reveal my stupidity by asking someone in the know to point it out. For all I could see their noses were not much different from my own. I even realised that the suggestion that Jews have bigger noses than everyone else, is just believed on the basis of being primed by the suggestion. They in fact have all kinds of different noses.

    If the Hook Nose doesn’t have its’ origin in reality, where does the trope come from?

    Well….It comes from the line of a cartoonist’s drawing. The hook nose was used in antisemitic propaganda cartoons to distinguish the evil Jew from the good Aryan (who is beset by the Jew’s superior but devious intellect, greed and lust).

    What could it be said of the antisemetic cartoonists in Europe. Could the Holocaust have been possible without their priming of the fear and hatred.

    Back to Charlie Hebo. A quick Google Image search, which you can do yourself, gives me a selection of the cartoon work. And whaddya know, all the Muslims (and a few Jews), are given the Hook Nose trope….And what else. Marie Le Pen, is given a petit, nearly attractive, nose without a hook. There is a further peculiarity beyond the lack of a hook. Cartoonist in general, take features from their subjects that are already slightly disproportionate, and then exaggerate them for comic effect and recognition. Marie Le Pen, in reality, does not have petit, attractive or even feminine nose, her nose is in fact a bulbous oversized carbuncle, that is as beastly as her personality and politics.

    Charlie Hedbo’s Marie Le Pen, the nose is some other trope as it bears no resemblance with reality. But what could that trope be. And it’s something that comes from the Franch’s idealisation of themselves, and their womanhood. The idealised Franch woman’s nose, is like Amelie’s, from the projection of Franch bourgeois narcissism, that was the hugely popular Franch film Amelie. Where Amelie has a petit nez, and preternatural pale skin. A collection of tropes that form an idealisation, one Beatrice Dalle fulfilled in a earlier decade , that the gate keepers of Franch culture desperately imagine to see as themselves; and this is the core of fascist, but more commonly unconsciously fascist art. The function of which is to feed fascism. So, what are the French really like. Firstly, they’re in the wrong latitudes for preternatural pale skin, like the Jews they have a wide diversity of noses, few look like Audrey Tautou, Many like Marie Le Pen; a woman so brutal she even speaks like a beast.

    Political cartoons fall into two categories. One is where they are used to satirize the powerful, and poke at the absurdities and hypocrisies of the society; they inform, educate, and entertain. This is genuinely risky, powerful social groups tend to lack a sense of humour, and they may feel their power and wealth threatened. This usage is highly defensible. Then there is the other category, where the work is used to demonise and demean the subjects or targets. Such as the satirical British publication Punch, did in the 19th century by depicting Irish people as monkeys. Or how the Jews were portrayed in antisemetic “humour” of the European tradition.

    Before the cannonisation of the editors of Charlie Hebo as Catholic saints is complete, we really need an absolute clarification as to which category they fall into. I’m not convinced I’m missing some nuance. Is the work recontextualised by their sticky end; it is. But it has to be judged in the context it was created in.

  3. I think there are two separate issues here that need to be kept kept clearly separated.

    First is the free speech issue. My American sensibilities see free speech as a limitation on government. It has nothing to do with the content of the speech. So here my stand with Charlie Hebdo is absolute.

    The second issue is the content of the speech. Speech that I must support legal may be morally or politically indefensible. Take holocaust denial for example. Awful, stupid, idiotic and disturbing but not nearly as bad as the French law making it illegal. I must defend it legally while condemning its content.

    So how does Charlie Hebdo stand here? I am not French, I do not speak the language nor do I know much of the culture. But every cartoon that I have seen translated has been pretty standard for political cartoons. I generally even agree with the message. So I pretty much stand with Charlie Hebdo here as well.

    Maybe someone could point to a cartoon that is indefensible.

  4. “I think there are two separate issues here that need to be kept kept clearly separated.
    First is the free speech issue. My American sensibilities see free speech as a limitation on government. It has nothing to do with the content of the speech. So here my stand with Charlie Hebdo is absolute”

    Ah, haw….But here is the thing; the French do not have free speech. And this puts a completely different complexion on things.

    France has hate speech laws, and other speech laws which would be amusing to Americans. The American approach is to allow all speech, even dangerous speech (but there is a recent precedent of killing Americans outside of US jurisdiction for speech. Anwar al-Awlaki, being an example). The idea is that it is better to allow people to abuse free speech (lying is an example of abuse. Shouting fire in a crowded cinema, etc), than give the powerful an opportunity to abuse laws that curtail free speech to silence political opposition.

    By looking at Charlie Hedbo, an uninformed outsider might assume that the hate speech laws of France are very liberal, and only judiciously applied. This is simply not true. And this is why one should be very careful when giving absolute approval to Charlie Hedbo for at least the right to speech, if not the content. Charlie Hedbo is sanctioned speech; it and its’ contents are state and elites approved. You are not seeing what is not approved.

    To put it bluntly, the French are very racist. In general they would emphatically deny this, because the appellation is ugly. France has large population of people who have their origins in the former colonies of the French. “Official” France effectively treats these people as second class citizens. It’s not that they have failed to “integrate”, it’s more racist France is very successful at “excluding” them.

    So, who do the French apply the speech laws to. Well, they’re very rarely “white”. In recent years it’s been a litany of French rappers of North African heritage. One rapper for a lyric where he says he pisses all over the grave of Napoleon. Yes, there is an antiquated French speech law that prohibits the speech that insults the French nation. The French comedian, Dieudonné, has been banned from making any public appearance in France, on the grounds of making antisemitic speech. He’s a black dude. He’s is also a strident critic of Israel.

    But one of the best illustrations of how petty and abusive their establishment can be, is the life and crimes of Citizen Houellebecq. Michel Houellebecq, is internationally recognised as France’s greatest living author. He was a complete outsider from “official” French culture. But the fame he achieved outside France made him impossible to ignore. He committed two high crimes; one is his devastatingly ugly portraits of France, the other, and by far the most serious, he became massively successful, receiving international acclaim (which really hurts, because of its’ obvious authenticity, unlike the back slapping of a clique of mediocrities, who beyond the shores of France are not even unknown.) This motivated a campaign of Get Houellebecq!. This culminated in a hate speech trial, where Houellebecq was charged, for a fictional character in one of his books saying Islam was the stupidest religion. The prosecution failed but even to this day, there are still false allegations of hate speech attributed to Houellebecq.

    Now, you might begin to scratch your head, and wonder how Houellebecq finds himself on the wrong side of the law, for dismissing Islam as stupid (though the attribution is a little like being accused of antisemitism, for statements made by Hitler in a fictionalized account of the Third Reich), when Charlie Hedbo routinely ridicules religion. Is there something more subtle and nuanced going on.

    But now to the trials of Citizen Dieudonné. Dieudonné, is banned from performing in France, he can’t even tell jokes from a bar stool. His crime is antisemitic speech. And he has been silenced, by law, to stop him for making speech crimes in the future. So what kind of comedian is Dieudonné. He’s the kind who ridicules the powerful. Pokes at the hypocrisy of French society and its’ elites. He’s black, he’s not some white supremacist skin head making jokes that punch down at the powerless. What exactly is really going on here. The only defense Charlie Hedbo have against accusations of antisemitism, is they say they equally ridicule Islam and Christianity…….which is a little peculiar in like defending yourself against allegations of racism by saying you hate white people as much as you hate black people. Or like a satirical magazine defending its’ racist caricatures of black people, by having a few caricatures of white people. For whatever we can say of Dieudonné’s guilt, he very definitely is an extremely risque comedian, making a joke after the Charlie Hedbo shootings on social media, with Je Suis Coulibaly (the bakery gunman), which got him arrested. The current Charlie Hedbo makes a joke of a dead child refugee, surely they should be able to see the funny side of dead Charlie Hedbo editors.

    Benjamin Netanyahu, jammed himself in at the head of the “we stand with Charlie” march of world political leaders. Twisting the meaning of the march from ostensibly in support of free speech into a “we stand with Israel”. Is Netanyahu a supporter of free speech; definitely, as long as it’s speech unequivocally in support of the state of Israel, even if it’s not necessarily true speech. Netanyahu in fact used the occasion to campaign for a further extension of European antisemitic hate speech laws to include any criticism of the state of Israel. He’s been achieving some success with this campaign. There isn’t free speech in Israel, the fact in itself is considered to be a necessary secret for the security of Israel.

    “So how does Charlie Hebdo stand here? I am not French, I do not speak the language nor do I know much of the culture. But every cartoon that I have seen translated has been pretty standard for political cartoons.”

    Okay, you’re from a different culture and you don’t hear the dog whistles that are only audible to sections of the French population.

    In political cartoons in America, there’s a lot you cannot get away with. You might find those cartoons in explicitly racist publication (fascist zines, hate sites), but you will not see the representations in any mainstream daily newspaper. You won’t see Jews or Israelis, represented with standard antisemitic tropes. You might see a cartoon making fun of Michelle Obama, but you won’t see tropes that make her look like a monkey, or give her a banana. And there are certain tropes Europeans wouldn’t pick up on; watermelons and fried chicken for example. What you have with Charlie Hedbo is not an oh so clever critique of Islam and terrorism, it’s watermelons and fried chicken.

  5. JMRC,

    What you say is very interesting. I’m not familiar enough with French culture to determine whether what you say is wholly or partially right. Does anyone know enough about French culture to comment on what JMRC says, because his view of Charlie Hebdo is radically different than that of the original post?

    I have read a bit of Houellebecq and he is very funny, at his best as funny as Woody Allen at his best.

  6. JMRC,

    I have very limited ability to judge the truth of what you say. But if it is even a little bit true it is a powerful argument that France needs absolute and unconditional protection of free speech. The only cure there ever was or ever can be for bad speech is unencumbered counter-speech. This is why free speech must be seen as an absolute limit on the power of government. The fact that Charlie Hebdo speech is in some sense sanctioned does not change my support of their right of expression. It only highlights the horror of denying everyone the same right. You cannot fix the problem by denying Charlie Hebdo the freedom of expression. You can only fix the problem by denying the government the power to interfere with speech.

    As for the cartoons again I have very limited ability to judge. I have only seen a hand full of them translated with an attempt to place them in a cultural context. Any discussion of them will probably need to refer to specific examples.

    ” The only defense Charlie Hedbo have against accusations of antisemitism, is they say they equally ridicule Islam and Christianity…….which is a little peculiar in like defending yourself against allegations of racism by saying you hate white people as much as you hate black people. ”

    Yeah, I’m not getting this at all. I equally ridicule Islam and Christianity. Religion is epistemological insanity. At the same time if asked by my country I would lay down my life to defend people’s right to engage that kind of insanity. I depend on that right as much as they do and I cannot claim a right for myself that I would deny others.

    Now does Charlie Hedbo call for free speech for everyone or do they defend their privilege?

  7. ppnl,

    “I have very limited ability to judge the truth of what you say.”

    The historical facts, trials, names, etc, that’s all verifiable. The issue of culture; the European states are in many cases physically closer together than US states. In European countries you get a lot of European news, and you get to meet the people (unless you’re a Xenophobe, or an upper-middle-class person, who never speaks more to a working class person or foreigner than to give instructions. They certainly never listen.)

    You have a mixture of people; those who are aware of what’s happening in different countries, and a few, like many English people, for whom, even though it’s only 16 miles at the closest point; France may as well be Japan. (It’s not really fair to say this about the English, all European countries have people, who could be within walking distance of a neighboring country, but as far as they’re concerned it’s a strange, frightening, and as alien as Mars.)

    Distance plays a part in the interpretation of the Charlie Hedbo event (And where there isn’t distance, you can have insularity.). Russell lives in Newcastle, Australia, not Newcastle, England. Australia is in a different timezone (1975).

    The news story exploded globally. If you didn’t know the cultural context already, the interpreters were not going to inform you. Fox News were convinced large areas of France were already part of the Caliphate, and Birmingham in England was as a Muslim city, non Muslims were not allowed enter. It was open season for the racists to absolutely distort the reality. The policeman shot on camera was Muslim. The man who saved people in the bakery by hiding them in the freezer was a Muslim.

    And because the massacre was indefensible, anything short of sanctification at the time was nearly impossible. And the same at the time of 911, no serious analysis of the motivation of the attackers could be discussed beyond the trite and ridiculous; “They hate us for our Freedumbs”. And even though America has constitutionally protected free speech, at times it’s nearly impossible to speak the truth.

    “Yeah, I’m not getting this at all. I equally ridicule Islam and Christianity. Religion is epistemological insanity.”

    If the issue with the Charlie Hedbo massacre was the ridiculing of Islam, why isn’t Richard Dawkins dead? In fact why aren’t all the celebrity atheists dead or even under police protection. Is it because they see Dawkins’ ridicule of Islam to be a criticism of religion in good faith, and what the Charlie Hedbo does to have a different political intention. Do they attack French Jewish bakeries because there is a tense conflict between Muslims and Jews in France. Or the policies of the state of Israel; is the conflict in France actually over the support for Israel, and not genuine or traditional antisemitism. Given France’s colonial history, could some French Muslims interpret history, in that they would identify with the Palestinians in a way that goes beyond religion. Does the narrative of least resistance really stand up to scrutiny.

    Your other points I reply to in another post.

  8. ” If the issue with the Charlie Hedbo massacre was the ridiculing of Islam, why isn’t Richard Dawkins dead? In fact why aren’t all the celebrity atheists dead or even under police protection. ”

    Yeah, no. The world is full of Islamophobic people and most of them are not under police protection. It is like you are arguing that the twin towers were taken down on 9/11 but most other tall buildings are fine. Therefore there must have been something about the twin towers that was particularly offensive to Muslims. No. I need a specific criticism of Hebdo in order to reject Hebdo.

    As for Dawkins, I’m not a fan. He is kind of a loose cannon and often gets in trouble with American Atheists. His latest is a suggestion that Ahmed’s clock was an attempt to fake a bomb in order to get the attention that he has received. He is most famous for his feud with Stephen Jay Gould over punctuated equilibria. Well there is a scientific controversy here but it was stupid and destructive for it to become so personal. But that seems to be Dawkins style. To be fair it was often Gould’s style as well. In any case I wouldn’t be greatly surprised if someone knocked him off. More likely to be a Christian if he lived here.

  9. ppnl,

    “Yeah, no. The world is full of Islamophobic people and most of them are not under police protection.”

    Yes, I know Islamphobes are ten a penny, but these kind of attacks are fundamentally theatrical; at the very least they need celebrity Islamophobes. Mise en scene is crucial, all the elements have to tell a story. Which is also a reason after the event, there’s often an effort to obscure the terrorists intended narrative, to deny them a victory in getting their message across. And to detourne the message; the 911 attackers attacked because they hate Americans for their “Freedoms”. The attackers did actually leave a note, with quite specific details. They hated America for its’ foreign policies. Mohammed Atta, the leader of the group, was particularly inspired by the massacre at Qana in 1996.

    Why the twin towers, why on 911. Theatre.

    “In any case I wouldn’t be greatly surprised if someone knocked him off. More likely to be a Christian if he lived here.”

    I would have preferred to use Hitchens over Dawkins, but unfortunately Hitchens is already dead.

    But there’s an important point here, the religious fundamentalists, both Muslim and Christian, were far more interested in debating Hitchens than committing bodily harm, often believing they could win and not get Hitchslapped. Hitchens wasn’t a racist. His beliefs were authentic. He wasn’t afraid of saying very outrageous things about Islam and the Prophet. He was very vocal defender of Salman Rushdie. A severe critic of Islamic fundamentalism. Iran let him in several times as a journalist, pretty much expecting him to say bad things about the place. They seemed untroubled by his blasphemies.

    The Charlie Hedbo cartoons, to single out one would really be unfair to the others. They were all absolute shit. Mohammed exposing his asshole and genitals to a camera, that one was particularly ripe. School bully humour; it’s funny because it’s going to humiliate and upset people.

  10. ” Why the twin towers, why on 911. Theatre. ”

    All terrorism is theater. Theater with a body count but the targets, the message and the methods are theater. Anyone can find themselves on a hit list for reasons having nothing to do with policy or power. The theater is all that matters.

    ” The Charlie Hedbo cartoons, to single out one would really be unfair to the others. They were all absolute shit. Mohammed exposing his asshole and genitals to a camera, that one was particularly ripe. School bully humour; it’s funny because it’s going to humiliate and upset people. ”

    I simply cannot agree with you here. I look at the cartoons. I look at the translations. I see no difference in what Charlie Hebdo is doing and what others are doing all over the world. Yes political cartoons can be rough. Satire is particularly rough. If anything Hebdo is an amateur at this kind of thing.

    Piss Christ for example?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piss_Christ

    How about some South Park? The whore contest between Mr Slave and Paris Hilton seem appropriate… if that word can ever be used to describe South Park. Anyway NSFW:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-Zb-QiGslo

    I’m sure that neither the gay community nor Paris Hilton are happy with these images.

    Charlie Hebdo? Weak sauce man. And I just don’t see any political message in there that is so offensive.

    And Hitchens? He sided with the neoconservatives that formulated the policy that the bombers disliked.

  11. ppnl,

    “Charlie Hebdo? Weak sauce man. And I just don’t see any political message in there that is so offensive.”

    How you see it, isn’t really all that important. In the sense that you’re not incited to commit a massacre by them.

    American society has its’ own cultural-political idiosyncrasies. There are hot wire subjects commentators have difficulty speaking about, but a show like South Park or the Simpsons can comment. There are lines, that if crossed do cause upset. Gary Trudeau’s transvaginal shaming wand strip caused a controversy and was pulled (censored), from many American papers. It crossed the line.

    Virtually every advertisement on French television for shampoo, will have a young woman, nipples exposed through the soap suds, and to put it bluntly; masturbating herself to a climax. Absolutely without controversy in France. You’re not going to see those kinds of ads on American TV.

    Differences between Australia and America, can be seen in Harry Connick Jr’s reaction to a performance on Australia’s Hey Hey it’s Saturday, in 2009.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEtjaZ8ZuNU

    “And Hitchens? He sided with the neoconservatives that formulated the policy that the bombers disliked.”

    Yes, that is true. Which goes with the point I was making. If he had all these positions, why were the Jihadists not after him.

  12. Isn’t the reason that the Jihadists attacked Charlie Hebdo and not Hitchens the fact that the magazine had cartoons ridiculing
    Muhammed and that mocking holy images is considered sacrilege in Islam (and other religions), while Hitchens was a writer, not a cartoonist?

    Besides the fact that one has to do some mental work to read Hitchens’ book on religion or his articles on the same subject, while a 10 second glance at Charlie Hebdo conveys the message to even the most mentally benighted of us.

  13. JMRC,

    ” American society has its’ own cultural-political idiosyncrasies. There are hot wire subjects commentators have difficulty speaking about, but a show like South Park or the Simpsons can comment. There are lines, that if crossed do cause upset. ”

    That is true and we have a a phrase to describe the people who get upset. Special snowflakes. It is dangerous to cater to special snowflakes because that just encourages them to be ever more sensitive.

    ” Gary Trudeau’s transvaginal shaming wand strip caused a controversy and was pulled (censored), from many American papers. It crossed the line. ”

    I agree with both the message and the method of the Trudeau strip. And the papers pulling the strip aren’t censoring in the sense that it is used here. In fact the paper pulling the strip is an expression of their free speech. I defend their right to pull the strip. Only the government can censor. But I am also critical of them for pulling them.

    The strip did cause controversy, was intended to cause controversy and controversy over this stupid law is good. The papers are free to pull the strip and I am free to tell the papers that they are cowards and idiots. All of that is free speech.

    ” Differences between Australia and America, can be seen in Harry Connick Jr’s reaction to a performance on Australia’s Hey Hey it’s Saturday, in 2009. ”

    Yes black face would not be well received regardless of intent. But I reject the special snowflake status here and insist that any black face performance should be judged by its message. The performance you linked had no message, humor or talent and should be ignored.

    ” Virtually every advertisement on French television for shampoo, will have a young woman, nipples exposed through the soap suds, and to put it bluntly; masturbating herself to a climax. Absolutely without controversy in France. You’re not going to see those kinds of ads on American TV. ”

    Well those adverts would not be played on open air broadcasts. This is seen as a mechanism to allow parents the power to control what their children see. But cable tv is unregulated and can have any commercials they want. These regulations are seen as pretty archaic because anyone can go on the internet and probably find every french shampoo commercial ever made. And much more. I think over air broadcasting will basically die out. I watch very little of it anymore.

    ” Yes, that is true. Which goes with the point I was making. If he had all these positions, why were the Jihadists not after him. ”

    Because reading a comic is easier than reading a book. By any rational standard calling for war against a country is much worse than any possible doodle. Especially when that call to war was successful. But it isn’t about logic, politics or power. It is about theater.

    Charlie Hebdo is anti-authoritarian and that is a moral position that I strongly support. They have little patience with the special snowflakes and that is also a position I agree with. There may be many ways that I disagree with them but none of them are contained in the cartoons in question.

  14. s. wallerstein,

    Yes, and that is both the value and risk of Charlie Heddo’s method.

  15. s. wallerstein,

    “Isn’t the reason that the Jihadists attacked Charlie Hebdo and not Hitchens the fact that the magazine had cartoons ridiculing
    Muhammed and that mocking holy images is considered sacrilege in Islam (and other religions), while Hitchens was a writer, not a cartoonist?”

    No.

    It’s worth mentioning here, Salman Rushdie was a writer and not a cartoonist.

    Protest is often about getting attention. Rushdie inadvertently provided an opportunity for theatre. The burning of his book at a protest in Bradford. It was a striking image and made the national news. The Iranians became aware of the event, and saw opportunity for creating a political crisis. The Ayatollah issued a fatwa, that Rushdie was to be killed. But it’s significant, and a little confusing, as to what he was to be killed for as what he was not to be killed for. He was not to be killed for sacrilege or ridiculing Islam. It was for creating a religious text.

    The Satanic Verses were a section of the Koran, Mohammed removed believing they had been inspired by the devil. And essentially, Rushdie’s crime was to recreate them.

    Now you may find that all hard to believe. And I doubt the Iranians believed it either, but it was the only excuse they could find for trouble. Islam is explicit in not punishing those who ridicule religion. But, framing Rushdie as some kind of false prophet, does allow grounds for murder. In the early stages, the British Council of Muslims, asked Rushdie to place a label on the cover of the book stating it was fiction. It’s not likely this would have been enough, as once it had started, the people who were making capital from it, were not likely to stop.

    The crisis gave the Iranians a bargaining chip. It gave the English Muslim radicals something to shout about.

    Salman Rushdie became an international superstar, as a champion of free speech. This was never his intention in the beginning. It’s just how it all turned out.

    But the most important thing about the event, is it created not only one, but two blueprints. for many of the events that have followed.

    For the terrorists, someone is needed to play the Rushdie figure, to ostensibly commit a religious infraction that warrants death. Then the stage is set; enter the gunmen, and an explosive global media event occurs.

    The second blueprint to emerge from the Rushdie event, is how to become famous quick and easy. Find an “infraction”, similar to Rushdie’s, and then commit it. Rushdie isn’t dead, so I’d imagine people who’ve taken this risk purely to gain attention, think their chances of being alive to enjoy the glory are reasonable good.

    And there are also the naive involved in this. People who believe it is just about free speech, or criticizing religion.

    The terrorists are desperate for these theatrical opportunities, they’re willing to accept the western journalists definitions of Islamic “infractions” warranting death, so the show can go ahead.

    Western journalists divined the depiction of the face of the Prophet, to be one such “infraction”.

    It isn’t.

    There are sects of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, who follow an injunction from Deuteronomy (5.8), to a lesser or greater extent, and others, who completely ignore it.

    Deuteronomy 5.8
    You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

    Throughout the Muslim world, you’ll have Shia and Sunni Muslims happily co-existing. Shia do have depictions of the Prophet, the Sunni do not. It’s not a contentious issue, but where there is Sunni/Shia conflict, that maybe in essence devoid of any real religious difference, like the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has nothing to do with the actual liturgical differences; it’s over stuff. A Muslim killing a Muslim is a serious and real infraction in Islam. But it is permissible to kill Muslims who are trying to destroy Islam with a false Islam; Takfiri. This again is a nonsense, as if they’re killing each other over stuff, they know it’s not about religion.

    Who can say authoritatively what is an isn’t a false version of Islam? The answer is, no one. There isn’t a central authority in Islam. A cleric or scholar can issue an opinion. Another can counter the opinion.

    “Besides the fact that one has to do some mental work to read Hitchens’ book on religion or his articles on the same subject, while a 10 second glance at Charlie Hebdo conveys the message to even the most mentally benighted of us.”

    Okay. Terrorists are not all completely stupid. Some are but some are incredibly clever. Saudi Arabia beheads more people than ISIS, but ISIS has the world in horror. They are not the idiots, the idiots are those who give them the response they desire.

  16. JMRC,

    Saudi Arabia has executed 175 people in the past year in trials which lack due process, according to Amnesty International.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34050853

    Is that more or less than ISIS? I have no idea.

    Whether Saudi Arabia or ISIS executes more people per year, ISIS sells more newspapers.

    Of course, Saudi Arabia is a charter member of the free world.

    ISIS is evil and they don’t sell us oil. Of course Assad is even more evil than ISIS is or at least he was more evil than ISIS the last time I looked. I suspect that if ISIS takes over enough oil fields, Assad could begin to qualify as a member of the free world. His wife can then go back to shop for shoes in London.

  17. ppnl,

    “Because reading a comic is easier than reading a book. By any rational standard calling for war against a country is much worse than any possible doodle. Especially when that call to war was successful. But it isn’t about logic, politics or power. It is about theater.”

    Salman Rushdie wrote a book. And the theatre is politcal theatre.

    “I agree with both the message and the method of the Trudeau strip. And the papers pulling the strip aren’t censoring in the sense that it is used here. In fact the paper pulling the strip is an expression of their free speech. I defend their right to pull the strip. Only the government can censor. But I am also critical of them for pulling them.”

    Censoring as an act of free speech, is still censorship. Trudeau’s cartoon was very political. I don’t know why it was pulled, was it that it was genuinely effective satire.

    If Charlie Hedbo were genuinely anti-authoritarian, they’d find themselves in conflict with the French authorities, they never do. Whereas people like Diuedonne and brown skinned French rappers do.

  18. “If Charlie Hedbo were genuinely anti-authoritarian, they’d find themselves in conflict with the French authorities, they never do. Whereas people like Diuedonne and brown skinned French rappers do.”

    Not necessarily. Because the French authorities could be selective in deciding which anti-authoritarian figures or media they repress, maybe on racist grounds for example.

  19. ” Salman Rushdie wrote a book. And the theatre is politcal theatre. ”

    As I keep saying anyone can find themselves on a hit list for reasons that have nothing to do with logic, politics or power. Rushdie probably got noticed because of his international acclaim and his connection to the Muslim world.

    ” Censoring as an act of free speech, is still censorship. ”

    No, no, no a thousand times goddammit no. This is one of the more pernicious misunderstandings of the freedom of speech. If I had a blog I get to decide who comments on the blog. I could decide to not allow you to comment for any reason or no reason at all. That power not only not a violation of your right of free speech but is an absolutely necessary component of my right to free speech. Same for any newspaper. They have no legal or moral requirement to publish anything they don’t want to. You can disagree with their choices for many reasons but the choice is theirs and the right to make that choice is at the core of free speech.

    ” If Charlie Hedbo were genuinely anti-authoritarian, they’d find themselves in conflict with the French authorities, they never do. Whereas people like Diuedonne and brown skinned French rappers do. ”

    Well first Charlie Hebdo isn’t responsible for the French governments actions. Does Hebdo support banning Diuedonne? I support Diuedonne’s free speech but what he has to say seems more vile than a cartoon of a magic man’s naughty parts. He seems to be a holocaust denier with a troubling obsession with Jews and an attraction to conspiracy theories. While he may be anti-establishment I don’t think you could call him anti-authoritarian. Should he be banned? No. But I would happily moon him in public.

    But more to the point It seems to me that Hebdo has constant legal problems. After all a previous version of the magazine was actually banned for making fun of the death of Charles De Gaulle.

    Look, Islam does not get to be a special snow flake simply because they are offended. That is true especially with so many willing to kill to achieve that special snowflake status. If it is legal to depict Paris Hilton being shoved up the ass of a homosexual prostitute or to display a picture of a cross immersed in piss then Islam has no cause to complain.

    Harsh criticism happens. With the practice of the Muslim religion being what it is they are going to attract some of the harshest criticism. They can take a closer look at themselves or they can continue their war against modernity. Their choice. People trying to grant them special snowflake status are not helping.

  20. s. wallerstein,

    “Not necessarily. Because the French authorities could be selective in deciding which anti-authoritarian figures or media they repress, maybe on racist grounds for example.”

    Race would play a part. But in any authoritarian system, you’ll find satire that appears to be anti-authoritarian. In Stalin era Soviet Union, you’ll find cartoons mocking Kolkhoz managers for their production of low quality goods, their deliberate fiddling of the Gosplan to fulfill their production quotas. (They may have a quota to produce a number of cows. They achieve the number, but the cows are starving and only skin and bone. This is what you’d see in a cartoon.) If a cartoonist crossed the invisible line, criticising Soviet leadership or even the actual system, they could find themselves executed for terrorism. Free speech was guaranteed by the Soviet constitution, but speech that could be interpreted to be terrorism, was just plain terrorism.

    PPnl, talks about the “state”. This is an idea that’s been pushed in America. That the state is somehow different or outside the rest of society. In the Fukuyamaist democracies (which are our liberal democracies) the state is the upper-middle-class, who control all the institutions both public and private; the press, the media, the actual departments of state, education, and even the remnants of the Church.

    The American “libertarian” anti-statism, which is heavily pushed by the likes of the Koch brothers, is to sucker the masses into allowing the removal of the one pesky little piece of the system of power that stands in the way of their absolute power, and absolute totalitarianism. And that is the masses occasionally do get to vote, and there are some laws protecting them from the rich.

    The public institutions have ostensibly public political power and the private institutions have private political power. The difference between the two kinds of institutions is not that one is democratic and the other isn’t. The public institutions are controlled by members of the upper-middle-class; who are employed on the basis of their social value (generally with just enough intellect to keep their self rewarding system ticking over). The private institutions are also funnily enough controlled by the same social class, but they tend to have someone like Rupert Murdoch who has a level of power granted by his “technical” ownership of the institution.

    This is the kind of system that Richard Rorty says is as good as it’s going to get. And Francis Fukuyama, the same. This is an optimistic kind of pessimism. An absolute pessimism would the Kochtopuss (Roughly 800 of America’s richest) getting what they want, and the fools who support them; exactly what they deserve.

    Back to the Franch and their censorship. There are lines that if you cross in France, they will try and get you. Michel Houellebecq, for example. He didn’t satirize the Kolkhoz manager, he satirized the entire system. There are impressionistic strokes on his character, Daniel, in The Possibility of an Island, that suggest Dieudonne (I’m not going to defend Dieudonne, but I have relatively good suspicions that everything he does is part of the gag).

    In French satire, you’re allowed punch down.

    Roman Gavras, is another figure in French culture. I was very disappointed by his film Notre jour viendra; a play on a slogan of the IRA; our day will come. The film is a mess, and Gavras dismissed it himself as a meaningless acid trip of violence. I realise now, that although he’s using absurdity to masked the political commentary within in the film, he felt he had to go further so the entire work could be dismissed as meaningless nonsense. He’s been in trouble before, with an unambiguous comment on the riots of 2005.

  21. JMRC,

    The U.S. constitution comes from the 18th century and at that time people justifiably feared the power of the king, that is, of the state. There weren’t any big corporations or huge media empires around in the 18th century, but since then the power of the banks, of what is referred to as “the markets”, of capital, of the media, etc., has expanded to such an extent that the reality pictured by late 18th century liberal thought seems a bit quaint at times.

  22. s. wallerstein,

    “The U.S. constitution comes from the 18th century and at that time people justifiably feared the power of the king, that is, of the state. There weren’t any big corporations or huge media empires around in the 18th century”

    There were giant corporations in the 18th century. The Honorable East India Company. Established in 1600, and very much like shareholder owned companies of today. It’s something that we imagine might be a nightmare in the coming future, but it’s something from the past, and its’ lessons are glossed over by those who’d like it to come again.

    The East India Company was a private company. The British government provided military muscle to back up its’ commercial activities. The company was the defacto government of India for a long time. It’s a little like, if you can imagine, Exxon getting the American military to invade Iraq, and then Exxon becoming the government of Iraq.

    The Dutch had a similar corporation. It’s only that the “model” is so disastrous, America today, or at some point, would have been governed by a PLC.

    But the idiotic ideology is still there, with people in government believing what’s good for their country’s corporations is good for their country, when the ownership these days is globally dispersed. And if it’s profitable, corporations work against the interests of their own countries.

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