Let me open with a quote:
"I'd argue that Charlie Hebdo was already shooting at French Muslims. The editor has been saying things like "Newspapers aren't weapons of war" and "Pencils aren't weapons", which is incredibly disingenuous; words have been constructed as weapons for thousands of years. 'The pen is mightier than the sword' recognises that words are weapons; Napoleon said "Newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets"; Abraham Lincoln said Harriet Beecher Stowe started the Civil War with her book. Inciting race hatred against a group is attacking them, it is creating an environment that wants to kill them. I do think responding to paper bullets with lead bullets is Bad, but the construction where the newspaper was sitting haplessly around until some deranged gunmen burst in ignores that Charlie Hebdo was working to kill French Muslims.
All over the internet, this sort of "thoughtful" article is popping up to explain why je ne suis
and attempting to articulate why the fact that a group of cartoonists were murdered for satirising Islam doesn't mean that we should approve of their racist, offensive cartoons, which were deliberately published in order to cause harm to the already marginalised Muslim community. That they were, in fact, a bunch of privileged racist white guys who were "punching down" at "brown people", shooting at them with "paper bullets", actively "killing brown people" by increasing Islamophobia, and therefore that, though they shouldn't have been murdered, they also shouldn't have published those cartoons in the first place. This is undoubtedly a debate worth having - how far free speech should be allowed to go is, and will always be, a contentious issue, and as one person on metafilter observed, publications like Charlie Hebdo are the canary in the coalmine that show how far we can actually exercise the freedoms of speech we supposedly have.
But what is getting me increasingly het-up about these oh-so-well-intentioned occupying-the-moral-high-ground articles is that they are coming from a place of complete ignorance. The question of how far racist cartoons should or should not be published is not, in fact, a point that's even at at issue here because Charlie Hebdo was an anti-racist
publication. For crying out loud, when those people were shot, they were sitting in a meeting organising an anti-racist conference.
They had been dedicated anti-racists for so long that one of the murdered cartoonists, Cabu, actually gave mainstream French culture the word that is used to skewer small-minded racists (boeuf
, short for beau-frère
). Another, Georges Wolinksi, supported EU membership for Turkey and was described thus by Turkish journalist Ertuğrul Özkök: "He was never the enemy of any Muslim. On the contrary, he was one of the loudest voices supporting Muslim immigrants in France." Their cartoons, about whose racism so many non-Francophone commenters are busily pontificating, are not satirising Muslim immigrants, they are satirising appalling right-wing prejudices about immigrants. If Charlie Hebdo was racist, Stephen Colbert is a Republican.
Take the "infamous" Boku Haram cartoon (one of "Charlie Hebdo’s many inarguably
racist caricatures of Muslims[...] depicting the schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram as welfare queens" according to Feministing. Italics mine):( Read more... )