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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 05:34pm on 10/01/2015
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. "
( Italics mine)

All over the internet, this sort of "thoughtful" article is popping up to explain why je ne suis pas charlie 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 The question of how far racist cartoons should or should not be published is not, in fact, a point that's even at at issue here because Charlie Hebdo was an anti-racist publication.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):

Evidently all these "thoughtful" commentators, including Feministing, took one look at the caricatures, clutched their pearls and rushed to the internet to declare that they don't wish to ally themselves with racists. Why look, those privileged white men even "punched down" so far as to target schoolgirls kidnapped by Boku Haram! What cowards! What racists!

But even a cursorary attempt to actually read the cartoon (google translate is your friend, people) reveals that trying to interpret it as an attack on Muslim "welfare queens" makes no sense. The pregnant women abducted by Boku Haram are saying "Hands off our benefits payments!" Does anyone really think Boku Haram pays benefits to its "sex slaves"? Of course not. Instead, the cartoon is satirising, via a grotesque exaggeration, the right-wing view that lumps all Muslim immigrants together as welfare scroungers regardless of their actual circumstances, people who would even believe (satirical exggeration warning!) that the Boku Haram girls deliberately went and got themselves pregnant so as to lay claim to French benefits.

Charlie Hebdo's "paper bullets" were directed at racist intolerance of immigrants, not at immigrants themselves. What about their disrespectful depictions of Mohammed? Here, too, it's worth abandoning the knee-jerk reaction that criticising religion = disrespecting underprivileged people's beliefs, and instead taking a look at at what Charlie Hebdo's targets actually were. Yes, they satirised violent Islamist fundamentalists. They satirised religious extremists of every stripe, including Christians and Jews. Their beef, however, was not with Mohammed himself, or even with Islam as such, but with the violence and oppression carried out in his name. This cartoon says a lot about their attitude:

If Mohammed came back...
Mohammed:"I'm the Prophet, you idiot!"
Jihadist: Shut your mouth, infidel!"

Their target was the brand of fundamentalist Islam that has given us IS and Boku Haram and Al Qaeda and the Taliban - organisations that terrorise and oppress their fellow Muslims to an unimaginably greater extent than they terrorise the West. In speaking up against these jihadist extremists, Charlie Hebdo did far more to show solidarity with their victims than any of these well-meaning bloggers who tell us jenesuispascharlie because they would never dream of punching down at brown people. But how is picking one of the world's major religions as a target - one whose adherents have already firebombed your offices, and made so many death threats that your editor is under police protection - not the very opposite of "punching down"? And it's not as if they restricted their criticism to Islam. This cover is from 2007:

The text says "Charlie Hebdo must be veiled". Is it still "Islamophobia" if you've made it your job to attack intolerance and bigotry in all the world's religions? The drawings are really cruel, I agree. And to someone coming across them for the first time, and choosing to ignore the Pope in that picture, they might well look racist. But that's the Charlie Hebdo house style. No-one looks good in their cartoons. Not even that wondrous flower of human civilisation, the English:

The text says "But who wants the English in Europe?" - a damned good question, if you ask me.

I understand that not everyone speaks French (I don't, for one). I understand that not everyone was familar with Charlie Hebdo's brand of satire (I wasn't). But I would really appreciate it if the next person planning to jump on their soapbox and explain to the world that it's important to "call out" those dead racists at Charlie Hebdo would take the time to educate themselves check their facts first. Because Charlie Hebdo WASN'T RACIST. Everyone is free to explain to the world why they prefer not to join in with the jesuischarlie action, but to justify that choice by claiming that the people who (literally) gave their lives in the fight against racism and intolerance were intolerant racists is agonisingly ironic.

Three of the more egregious examples:
There are 4 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
posted by [personal profile] whatistigerbalm at 08:20pm on 10/01/2015
This is a great post!
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 08:29am on 11/01/2015
Thanks. I was getting very irritated!
legionseagle: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] legionseagle at 07:29am on 12/01/2015
Oh, that annoyed me, too. Plus, it really missed the non-literal dimension of "Je suis Charlie" ("WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO BE CHARLIE? CHARLIE IS A RACIST TROLL" the author demanded). It's as if she'd said, "Look, Dr Donne, aren't you missing the point here? Clods are washed away from Europe all the time and you never complained about the problem of coastal erosion until it suited your agenda to do so. Also, the bell isn't tolling for me because, first, I'm not dead and, second, the guy it is tolling for was kind of a jerk."

Je suis Charlie because if you start saying "Well, these guys were shot at their desks while going about their daily job in an office in a European capital not in a war zone but look what they were doing in that office!" it sounds uncannily like "Well, what was she doing on that late bus in that skirt having had a few, anyway?"
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 12:03pm on 12/01/2015
She doesn't seem to have any grasp of metaphor whatsoever - "paper bullets" are bullets, therefore they kill just like real bullets; if you say "the pen is mightier than the sword" that means pens are actual weapons you can behead people with; and if you say "Je suis Charlie" you're saying you're a French magazine full of cartoons she (from a position of total ignorance) disapproves of.


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