Culture

The Problem With #JeSuisCharlie

By universalising this movement, we miss the specificity of Charlie Hebdo’s satire and its relationship to French politics and culture, and risk making the magazine stand for something it never has.

In the wake of the armed attack by self-proclaimed Islamic fundamentalists on the headquarters of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which left ten of its staff and two policemen dead, a global solidarity movement has spontaneously emerged across social media, grouped under the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.

The hashtag translates from the French as “I am Charlie”, and its thrust is pretty straight-forward: after a cowardly act of political violence, our freedom of speech needs to be vigorously defended, and the best way to do this is to propagate the irreverent, satirical message of Charlie Hebdo – to the extent that Index on Censorship have even called for publishers who support freedom of speech to republish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. (Some publishers have refused, for myriad reasons.)

Some specific examples of #JeSuisCharlie in action include Twitter users changing their avatars to images of the prophet Mohammed from the pages of Charlie Hebdo (a move calculated to provoke Muslims, as some adherents argue that Islam forbids pictorial representations of the prophet); the dissemination of cartoonists’ responses to the attack (even mistakenly attributing one response to Banksy, and claiming some that appeared years prior to the attack); and the production of endless think pieces that rehash the clash-of-civilisations, Islam-vs.-the-West’s-freedoms rhetoric with which we have all become depressingly familiar in the years following 9/11.

The core manouevre of #JeSuisCharlie is that of universalisation: today, this spontaneous movement says, we are all Charlie Hebdo. As a corollary, this one, specific event is not to be understood in its specificity, but as a synecdoche for broader issues: the confrontation between the liberal West and Islamic fundamentalism, the tension between freedom of the press and freedom of religion, or the necessity of restating classically liberal values in the face of terrorism.

The #JeSuisCharlie movement is correct to an extent: the very fact that this attack has garnered so much media attention outside of France indicates that it taps into a tangle of hot-button issues that currently cause concern across the Western world. But in its move towards universalisation, the #JeSuisCharlie movement elides much of the specificity of Charlie Hebdo’s satire and its relationship to French politics and French multiculturalism – all of which are without parallel in the political and cultural Anglosphere of the UK, the US, and Australia.

The differences between France and the English-speaking West are much deeper than the language (or the stereotypical skinny loaves of bread and pungent cheeses), and in the light of those differences we should pause before affirming that nous sommes tous Charlie Hebdo.

The untranslatability of Charlie Hebdo’s humour: Is it racist, or what?

This may sound so obvious as to be almost redundant, but it bears repeating: Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical magazine, therefore its satire doesn’t make much sense outside of the French context.

Take, for example, the cover of Charlie Hebdo’s issue of December 17 of last year (above), which depicts the parents of Front National politician Florian Philippot reading the French tabloid Closer. The headline translates as “Philippot’s parents shocked”, and the speech bubble as “We didn’t know he was extreme right”. The gag only makes sense if you know that Philippot was recently involved in a scandal on the pages of Closer when he was photographed with a secret gay partner (who has since confirmed that he and Philippot are dating).

But more than requiring a knowledge of the latest French political scandals, the Charlie Hebdo cover requires you to share their worldview: one where homosexuality is normalised, and membership in a far-right party such as Front National is scandalous. In fact, Charlie Hebdo’s editorial position is (or was) consistently left-wing – left-wing, that is, within the world of French politics.

This statement might be hard to square with what some have characterised as the overt racism of Charlie Hebdo’s imagery. For example, Charlie Hebdo published a caricature of the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira – who happens to be black – as a monkey.

The kind of imagery above would be completely beyond the pale of political discourse in the Anglophone world, and for good reason. So why was it used by Charlie Hebdo? The accompanying caption offers a clue: Rassemblement bleue raciste, a pun on the name of Rassemblement bleu Marine, a political coalition set up by far-right politician Marine Le Pen – who recently called the left-wing Taubira a “monkey”. The caricature therefore does something that few Anglophone cartoonists would dare attempt: it uses overtly racist imagery as a means of satirising racism.

Even the most patently offensive of the Charlie Hebdo covers that have been circulating on the internet in the wake of the attack – one depicting the Nigerian girls and women kidnapped by Boko Haram as pregnant welfare queens – has been read by observers in France as a satire of the paranoid fantasies of the far-right. (That the same cover was met with criticism for its Islamophobia within France demonstrates that French left-wing politics are not monolithic, just as left-wing politics around the world are not monolithic.)

The fact that Charlie Hebdo’s editorial position is left-wing within the world of French politics necessarily complicates any analysis of their imagery as purely and simply racist. Of course, left-wing people and self-described progressives are not immune from racism; Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail talks eloquently about the soft racism of the ‘white moderate’ being as much of an impediment to black freedom as the Ku Klux Klan. And I would personally argue that racist imagery is so loaded with an unsavoury history of racist use that it is nearly impossible to ‘reclaim’ in the service of anti-racist action – certainly not if deployed with the crudeness of Charlie Hebdo’s more offensive pieces. This is before we even consider the very important question of whether representing the prophet Mohammed in any form is needlessly antagonistic towards Sunni Muslims, whose interpretations of the hadith prohibit the pictorial representation of the prophet – or, as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put it, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”.

Progressive voices in the Anglosphere have interpreted the magazine as a bastion of racism, classism, and homophobia, without seeking to understand its context.

Yet in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, left-wing and progressive voices in the Anglosphere have interpreted the magazine as a bastion of racism, classism, and homophobia, without seeking to understand the magazine’s context. (Similarly, voices of the American right such as Larry O’Connor – who the profoundly left and secular Charlie Hebdo staff would have abhorred – have seen fit to declare solidarity with the magazine.) As Jeff Sparrow argues, “you don’t have to like the project of Charlie Hebdo to defend its artists from murder, just as you can uphold media workers’ right to safety without endorsing the imagery they produce.”

This seems especially salient when, owing to our immersion within the Anglophone political landscape, most of us are not even in a position to accurately decode Charlie Hebdo’s message, or understand its humour.

Islamophobia in France: a different beast

Unless you are an avid Francophile with a particular interest in its domestic politics, you might be forgiven for thinking that France is some kind of hotbed of Islamophobic sentiment. When stories about the relationship between French Muslims and the rest of the country’s citizens make the international news – such as the trial of Michel Houellebecq, riots in the banlieues of Paris, or the controversial burqa ban – the average French citizen is presented as someone who absolutely detests Islam and its adherents.

The truth is, as always, a little bit more complicated.

France, like any other pluralist country, contains a multitude of political platforms and positions, from the ultra-right reactionary Front National to a full-blown Socialist party powerful enough to currently hold the presidency. Among its citizens you will therefore find a diverse range of opinions about Islam, some as rabid as our own Pauline Hanson and some as tolerant as the most ardent Australian left-winger.

The last time I visited Paris was during last year’s Ramadan, the Islamic month of daylight fasting and evening feasting. And if I didn’t know it was Ramadan before I arrived, I couldn’t avoid discovering it while I was there: an advertising campaign by an importer of Middle Eastern foods (couscous, dates, etc.) wishing all and sundry a ‘bon Ramadan’ was plastered over seemingly every stop of Paris’s Métro. (Just imagine the collective pants-shitting from the Halal-funds-terrorism crowd that would accompany such a campaign here in Australia.)

Muslims make up a huge minority group in France, one much larger both proportionally and numerically than Australia’s Muslim community, at around five to six million adherents out of a population of 66 million, or just under 10% of the population (although French census law makes it impossible for anyone to know accurately). We do know for sure that France has the largest Muslim community in Western Europe. This alone changes the dynamic between the average non-Muslim French person and their Muslim French counterpart: where the average white Australian can live their lives without any significant contact with Australia’s relatively small Muslim community (2.2% of the population, according to the 2011 census), the average non-Muslim French person is more likely to live next door to or work with a Muslim.

This doesn’t mean France is some kind of harmonious wonderland: the recent electoral successes of the Front National ought to demonstrate that familiarity sometimes breeds contempt. But it does mean that a Muslim presence in France is accepted as a fact of life for most French people – in marked contrast to the ‘fuck off, we’re full’ crowd here in Australia, who seem to believe that an Islam-free Australia is both possible and desirable.

Liberté, egalité, fraternité: why French politics aren’t like ours

While Islamophobia in Australia is strongly associated with the political right – see: Hanson, Bernardi, Pell & co. – and tolerance of Islam with the political left, in France the issue is not so clear-cut. The French concept of laïcité – the absolute separation of church and state – is enshrined in French law and the constitution, to the extent that “bringing religion into public affairs [is] a major taboo.” (This strong prohibition is the reason why it is illegal for the French census to even measure the demographics of French religion.) Thus, even though by some accounts Catholics make up a majority of French citizens, the ground for political debate in the country is thoroughly secular. This means that debates that have gained traction around the world recently – to do with immigration, same-sex marriage, and other hot-button topics – often play out very differently in France than they do elsewhere. For instance, as Camille Robcis notes in a recent interview with Jacobin, even though the opposition to same-sex marriage in France is being led from the Catholic right, the arguments they deploy against same-sex marriage come from the radical left.

Similarly, the debate over the burqa in France had less to do with complete intolerance for Islam, and more to do with the question of integration: or, as Robcis puts it in her interview, whether the burqa “represented a fundamental attachment to a particular interest (Islam), a form of communitarianism fundamentally incompatible with France”. In this context it’s not impossible for a left-wing magazine such as Charlie Hebdo to be Islamophobic, nor for reactionary authors such as Houellebecq – who, let us not forget, was once sued for his previous statements about Islam – to imagine an alliance between Catholics and Muslims against the secular enlightenment philosophy that currently structures French political life.

None of this excuses Islamophobia in France – and it’s worth remembering that in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack vigilantes across France have attacked a mosque, an Islamic prayer hall, and a kebab shop – but it does mean that French Islamophobia is not the same thing at all as the Islamophobia with which we are familiar here in Australia. (For example: while publications around the world were keen to peg the 2005 banlieue riots to terrorism and jihad, in France the discussion was dominated by socio-economic issues.) The issue in France is not Islam itself, but its role in public life and whether certain cultural and religious practices are compatible with the universal principles of French republicanism.

How should we respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

One of the amazing things about the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks is how swift people have been – both in social media and elsewhere – to declare allegiances and draw battle lines. On the one hand we are being exhorted to show our support for freedom of speech by redistributing Charlie Hebdo’s content, even when we don’t have the contextual knowledge to properly understand that content. On the other, critics of Charlie Hebdo’s work have ignored the very specific French political context, and assumed that the magazine must have been a hotbed of right-libertarian racism, sexism, and homophobia.

How do we begin to understand something as complex as what appears to be an Islamic terrorist attack on a left-wing satirical journal, in a country whose politics fundamentally don’t resemble ours? We could start by resisting the temptation to make declarations of allegiance – to avoid the easy solution of shouting #JeSuisCharlie unless we’re absolutely certain that we are, in fact, of the same mindset as Charlie Hebdo. We could restate, as often as possible, the necessary message that there’s nothing contradictory about supporting freedom of the press, finding political violence abhorrent, and also finding Charlie Hebdo’s use of racist imagery (for whatever political end) repellent.

We could, most importantly, respect the dead by trying to understand where they were coming from, and resisting the urge to make Charlie Hebdo stand for something it never has.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor, who has written for  The AustralianThe Lifted BrowMeanjin and The Quietus amongst others.

Feature photo by Odd Anderson, via Getty.

Comments

Comments

  1. Dis Guise says:

    So, this site has just one thing to say about the murder of these journalists and policemen, and it’s about the culpability of the victims? For shame.

  2. Terry Wrist says:

    Lets not forget 12 people died, this looks like another fluff piece not willing to discuss the harsh reality : some cultures are inelastic, unwilling to be tolerant toward others or change opinion on even the most trivial matter.

  3. monkeytypist says:

    “French intellectual discourse is racist” is a pretty poor ~context~ if you ask me. Plus, where did all these young white men suddenly getting their Masters Degrees In What Is Racist from?

  4. Ben says:

    Are you sure you meant to comment on this article? Because that’s not what this article’s about. Also the police officer who was killed was a woman.

  5. Ian Thompson says:

    The “Je Suis Charlie” phrase also carries resonance with this poster from the May 68 uprising in Paris.

    When one of the movement’s leaders, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, was dismissed by the government as a ‘German Jew’, people started using the slogan on this poster: “We are all German Jews”.

    It is a great statement of standing in solidarity with someone – but it doesn’t necessarily mean you share the same ideas/identity. Hence “Je Suis Charlie” doesn’t have to mean we are of the same mindset as Charlie Hebdo – but that in this circumstance we stand in solidarity with them.

  6. Dis Guise says:

    The idea of proportionality is an important one in news, and making the argument is that Charlie was out off touch, and that people shouldn’t instantly identify with the their values is valid, but only after a sea of articles about other myriad aspects of this massacre, many of which are far more important. On this site there are none.

    Also your comment that ‘the police officer who was killed was a woman’ is incorrect. The police officer who was killed at the Charlie offices was a man, and the officer killed outside on the street outside was also a man. A policewoman was killed later in what has now been revealed as a related incident.

  7. BigTitan says:

    sort of like the #illridewithyou campaign…

  8. Blair says:

    This is just my point of view but I think that many people is joining the cause because of a deeper reason that you are missing and it´s called human rights: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Whether you agree with Charlie´s editorial line or not it´s a different matter, because let´s be real, in this era we see everyday a huge amount of images and messages like the ones they published, so you can destroy a paper if you don´t like it or just don´t pay attention to them if you see them while checking facebook, but how you restore a life? You can´t. They where polemic and all you mention above, yes, but It can happen to anyone who writes something that others don´t like. There are many examples of this all over the world (please, lets be open minded even if we don´t live in that country because in my case, I don´t live in a bubble and I don´t think that anyone does) with other extremist groups and not so extremist, so let´s face it, journalists live on the verge with every complicated article we write and there will always be someone who will not like it when we talk about politics or religion no matter how you write about it unless you are a journalist who born to lick other´s shoes and try to please the whole world. We all want to write, inform and investigate without having our rights cut off, live without fear, etc. Unfortunatelly in some places that doesn´t happen.

    “How do we begin to understand something as complex as what appears to be an Islamic terrorist attack on a left-wing satirical journal, in a country whose politics fundamentally don’t resemble ours?” (Let me tell you this that you like to criticize people, I´m from South America, Argentina to be exact and I´ve been living in Australia among journalists for a while and I loved it but when I told them I was from Argentina only 2/10 knew where in the map Argentina was, and some of them thought It was some part of Europe)

  9. Lar Quigley says:

    We are all Charlie because we are not afraid to speak our mind and write it down. The only people who are not Charlie are the ones who stay quiet in fear. We are all Charlie because sometimes we may offend others by what we say.

    All newspapers and journalists (satirists or not) will offend someone with their writings and art. The whole point of being a writer is to raise eyebrows and issues that some will not want to be raised and some will find offensive . Charlie Hedbo raised eyebrows and issues. If they were enciting hatred and war then it should have been banned or censored by the French laws it comes under and Muslim groups could have complained or taken them to court.

    Just because someone has a religious belief doesn’t mean those who don’t follow the religion have to take heed. I eat pork and beef while that would be an offence to some religions. Being gay is a sin in most religions that doesn’t mean that they have a right to impose their beliefs on gay people. We are trying to end religion in the governing of western democracies. Anyone who claims to kill another human being because of a religious belief is trying to end our democratic way of life and that is why we should make a stand with the writers of Charlie Hebdo.

  10. Caroline Thompson says:

    I think that #jesuisCharlie is a completely defensible way to express solidarity with the people who died over free speech, so I don’t completely agree with this article.

    The only thing that bothers me is when people retweet/repost Hebdo covers. In that case you aren’t promoting free speech–you’re promoting satire that you probably don’t understand and may not necessarily agree with.

    Saying what you want to say, and adding #jesuisCharlie is as far as you should be going in terms of solidarity.

  11. brian boru says:

    i don’t really find that article particularly enlightening. The author states the obvious in his analysis of satire being specific to local politics, and assumes a position of enlightening us, that perhaps we cannot understand french politics.
    The issue that is far more important and is central to this, and one which the author skirts around, is indeed not about local politics, but about a certain group’s propensity to carry out acts of violence universally and indeed kill people who do not adhere to their school of thought, infantile as it may be.
    Their target was symbolic, one that could be understood by all, it was symbolic as Charlie Hedbo’s views (which at times could be viewed as infantile also, and indeed very offensive) are abundantly clear and the message from the killers was clear, that if you have these opinions, or any that offend our world view you deserve death and will receive it at the hands of the righteous.
    The killers had no interest in the finer nuances of french politics, the message was not about fighting for the oppressed (as many Muslims in France and other places are, and indeed equally as many non Muslims are, and as many Muslims oppressed by Muslims in Muslim majority countries, non Muslims elsewhere etc etc etc), it was to silence those that offend their religion.
    Of course their is a larger backdrop to the whole thing, but the central philosophy here was that killing opposition to their way of thought and their religious doctrines is righteous.
    In that sense, and as ill thought as it may be by some, the tag JeSuisCharlie, is appropriate to all, not in the sense that we must share the opinions of Charlie Hebdo, but that we should share the right to have opinions without fearing that our lives are at risk and that we may die at the hands of others (whatever their creed) for having opinions or thoughts, or indeed logic that differs from theirs. I don’t think that is an overly simplistic view at all, and none of the points the author raises should alter that in the slightest.
    I find one part particularly troubling’.
    “This is before we even consider the very important question of whether representing the prophet Mohammed in any form is needlessly antagonistic towards Sunni Muslims, whose interpretations of the hadith prohibit the pictorial representation of the prophet – or, as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put it, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”.”
    Are we to live our lives dictated to by religious dogma?
    Must we be sensitive and careful that anything we say or do or think might be offensive to a worldview based on a magic book ?
    Should others being offended curtail our right to express opinions ?
    Are we to just accept that certain views cannot be challenged, should we accept prohibitions from others, should we curtail our own expressions of thought ?
    Must we ask ourselves, as the author suggests, whether expressing our own thoughts artistically is needlessly antagonistic to someone elses notion of what is acceptable (based not on reason but purely dictated by an inherited dogma), that it is antagonistic to have opinions ?
    Is that really an ‘important question’ ?
    Are we to live our lives in a fashion that we feel that it is not ‘intelligent’ to have opinions that differ from others, or behave in a way that is guided by our intellect, our logic, our own free will and free minds, that to do so is to ‘pour oil on the fire’ ?
    I suppose that we are now living in a world where to do so risks being executed, so maybe Laurent Fabius is right.

  12. Jon Stone says:

    Oh wonderful. Anything that doesn’t come out banging the us vs them drum is a ‘fluff piece’. Fuck you – you’re not helping.

  13. Terry Wrist says:

    over a dozen people dead and all junkee has got to say on the matter is “yeah, but they were racist!”.Fuck you and this parody newsfeed.

  14. Molly McCarthy says:

    Je suis Charlie. Not because I support what is said (or drawn) but the RIGHT to do such things without being killed for it.

  15. Pierre Goyard says:

    This is maybe the most clever and understanding article about the present situation so far. Thank you for explaining our complexity so clearly.

  16. TZ says:

    one of the police officers that died was muslim…

  17. Victor Laiviera says:

    I don’t care what Charlie Hebdo is or is not. I care only about the fact that a publication was targeted and physically attacked because it printed something (whatever it was) that was distasteful to a section of the population. That is the ONLY fact that matters. All else is detail – often confusing detail.

  18. Alessandra says:

    You say: We are all Charlie because we are not afraid to speak our mind and write it down.===
    I take a different view – you are all quite hypocritical and you hate freedom of speech just like anyone else. Scrap all those ridiculous repressive laws against freedom of speech in the form of “hate speech” laws (the name Westerners give to blasphemy) and come talk to me about supporting freedom of speech. And while you’re at it, scrap all laws against speech that is deemed to violate privacy in France as well. Freedom of speech means freedom of speech. You people hate it just the same as any Imam or idiot.
    I think the problem of freedom of speech is very complex and I don’t have all the answers, but most Charlie supporters are the opposite of what they claim – they are narrow-minded about true freedom of speech and they certainly don’t defend it and never will.

  19. Alessandra says:

    Thanks for this article – I think it is very informative even if I don’t altogether agree. But it was the best attempt that I have seen so far to explain the sorry French left mindset of Charlie to outsiders in a more complex way. In all this “I defend freedom of speech” circus, my 20 cents is that “hate speech” is the name given to blasphemy in the West – you are punished and go to prison just the same, even if the state can’t kill you (overtly).

    On Tuesday, by the way, a French cartoonist is to go on trial for his speech in France. Contrary to many people, I don’t see the Charlie cartoonists or the French or the West as any great defenders of freedom of speech. And given that it is one of the most fundamental issues in any society though, it is a pity that our mass media don’t have more intelligent debates on the matter.

    Maybe one silver lining in this tragedy is that there may be a bit of debate as a result, as I have had the opportunity to read now several very thoughtful articles and opinion pieces taking on multiple aspects involved in the Charlie Hebdo incident.
    But first things first, scrap away with these “hate speech” censorship laws and then come tell me how much people support freedom of speech in the West.

  20. Jon Stone says:

    That’s not what this article says.

  21. Gordon Freeman says:

    This article is proof you do not need to be from a country to write about it with balance and hindsight. Thank you for finding the words we French people have trouble finding in a foreign language.
    I want to just make a small correction: Marine Le Pen is not stupid enough to have publicly compared a black person to a monkey. A minor member of her party did, and was promptly excluded from it – because Marine Le Pen’s Front National actually wants to take power and knows it needs respectability for that, not that kind of controversy.

  22. Clara says:

    I’d like to thank you cause you’re one of the very few who tried to understand what Charlie Hebdo was.
    Yes, Charlie Hebdo is flawed but racist it was not.
    They were crude and irreverant and secular but they also were good people.

  23. Terry Wrist says:

    The silver lining is Le Pen getting elected in a landslide at the next election.

  24. Maggie Leung says:

    I absolutely agree that the entire social-political context for both the work in Charlie Hebdo and France is not immediately comprehensible to an outsider like myself. However coming from Hong Kong, I empathize the agony of the local in France, having one of our own journalists in town almost chopped to death last year and an increasingly severe censorship. Charlie Hebdo is powerful precisely because it’s particular to its local context, and I believe something unique is always, universal.

  25. Aust1900 says:

    I don’t need to understand the complexity, or the nuance. That is not to dismiss that there are complexities and nuances that are part of the fabric – in the very first instance I would rather people were not murdered for writing or drawing. Je Suis Charlie

  26. Mark Jackson says:

    Je Suis Gaza.

  27. Mark Jackson says:

    Yeah, apparently no article can exist on Junkee without feverish far-right spin/agitprop by ‘Terry’.

    At least, he seems to make sure that’s the case.

  28. Alessandra says:

    Because if they had been hauled to prison instead of being shot then it would be OK with you?

  29. Alessandra says:

    Given how little difference there is between Le Pen, Sarkozy, and Hollande, people may not even notice the change if it should happen. After all, it’s clear that between you and Charb, who represents the tatters of the French left, there’s very little difference.

  30. Ursula says:

    Very good.

  31. Max Sarrazin says:

    Yes, you are right. Hedbo is left-wing. That explains why such a massive outpouring of sympathy and praise was lavished upon it. Had Hedbo been right-wing, then the universal praise wold not have been forthcoming. Indeed, Hedbo would have “had it coming” were they right wing, just as Pim Fortuyn ,murdered in the street for airing anit-islamic views, had it coming, according to the media of the time.

    And then there is the incident of 1995. In 1995, Hedbo called for the ban of Front National. Why a group who calls for a party to be banned is praised for its free speech is beyond comprehension.

    Meanwhile in France, and the entire western world, views that are actually controversial are banned, and the left don’t seem to care. For example, you can’t question the holocauast in France. You can be arrested in France for “being a racist”.

  32. KoreanKat says:

    “the tension between freedom of the press and freedom of religion”

    The only “tension” lies in the mind of those who feel religion is entitled to exist free of public critique or ‘offense’. This baseless, but disturbingly common sentiment, is emblematic of the abandonment of the Enlightment by many self-satified “tolerant” leftists.

    What is disturbing is how this article shows so much nuance in looking at Charlie Hebdo’s oeuvre, yet slaps around political labels and a term like “Islamophobia” without any reflection.

  33. xXneoshadow . says:

    Yes, people died and one of them was a muslim. You say islam is inelastic, I say if you put a stick in my eye, I will gouge yours. There are red lines which are not to be crossed for every person and this magazine have stepped onto one of the biggest red lines in Islam. Why did you vote for abuse of free speech while ignored the intolerance of religion? Practicing your beliefs is a universal human right and you excluding Islam in particular is concerning.

    This is by no means trivial, the magazine intended to criticize extremists but angered all muslims. If they drew other than religious figures, no one would care. In fact, if this magazine had any wisdom, it would have served it’s goal of humor while avoiding this massacre since they have been sued before in 2006, protested against in 2011 and 2012 for these tasteless drawings.

    This incident did nothing but spread islamophobia, all thanks to these reckless minority and the ignorance of the world. I can’t help but to question the motives of those who protest, are they protesting against the violence?

    Did they condemn the acts of violence taken against muslims after the incident?

    Are they protesting against Islam? If so, why didn’t they protest against other religions when extremists attacked?

    Are they protecting the freedom of speech or protecting their rights to attack others?

    Or are they being herded by the media through emotions rather than reason?

  34. tonton101 says:

    I agree with Alessandra. “Je Suis Charlie” is a reductive take on a far more complex issue. From a U.S. perspective, a publication like, say, the New York Times could never print an image of Obama as a monkey even in the vein of satire.I mean what are people really protesting when they say “Je Suis Charlie”? It is not, as you say, the right to “speak our mind and write it down.” This is a deceit because no working state permits such an ideal. I will be the first to admit that I hate freedom of speech because there are things said by certain people that I would gladly have censured. And the irony of it all is that I am validated by the pillars of western law, which wholly support my restrictive ideals.

  35. tonton101 says:

    This sort of position is untenable because your only objection to censure is the method; namely murder. We have many laws that permit speech of many kind that people willingly accept without complication. The blood spilled is deplorable but we should definitely caution our use of “Je Suis Charlie,” especially in regard to it being some tagline of “freedom of speech.”

  36. tonton101 says:

    Great article. Freedom of speech is a necessarily complex issue that is unfortunately diluted by this reductive “Je Suis Charlie” statement.

  37. SocraticGadfly says:

    Good piece. I think that “social justice warrior” types, especially, in the Anglophone world, simply and simplistically refuse to try to understand these things.
    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-sjw-world-trolls-on-charliehebdo.html

  38. You go wrong very high up in your piece by deciding that “Je suis Charlie” is meant to declare that the best way to defend free speech is “to propagate the irreverent, satirical message of Charlie Hebdo….” As you can tell from many of the comments already made, you got this very wrong. Ian Thompson traces “Je suis Charlie” to Cohn-Bendit and the ’68 student uprising—an uprising in which I was fortunate to participate, although very peripherally, attending a couple of unruly marches on the Left Bank. I would take it back further—to the way in which the Danes refused to allow the occupying Germans in World War II to separate Jewish Danes from all other Danes. By standing together with the Jews of Denmark, the non-Jewish Danes sparked one of the great legends of all time — the powerful myth that the Germans demanded that Danish Jews wear a yellow star of David and, from the King of Denmark down, all the Danish people responded by wearing yellow stars. The story is both factually untrue and morally accurate. In fact, the Danes made it impossible for the Germans to isolate the Danish Jews. This meant the Germans could not kill the Danish Jews because even the Germans knew they could not kill all the Danes. When I say “Je suis Charlie,” I am simply voicing my intent to make it impossible for mad murderers to isolate their intended victims from the rest of civil society. I think we all are simply saying we will not permit such isolation to happen. We are not endorsing any particular headline or cartoon; we are not advocating irreverence or satire. We are simply standing up for the proposition that we believe in free expression as a foundation of civilization and we will not separate ourselves from those who are targeted for what they say by murderous extremists. We will stand together, we are saying. First, because it is the right thing to do. Second, because, as King Christian X of Denmark wrote in his diary, if we don’t resist the murders of journalists or Jews or whoever they come after first, the rest of us will be next.

  39. collie says:

    thanks for the article, Muslims make up 8% of Frances population according to a study published in the wake of the attack on the magazines offices. Free speech is one thing. However we don’t live in lawless lands. We live in places where we protect the weak from bullying and abuse French or other wise. CBH is a hate filled rag. It’s been taken to court for anti jewish sentiment and they fired one of their writers for anti semetic jokes, after the prime ministers son switch to the Jewish faith. So there is a massive hypocrisy there. I am not Charlie. I am for freedom of respect, even for the poor hate filled guys who where shot to death in CBH offices. I live in France, I have an idea about the culture here. Thanks for your article. It’s very difficult to speak freely at the moment.

  40. Anna says:

    This is how I understood the JeSuisCharlie hashtag:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8h_v_our_Q

  41. Henri de Feraudy says:

    Probably the best article I have seen on the subject so far.

  42. jwbaumann says:

    Je suis malade de cette idiotie. The issue is not so much Charlie Hebdo and one’s disagreement with its methods or politics. It is not the murders. It is not the Islamic violence. The issue is that Muslims intend to rule France with Shariah, which means that all free expression (expression outside the bounds of Shariah) will be legally prohibited. This would be the absolute end of western/French/enlightenment civilization. If not #JeSuisCharlie, #NousSommesTousDhimmi or #NousSommesTousMorts.

  43. Hubert says:

    Why should any cartoonist go to prison? The Quran does not forbid representations of Muhammed. That is just one of the many Hadiths–most of which, I feel, did not come from him. And so what if were in the Quran. The bible (Leviticus) tells you to kill your son if he is fractious. Does one do that?

    During Mayor Guiliani’s reign a museum in New York featured a bronze statuette of Christ being peed upon. Christians were in an uproar over its display, but it continued to be displayed and was not outlawed. I was offended, but so what??.

  44. threecorneredvoid says:

    Hi Chad, given the lengths to which this article goes (along with a few others I’ve read) to provide context for people outside France on “gouaille” and the French satirical tradition within which Charlie Hebdo operated, I think it would be worth passing on a link to an alternative view.

    Below is a link to a screed written by a former employee of Charlie Hebdo, dated December 2013, in which he bitterly discusses the magazine’s change of direction following 9/11, and what he views as its relentless Islamophobia. In his piece he makes reference to several examples from the magazine that seem to have been passed over by the popular debate.

    http://posthypnotic.randomstatic.net/charliehebdo/Charlie_Hebdo_article%2011.htm

    I don’t endorse what he says (it’s a difficult read in fact), but it does seem to cast some doubt on the certainty of Charlie Hebdo’s exoneration from charges of racism under the banner of gouaille. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you read this rather late comment.

  45. Al O says:

    Ummm, because the right to attack others and lampoon religions, religious figures, or religious adherents is a vital part of what freedom of speech and freedom of the press mean.

    This doesn’t mean that those actions should be free from criticism. In fact, quite to the contrary. The response to speech you don’t like is always more speech – information or pictures you don’t approve of answered by those you do. “Red lines” defended by reason, or simply by ignoring those who cross them, but not by threats. Criticism and counter-criticism, and mockery and counter-mockery are the very stuff from which an active public commons is made.

    But criticism by Kalashnikov kills the commons along with its human victims. It leaves us all poorer, dumber, and more isolated, and in the end leaves those with the most guns, or willing to threaten the most violence, in charge of what we are allowed to say, allowed to read, and allowed to know. If we are limited by “holy” targets or “red lines” or fear of offending
    lest we be killed, then our freedom isn’t really “free” in any
    meaningful way at all.

    Almost all of these articles seem to me to ignore the history and evolution of the freedoms of speech and the press. They were won, particularly in France, through a battle with several forces, the most powerful of which was organized Christianity. The right to analyze, criticize, and even mock, the church and religious figures freely was hard-won, and was one of the most important victories of enlightened thought. The Charlie Hebdo dead, whatever their politics, whoever they offended, are only the latest losses in this cause. To retreat now in the face of violence would be to give up some very hard-won ground and would be a setback of freedom for everyone, not only in France or the west, but throughout the world.

  46. Alessandra says:

    You don’t understand the French system – the French govt doesn’t kill people for speech (at least not overtly), but it does haul them to prison, or fines them so heavily as to make them shut up. So they try to destroy the person without killing them if they don’t like their speech. Why should the govt do this? Indeed, they shouldn’t. Why should anyone, not just cartoonists, be punished for expressing their opinions? Thus the ridiculous level of hypocrisy of the French with their Charlie Hebdo hysterical demonstration. The French Left and Right hate freedom of speech as much as the next imam.

  47. Hubert says:

    Allesandra
    Might you give an example of this French hatred for free speech.?

  48. Lionel Job says:

    An excellent piece that should be read by any anglo-saxon trying to understand what happened in Paris. Bravo.

  49. CommonSense says:

    For those that say supporting Hebdo can happen without supporting the clear offensive messages, is like someone in the 40’s telling a Jewish person that they support and celebrate the nazi troops, but not their actions….when did it become ok to blatantly offend people and then claim it’s your “right” to do so? I wonder, why these same people would never use derogatory “free speech” towards a police officer….oh that’s right…..because they know better :-)

  50. xXneoshadow . says:

    Look, I never said that the violent response was right. What I said is insulting the religion is wrong whereas criticizing the followers rightfully is allowed.

    When you criticize a follower rightfully with reason/logic you could possibly get the maximum agreement from people of the same religion.

    When you insult their God or Prophet you receive none.

    Providing a chance for those who don’t even follow the religion correctly to attack you physically or even kill you is undoubtedly wrong.

    If it was the leader of the terrorists I will definitely agree but remember that believing in God and the prophets are part of what makes a Muslim.

    It takes seconds to google if this is received well by Muslims. There are Muslims in France as well that are willing to answer such questions.

    It’s wrong to insult the sacred while it is encouraged to rationally criticize terrorists.

    And since you’re a person who appreciates logic, It will be pleasant explaining my point.

    When a person accepts a religion, he accepts what he finds a way to achieve peace with oneself and/or others. He basically accepts a collection of laws that govern his life thus a collection of thoughts. It becomes part of his identity so any insult to him is an insult this human but any insult to the sacred is an insult to all the followers of the religion.

    He is free to do whatever he wants until he harms himself or someone else then he is rightfully punished. However, punishing all those who believe in his religion is morally wrong. If the religion encourages such harm then providing logical evidence is the solution since such religions do not hold the test of time.

    The logical evidence that you provide should not be slain simply by a follower of that religion who provides a logical explanation in five minutes because they already know such arguments.

    For an outsider, he should look at the requirements of the religion and study them carefully to detect any contradictions.

    However, this seeker of truth should not provide evidence from his culture. Insulting the sacred is prohibited since it’s a battle of thoughts and any emotional barriers will only hinder the mission.

    If he detected such contradictions he should ask someone who has been acknowledged by the followers for their wisdom and knowledge. If they see the wisest is incapable of responding to a logical question then you’ve struck gold. Keep doing this to other wise people then you’ll see people doubting their beliefs.

    If they respond with anger then it’s frustration for their inability to respond. This is only temporary and either they’ll think of a response or they’ll consider drastic changes.

    If they immediately started to pierce his body with bullets then it’s war.

    If people are actively hostile then you have the right to banish them from your country. On the other hand, banishing the innocent is not.

    The problem with the media is labels. When a jew or a christian kills then he is a terrorist. When a muslim kills he is an Islamist or possibly but very unlikely a terrorist since Islam is just another word for terror.

    If Saudi Arabia considers them as terrorists, then there’s some thinking here is missing.

    undoubtedly, this is a gain for the world as it will awaken those who seek enlightenment. People are slowly realizing that respect for all religions is important just as they slowly realized racism is wrong.

    If you are a person of logic then I highly encourage a faithful study of Islam. You won’t lose anything. In fact, it will help you understand the ever growing population of Muslims.

    If you’re a scientist, then you’ll appreciate the exposure to a religion that sees seeking knowledge is a way to get closer to The Almighty God.

  51. Al O says:

    But I am not a religious person. In fact, I am more or less anti-religious. I don’t believe in your god (or any gods) or your prophet, and in fact I think the whole concept of gods and prophets is irredeemably silly and an enormous impediment to human progress and advancement.

    However, I believe in your right to worship whatever gods or believe in whatever prophets you choose, free of any restriction, threats, or coercion, and your right to say (or not say) whatever you wish about your beliefs. I equally believe in my right to believe, or not to believe, in what I choose, and to express myself about my beliefs, including things that others may feel is “sacred” or my find insulting. Also free of any restriction, threats, or coercion.

    In fact, that right is one of the centerpieces of any modern, pluralistic, enlightened society. The killers at Charlie Hebdo, or your injunction against speaking about “sacred” things in a way that could offend, both stand as attempts to put out the hard-won light of that enlightenment that allows us to express ourselves and our beliefs freely.

    Your argument is really just a matter of degree. And at the end of any such argument is always an explicit or implicit “or else”. Think or express yourself in ways that are acceptable to us, or someone (although certainly not me!) will take violent action to shut you up. And that violence is on your head for speaking in such a disrespectful way – you should have just shut up in the first place and this never would have happened. This is simply an unacceptable argument in the modern world for anyone who supports human freedom.

    And it’s not just for the west or westerners. It is part of a centuries-long struggle for human freedom, one that has mostly prevailed in France and the west, but is still ongoing, and vitally necessary, in the Middle East and throughout the world.

  52. xXneoshadow . says:

    Too many contradictions. Either my English is not conveying my messages or you’re not respecting me.

    Read my comment. Read it not skim through it. Absorb every thought and analyze what I said. Think of what you said. Did it make sense?

    “Silly”. You’re not being careful. Through this word you let your arrogance seep in.
    What this word implied to me is this:”My thinking is pure, purer than trying to understand other people’s way of life, Purer than respecting them and their way of life. Purer than trying to guide them to the enlightenment that I appreciate. It is so pure, I will not allow these religion followers to defile my light.I will silence them through profanity and emotions instead of logic and proof. Truly, this is the very essence of enlightenment.”

    You’ve discarded psychology.

    Imagine this:

    1- I came to you and said “your ideology is full of ****” and ran away.

    2- I came to you, introduced my self, “Good afternoon. May I ask about what you believe in?”. You answer yes. You say you don’t believe in any religion.I ask why. You respond they harm progress by encouraging an imbalance between logic and emotions. I reply:” I agree to a certain point. There’s one religion that provides balance in every aspect of life”.
    “But I don’t believe in God”
    “Well, since you’re a person of logic, I’m sure you appreciate science. In science, there are laws that are negative statements which are accepted by millions because they haven’t been disproved and are logical. God has challenged all of humanity to create a single chapter that rivals the mastery of language in his book and the shortest chapter has only three verses. This challenge is over 1400 years and even the strongest of poets couldn’t do it. In his book you’ll find the atom, the movement of the earth, the expansion of the universe and many more.”

    “I still don’t believe in God”
    “There’s no compulsion in religion”
    You and I go in our separate ways.

    My answer is tailored according to your beliefs to make you consider changing your views.

    I’m sure you see the difference. Which is more civilized and a sign of human intellect? You’re forgetting the fact there’s a law against anti-semitism and left behind all religions. Even if there’s law against hate speech , the judge is bound by degree. What’s hate speech to you is different than hate speech to me. If you killed your emotions and your sense of dignity then that’s none of my concern but don’t force it on others.

    I’m aware that it is impossible for us to know every single religion but be careful of what you say. You expressed an opinion not fact and you as a rational individual must tolerate the consequences of the expression you made. Wearing the hijab and the niqab is done out of free will, and yet the law prohibits the way we obey The Almighty God. If you don’t know about the subject then don’t talk about it.

    Terrorists deceived good willed people and used them for their crimes. This is evident in that they were living a life drowned with desires until they saw light in Islam. And any human who embraced a religion that made his life meaningful will boil at the sight of any insult. The terrorists stripped context and abused religion and used them to kill Charlie Hebdo. Any religion can be used to further terrorism. Just like you when your people use the “sword verse” out of context to further ignorance and hate.

    I’ve read many articles which made me cringe. Too many.

    I have talked to many persons about this incident. Many refused to use their brains. I’ve talked to an Atheist who refused to prove his claims. I’ve talked to two SJWs who live in their bubble of “right”. They respected Shakespeare’s but not each other’s. But I have talked to a good soul who spoke to me like any civilized person. I have talked to non-Muslims. I have talked to persons. And I described each by their expressions.

    What did you tell me about you?

    Be careful of the light you seek. You might be lured by it’s brilliance only to be devoured by it’s flames and reduce you to ash.

    أشهد أن لا اله الا الله واشهد ان محمدا عبده ورسوله .

  53. YouFO says:

    and to you too Diamond

  54. S.M. Stirling says:

    The reason to reprint the covers is precisely -because- they’re offensive; it conveys a simple message. “Your feels = your problem.” Nobody’s obliged to make you feel good.

    Freedom of speech is meaningless unless it includes the right to offend, to throw crap on everything you consider holy (and in your face) and pile coals of fire on your head 24/7. Nice polite consensus speech needs no protection.

    Hence the necessity to defend things like “Piss Christ”. Which was a deliberately provocative exercise in deliberate blasphemy,

    The big difference, of course, is that it requires no particular courage to offend Christians these days; they’re not likely to shoot you down while shouting “Viva Christos Rey” these days.

    The only real reason anyone’s worrying about Muslim “sensitivities” is, of course, fear.

  55. S.M. Stirling says:

    Dude, freedom of speech -is- the right to attack, in a verbal and symbolic sense.

    Satire is never intended to make the target laugh. It’s intended to make the target -hurt- by making others laugh -at- them.

  56. S.M. Stirling says:

    Dude, you’re not getting the basic point. I’m under no obligation to respect your feelings (or you, personally) or to be reticent about your “sacred” things. I’m perfectly free to mock them, and you, and if you feel bad about that… that’s your problem and none of mine. You get the point here?

  57. Austin Wonaeamirri says:

    I know you want to make people think everyone you don’t like is somehow Diamond Joe, the epicentre of your fixation, but he’s not Diamond Joe either, any more than I am.

    Again, I’ve notified Junkee about your harassment of Mark and me today, and let them know that there’s very little chance you’re posting on Junkee for any genuine reason, that the only purpose is to harass us, that you’ve been banned from Independent Australia for harassing Diamond Joe in the same way, as well as the harassment and threatening posts of yours towards Green Lantern on the Renew Economy site.

  58. S.M. Stirling says:

    Dude, the right to offend is what free speech IS. You can reply… with speech. Religions are ideology and fair game for satire, mockery and contempt whenever anyone wants to employ them. Again, your feelings = your problem.

  59. S.M. Stirling says:

    There is no freedom of respect. Nobody is under the slightest obligation to respect anyone, or anything.

  60. xXneoshadow . says:

    Then why we teach children manners anyway if that’s of no importance? Why is there philosophy of ethics or psychology if we didn’t care? Isn’t that similar to bullying? Humiliating and verbally abusing people to the point of suicide is justified now?

    I am against religious discrimination because if they are not harming anyone then I have no business in attacking their religion. Religion isn’t the only thing to talk about you know?

    They are functioning normally as members of society. You’re acting like it’s a defect of some sort. I am not obligated to respect the arrogant and the inhumane. You’re forcing your belief on me and restrain my right in believing in something else. Insult is the coward’s tool to get away with the inability to provide proof and discuss like any rational being.

    It astonishes me the inability to understand that the approach of the Al-Qaida and IS to Islam is incorrect and civilians who do approach the religion correctly are getting most if not all the hate generated by their acts.

  61. xXneoshadow . says:

    I thought freedom of speech is the right to speak against oppression.

    I chose attack specifically because it symbolizes irrationally and the inability to think of the consequences.

    Satire is an art form that requires choosing your audience correctly and see what accomplishes your goals. The depictions of the religions were not in anyway respectable.