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January 7, 2015

Juan Cole on the Charlie Hebdo murders
Posted by Patrick at 02:48 PM * 149 comments

Specifically, on why al Qaeda targeted a bunch of satirists and cartoonists.

Hint: It had nothing to do with outraged piety.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

I never cease to be amazed at how many people, including thoughtful, intelligent friends of mine, look at political events without ever considering the possibility that some actors might be doing things for reasons other than those they declare. My guess is that we’ve all become so chary of the dreaded wrongthink of “conspiracy theory” that we no longer have the common sense to extrapolate our everyday knowledge that people lie a lot into the world of larger affairs.

Back to Cole’s theory: Of course, it’s hard to imagine where Al Qaeda (or ISIS, or Name-Your-Band-of-Heavily-Armed Assholes) would get the idea that it’s possible to drive a prominent Western country into batshit behavior that would roil the entire Islamic world for years and decades to come. What an imagination!

Comments on Juan Cole on the Charlie Hebdo murders:
#1 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 03:48 PM:

They win every time someone attacks a Muslim on the street, as happened to the mother of one of my follows on Twitter today. She called her daughter and asked what happened today.

Muslims have a right not to live in fear. And assholes like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher should stuff it and light it.

#2 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 03:52 PM:

Patrick: thanks for posting this. As someone who's got both relatives in Paris who work in publishing, and very young nephews and nieces there with conspicuously Muslim-sounding (because actually Muslim) names, the possibility of backlashes has been on my mind a lot today. (Fortunately they don't live in the UK, or they'd probably already be being profiled as potential terrorists.)

#3 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 04:20 PM:

Al-Qaeda would probably have better luck with their recruiting if they came up with some sort of cover identity which would let them try to attract Avengelical Christianists -- who have similar aims and endorse similar methods, but continue to insist that they are completely different from those Muslim terrorist groups.

#4 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 05:30 PM:

That was pretty much my instant conclusion as to the reasoning behind this (and much other terrorism). They want outrage and over-reaction.

#5 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 05:32 PM:

@#2: because terrorist activities in the UK have indeed managed to trigger both official and popular over-reaction. Which is in turn, I'm sure, radicalizing a subset of young Muslims and raising a much larger group sympathetic to their cause than would have been the case otherwise.

#6 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 05:33 PM:

I"m loathe to argue with Juan Cole in particular and experts in general. However, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I think this is one of those cases. The Charlie Hebdo people irritated radical Muslims, and presented a soft target, or at least softer than say, the French Premier.

"Sharpening the contradictions" might be a side effect of the attack, but the main reason was to make the attackers and other radical Muslims feel like they'd won something. Anything else would be gravy.

#7 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 05:33 PM:

The best reaction I saw to this sort of thing, though I don't know what town and google isn't helping, was an extremist individual Muslim doing something violent, followed by several large local churches mobilizing their Sunday School classes to write words of support and love on red paper hearts, which they then delivered to the local mosques and stuck up around the doorways in time for Friday prayers.

#9 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 06:30 PM:

Former justice minister Robert Badinter said pretty much the same thing in a statement earlier this evening. The third paragraph, translated, says

“Finally, in these trying times, let us reflect on the political trap being laid by the terrorists. Those who would cry “Allahu Akbar” as they kill are, in their fanaticism, betraying the religious ideals they claim to uphold. They also hope that the anger and indignation washing across the nation will push some to reject all the Muslims in France and treat them with hostility, thereby creating the rift they hope to open between Muslims and other citizens. Fanning the flames of hatred between the French, using crime to spark violence between communities — this is their goal, beyond the urge to kill that drives these fanatics who murder in God’s name. Let us deny them this victory. And let us refrain from unjust conflations and fratricidal passions.”
#10 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 08:37 PM:

There’s been some discussion of the fact that Charlie Hebdo is a reactionary, xenophobic, often virulently racist paper. Jacob Canfield provides the details, summing up with “Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons. Fuck those cartoons.”

I also like Blue Delliquanti’s take.

As a bit of an aside, an observation from Ted Rall that highlights the difference between French and American support for cartooning: “More full-time staff cartoonists were killed in Paris yesterday than work at all American magazines and websites combined.

#11 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 08:40 PM:

Chris Garrib @ #6: You could well be right. On the other hand, most actions have more than one overpowering motive, and I can easily believe that the perpetrators of this atrocity had been on the look out for a soft target in France, hoping to get a twofer, so to speak.

#12 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 08:46 PM:

I would, though, strongly disagree with the notion that poking Islam's sensibilities is racist, and that's something that I feel is present in Jacob Canfield's article.

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 08:54 PM:

I should note that there was *another* terrorist attack today. Fortunately, one that injured no one. It was on the NAACP office in Colorado Springs. What are the odds that the terrorist in question was a White, Evangelical Christian? Why is it that all White Evangelical Christians are not asked to apologise for the actions of their fellows in such cases?

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 09:16 PM:

Why indeed not, Fragano. Good question.

#15 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 09:26 PM:

It probably was just a bad apple, Fragano. Right.

#16 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 10:03 PM:

Matthew J Brown @12, I disagree weakly with the characterization of anti-Islamic bigotry as “racism”. It’s technically a different kind of bigotry if practiced by the fastidious, but in practice, it boils down to yet another way that white people make brown people’s lives difficult.

I mean, sure, if a blond, blue-eyed white guy converts to Islam, I bet Sam Harris is perfectly happy to yell at him for it. But is that the typical case? Especially in France, where most Muslims are from North Africa?

And plenty of bigots are perfectly happy to attack any brown-skinned person, regardless of their actual religious affiliation. If you know any Sikhs, ask them about it.

#17 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2015, 11:36 PM:

Serge, #15: It was an "isolated incident" or a "disturbed individual" who should in no way be taken to be representative of his religion as a whole. Even when the leaders of said religion say things on a regular basis which stop just barely short of advocating such behavior.

Avram, #16: Indeed. One of our business associates worries about traveling home from cons with large amounts of cash; he is of Jewish descent, which means he has the same coloring and type of features as some Muslims, and the bigots don't care about anything else.

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 12:26 AM:

Lee @17, I’m a pasty white guy, and I’d worry about traveling anywhere with large amounts of cash.

#19 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:25 AM:

And today the political fascists are out with all manner of immigration solutions, death penalty suggestions, surveillance recommendations... (The religious fascists were yesterday).

The older I get, the more tiring this parade becomes. I begin to understand why my father, in his later years, preferred children's programmes and talking to his dog. At some point, retirement from the fight and a degree of isolation will be too tempting.

But not just yet.

#20 ::: Leigh Kimmel ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:29 AM:

Avram @ 18

I'm a freckle-faced redhead, and I don't like traveling home from a con with large amounts of cash. If we don't drive straight home Sunday night after load-out, I far prefer to find a branch of our bank and make a deposit before leaving town on Monday morning. Even without the issue of the cops stopping you and deciding it's drug money, there's the risk of being robbed or just plain losing it, so I'd far prefer to have it safely deposited.

#21 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 11:49 AM:

Avram, #18: A valid point. However, a fair number of the bigots are cops, and you don't have to be worried about being profiled as a probable drug dealer (brown skin + driving a van). Leigh Kimmel makes a similar point @20 -- and in fact, we are also wary about this -- but our associate is at significantly higher risk due to his color.

#22 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 01:07 PM:

Rep. Peter King (R-Noraid) just called for extra surveillance of all Muslims because of this attack. It's been a while since the IRA bombed anybody, but he hasn't yet called for surveillance of all Catholics or Irish people because of that.

#23 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 02:51 PM:

As a friend pointed out elsenet, this is not an either-or situation. The extremists get their religious retribution, and they get the crackdown that gives them more recruits. It's a win-win situation for them. Also, they're shown (to the appropriate people) to be effective, and to be true believers.

There really doesn't have to be a single reason.

#24 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 04:57 PM:

Avram 16: I disagree weakly with the characterization of anti-Islamic bigotry as “racism”. It’s technically a different kind of bigotry if practiced by the fastidious, but in practice, it boils down to yet another way that white people make brown people’s lives difficult.

In support of which I offer the experience of my friend Arben, an Albanian-American Muslim, who when he'd bring up being Muslim in high school, would be told "No you're not." They didn't believe he was a Muslim because he wasn't brown.

I think Islamophobia is just the latest excuse for racism. White Muslims confuse the hell out of them. Soon they'll come up with terminology analogous to "race traitor" and use that.

#25 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 05:30 PM:

re 13: actually, I would bet the NAACP bombing was committed by an irreligious white male. Be that as it may...

I would not dismiss this hypothesis out of hand, but the strong resemblance to the Boston Marathon bombing suggests that direction from ISIS or the like is not necessary for explanation, and that radicalization need not be the intent.

#26 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 05:43 PM:

re 24: The thing is, I can see an Indonesian kid being told the same thing, on the same grounds. The ignorance of the American high school student is impressive and may be telling, but it isn't automatically the same thing as racism.

#27 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 06:08 PM:

C. Wingate #25: In Colorado Springs? If you say so...

#28 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 06:37 PM:

The cultural construct we call “racism” is only vaguely concerned with biological attributes. As practiced here in the US, the apex of whiteness is occupied by the WASP, or white Anglo-Saxon Protestant; a concept that combines skin color, historical national origin, and religion. English Hibernophobia is effectively a form of racism, even though most modern Americans would consider the English and Irish to be of the same race, and Hibernophobia certainly acquired a strong religious component once England went Protestant.

#29 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 07:18 PM:

Overheard at a local cafe today: "They were on the no fly list. How did they get to the middle east to train with Al Qaeda?"

Guy's buddy says, "They probably stole somebody's ID to fly."

So many levels of stupid, so many layers of assumptions, I don't even know where to begin picking that apart ... *sigh*

#30 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 07:50 PM:

Avram @ 16: I think you mischaracterize what I meant, there, possibly because I was unclear.

I said that poking Islam's sensibilities isn't necessarily racist, and I didn't mean "because Islam isn't a race".

Rather, I meant that there are many legitimate reasons to poke the sensibilities of any group, and that no group should be immune to it.

Also not saying that it's not possible to poke Islam's sensibilities in a bigoted manner (whether racist or other). Clearly it's very easy, in fact, to mix the two.

But Islam, and particularly certain established forms of it, are legitimate targets for satire, mockery, and parody, because they are indeed powerful institutions. They are the state religions in a good number of nations, and they are powerful moral arbitors and political players in many more. Criticism is essential against any power, and criticism does not have to be nice or polite.

#31 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 07:54 PM:

Avram @ 28: yes, this! Race is a social distinction, although identification of race in a particular society may involve physical cues (even if inaccurate!)

Which is also why Americans need to be very careful about applying American racial groupings to any other culture and making snap judgments about racial issues in other cultures. I see that online a lot.

#32 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 08:31 PM:

C Wingate @25... An irreligious white male? Would you perchance be suggesting that an atheist is responsible for the NAACP bombing?

#33 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 08:47 PM:

#How Can They Hate Us For That Which Does Not Exist?

We live in a free and liberal society where the proper response to another incident of senseless violence committed by Islamic radicals is to blame Muslims and Arabs for hating our freedoms and bomb individuals hundreds of miles away in retaliation.

We live in a free and liberal society where the proper response to another incident of senseless violence committed by non-Muslim domestic radicals is to blame politically moderate elected officials for being honest about institutionalized racism and gun violence.

We live in a free and liberal society where the proper response to a few dozen Sunni fundamentalists killing 3,000 people in one morning is a decades-long war against largely unaffiliated Islamic governments and people that kills hundreds of thousands and injures and displaces millions of Arabic and Islamic people.

We live in a free and liberal society where the proper response to thousands of state agents extrajudicially killing a minimum of 3,000 unarmed Americans of color per decade while unjustly incarcerating millions more through a systematic war of oppression explicitly designed to disenfranchise and disempower minorities and political undesirables, is nothing. Nothing except for beating and arresting those who dare speak in favor of retaliation or serious reformation.

We live in a free and liberal society primed for massive race riots and domestic terrorism and we are doing nothing to address this besides suppressing dissent and hey, look over there! More crazy Muslims shot people! Bomb ISIS! More drone strikes! Expand the War on Terror!

We live in a free and liberal society that, as part of a larger campaign of bombings and assassinations in the 1960s and 1970s, trained and financed Orlando Bosch and others to bomb a Cuban civilian airliner and kill dozens of civilians. We live in a free and liberal society that in 1992 pardoned Bosch, helped resettle him in Miami, and prevented his associate from being extradited for trial because Venezuela could not provide a satisfactory guarantee that he would not be tortured.

We live in a free and liberal society that routinely "renders" suspects to dictatorships far worse than Venezuela for torture at the hands of foreign agents. We live in a free and liberal society that within ten years of Bosch's unconditional pardon embarked on a global war against terrorism wherein we engaged in wars of aggression on false pretenses and killed hundreds of thousands of non-combatants. We live in a free and liberal society that bombs media outlets and kills unsympathetic journalists in Iraq and Palestine and Cuba and Nicaragua and Philadelphia and Birmingham and elsewhere in the name of nationalism, tradition, economic stability and realpolitik efficiency.

We live in a free and liberal society that disappears thousands of prisoners of war and political prisoners into a worldwide network of secret gulags where they are tortured and worse. We live in a free and liberal society where none of the leaders who order or encourage this torture will ever be prosecuted. We live in a free and liberal society where the bureaucrats overseeing the torture won't even be punished for surveilling and intimidating the elected officials tasked with overseeing said bureaucrats.

We live in a free and liberal society that has, in the last month, arrested, jailed, and charged with making terroristic threats at minimum dozens of young men who have, in effect, done nothing other than post hip hop lyrics and paraphrased Malcom X quotes on Facebook. That is, engaged in public speech using language which has, since at least 1969's _Brandenburg v. Ohio_, been explicitly protected by the First Amendment.

While even leftist American political commentators engage in a pointless pants-pissing match over whether we should assess Islamic fundamentalists murdering journalists as more or less important than Adam Lanza murdering schoolchildren because he is a raving lunatic or Anders Breivik murdering schoolchildren because he is a raving fanatic, the United States of America is busy turning popular and formerly protected political sentiment into terroristic thoughtcrime.

We are to fear the supposedly chilling effect that these latest terrorist attacks may have on journalistic and editorial critiques of radical Islam. We are to ignore, as our media and NGOs largely are, that the Department of Justice is assisting local police and prosecutors in portraying vague violent sentiments and political speech as illegal threats.

Formerly protected speech against the state and state agents is redefined as _terroristic threats_ with the argument that said speech makes state agents anxious or uncomfortable. It is highly troubling that decades of fundamental civil liberties jurisprudence is being disregarded and challenged in the midst of an ongoing capitulation of the judiciary to the executive security state. Combine that with excessive police militarization, suspension of _habeas corpus_, martial law terrorism manhunts, unprecedented use of the Espionage Act to imprison whistleblowers, and a state apparatus capable of recording virtually all modern communication and ignoring even token civilian oversight, and a horrifying trend becomes starkly evident.

This is no longer conspiracy theory. This is international news. Both of our superficially different political parties support and profit from these policies at the billion-dollar national level. One party panders to suburban and rural whites and proudly proclaims that the growing security state will be brutally wielded to protect them from urban and foreign people of color. One party panders to people of color and their progressive allies and pretends that oppression and injustice is shrinking and can be overcome with polite words. We no longer need debate if _it_ could happen here because _it_ is happening here and represents a far more chilling threat to free expression than does a thousand stateless religious radicals violently attacking television stations and press offices.

The war raging isn't one of Western Secular Freedom versus Islamic Theocratic Tyranny, but rather one of the Neoliberal Globalization and Technocratic Totalitarianism of the Elite versus Everyone Else. I can understand how spending decades immersed in attitudes of American Exceptionalism, arguments for Western Colonization, and agitation against external others can make people not see the the forest for the brilliantly lit trees of faux "liberty" and "freedom." I desperately urge us all to start squinting and try to look past the glare.

#34 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 09:08 PM:

Serge Broom @ 32: Irreligious doesn't just cover atheists; it covers a larger portion of the population, those who in actuality are non-practicing or barely-practicing but who do not embrace an 'atheist' label. Explicitly disavowing religion has a social cost in America, and most who lack significant religious faith don't do it.

There are certainly a whole lot of racists who aren't particularly religious.

#35 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 09:11 PM:

Matthew... Thanks for the clarification.

#36 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 09:55 PM:

Matthew J Brown @30, you were talking about that Jacob Canfield article I linked to, and Canfield makes it clear that he’s specifically talking about Charlie Hebdo’s poking, not some abstract general poking. He’s talking about one specific magazine’s cartoons, and provides examples of those cartoons.

You may want to also read his article “Subversion, Satire, and Shut the Fuck Up: Deflection and Lazy Thinking in Comics Criticism”, in which he discusses the difference between actual satire and lazy shock humor, and how perpetrators of the latter often hide behind claims of the former.

There’s an article I read the other day, and can’t now find in my browser history (dammit!) which said the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were working in a particular French tradition of mocking authority figures, a way of knocking the powerful down a few pegs. The problem with that approach, and the way they chose to go about it, is that in France, Muslims aren’t the powerful. White people of French ancestry — in other words, people like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists — are the powerful, and people who revere Mohammed are much more likely to be unemployed, live in poor-person neighborhoods, and have laws passed forbidding them from dressing as they prefer.

#37 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:07 PM:

The French publication coming to my mind is (IIRC) 'Le Canard Enchaine'.

#39 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:31 PM:

and yes, re 32/34/35: by "irreligious" I mean people for whom religion is not a concern.

#40 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:38 PM:

re 28: In your terms, therefore, the disdain for southern evangelicals in surely racism. I don't entirely disagree with your analysis, but I don't know that is useful to lump all kinds of viewing kinds of people as Other into one big thing.

#41 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:55 PM:

C Wingate @40, how do you figure “surely”?

#42 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 10:57 PM:

Bill @ 33:

I think it's both. They hate us because we've done damage to them, but I think they also hate us because this is a society where it's relatively safe for women to show their skin and hair.

#43 ::: Lyli ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2015, 11:52 PM:

Why not both? While I'm sure most, if not all, the top actors in these events have been less than truthful about their actual motivations, I can also believe that some of the boots on the ground have been drinking the proverbial kool-aid. Or a mix of the two, "avenging the prophet" and incite others to do the same, lead by example type of thing.

#44 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 04:24 AM:

Ah, here we go— the article I mentioned above, but couldn’t find earlier, was from Al Jazeera, “Let’s not sacralize Charlie Hebdo”:

There is an old Parisian tradition of cheeky humor that respects nothing and no one. The French even have a word for it: “gouaille.” Think of obscene images of Marie-Antoinette and other royals, of priests in flagrante delicto with nuns, of devils farting in the pope's face and Daumier’s caricatures of King Louis-Philippe, whom he portrayed in the shape of a pear. It's an anarchic populist form of obscenity that aims to cut down anything that would erect itself as venerable, sacred or powerful. Such satirical humor has little in common with the kind of witty political satire with which Americans are familiar today through watching Jon Stewart or John Oliver. While not apolitical (attacks on Marie-Antoinette surely had a political valence), gouaille does not seek to stake out a political position or mock one political party to the benefit of another. It is directed, rather, against authority in general, against hierarchy and against the presumption that any individual or group has exclusive possession of the truth.

#45 ::: KevinT ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 05:25 AM:

Charlie Hebdo was run by a bunch of anti-clerical anarchist types.
Their whole raison d'être was to mock authority figures and ideologies (any religion, Communism, etc...).

Most Americans I've read who comment on this seem to agree that they were punching down at the French Muslim community.
This has been debated in France as well but the conclusions are not as clear-cut.
It always looked to me like they were mocking ideas, never people.
Of course, for some religious people, this kind of mockery is perceived as an attack on their identity, and therefore offensive.

According to their own words, they were not aiming to shock or offend, but to make people laugh uncomfortably, and have this discomfort make them think.
Sometimes they missed the mark.

I find there is value in a publication that will relentlessly mock all religious ideas, when the rest of the media is always fearful of addressing these questions.
Now, this is in tension with that fact that there is a lot racism against people from North-African descent, be they recent immigrants or third generation French citizens, and a lot of fear of Islam.

I find it striking that Canfield writes "These are, by even the most generous assessment, incredibly racist cartoons" without elaborating.
I don't see this at all.
Is this due to differences in the cultural context, as mentioned by Matthew J Brown @31 or as described in that (very good) Al Jazeera article shared by Avram @44?

#46 ::: KevinT ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 05:37 AM:

I still cannot really believe that Cabu and Wolinski are dead.
All French people are familiar with their cartoons, we have all grown up with them.
They were our Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson, except with a lot more sex and no respect for anything "sacred".

#47 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 05:42 AM:

PNH @OP I think this article in the Grauniad today echoes many of the same sentiments:

Charlie Hebdo: Understanding is the least we owe the dead

#48 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 06:28 AM:

Avram @ 41: It's not racism. The white south earned our bad reputation the hard way--by doing actual bad things to people. There's a prejudice against us which has a rational basis, and the best we can do is "stare down the shame". It's earned.

That's one truth. The other is that the generalized disdain splashed on the entire region falls on all of us who live here in a way that is not helpful to those of us who want things another way. I mean, Jimmy Carter is a southern evangelical. And this lady here. That's as southern as it gets, right down to burying those men in her family's graveyard.

I guess this is like some corollary to Niven's Law (ptui): If you don't want shit flung at you, don't live next to the armed man.

But I hate Niven's Law with a passion.

#49 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 09:01 AM:

Thank you for that story, John A. Arkansawyer @48. It's amazing.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 12:02 PM:

I find it fascinating that C. Wingate is so eager to exonerate Evangelical Christians in advance of the evidence. It's as if such sterling examples of Protestantism as Anders Breivik, Scott Roeder and Eric Robert Rudolf had never existed. I am curious as to how many White Protestants felt the need to stand up and apologise for these fine co-religionists in the same way that there is a universal demand that Muslims apologise for and repudiate terrorists.

#51 ::: Lurker99 ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 12:33 PM:

Is this due to differences in the cultural context, as mentioned by Matthew J Brown @31 or as described in that (very good) Al Jazeera article shared by Avram @44?

That and arrogance. Americans really like to think that their cultural context in regards to racism and prejudice can be exported to other cultures willy-nilly. It can't, of course, because every racist culture is racist in its own way. But some American liberals seem utterly incapable of grasping that. Plus Canfield seems to be of the type who thinks that mocking Islam is directly equivalent to mocking Muslims/being prejudiced against them.

You'll notice that he provided no translation of the covers or description of what was going in France when they were published. This is an egregious failing on his part, as satire can rarely be separated from it's cultural context. Judging the magazine based on those covers in isolation, without being able to speak French, and/or being conversant in French culture and/or being conversant in French politics is quite frankly odious. 12 people were murdered over this, the least you could is do some damn research before pronouncing them a "certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia".

For example, one of the covers in his article is titled "Mohammed Overwhelmed by Fundamentalists," and Mohammed is shown covering his face and saying that "it's hard to be loved by idiots." What exactly is racist about that? Nothing.

Furthermore, Canfield says: "While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic" and "Hebdo’s goal is to provoke, and these cartoons make it very clear who the white editorial staff was interested in provoking: France’s incredibly marginalized, often attacked, Muslim immigrant community."

This is bs. These two sentences are not even wrong. For god sakes, the original magazine that Charlie Hebdo was successor to was banned by the French government for mocking the death of Charles DeGaulle. Anyway, looking at the covers in the links below (which show representative covers and not just cherry picked ones to prove his thesis) will show that Charlie Hebdo mocked everyone. One of the covers they did was of Jean Sarkozy, son of then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying, “I slept with my dad to get ahead.” mocking nepotism in French govt.

Since Canfield did not describe on context or provide a translation for the covers, here is an article that actually describes what was going in some of them.

Some more articles about Charlie Hebdo covers:
The Bold Charlie Hebdo Covers the Satirical Magazine Was Not Afraid to Run
Charlie Hebdo’s Most Controversial Religious Covers, Explained
12 Striking Charlie Hebdo Front Covers. Far from targeting Muslims in particular, the satirical newspaper has ridiculed everyone from English people to the Pope
See Covers Published by Charlie Hebdo
Here Are the Translated Charlie Hebdo Covers
What Is Charlie Hebdo? The Cartoons that Made the French Paper Infamous
Charlie Hebdo’s Covers: A History of Irreverence

Canfield's article, and the people who accept is gospel, are really pissing me off because if someone shot up the offices of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report and some non-American was going on about how they were just a bunch a of racist, I'd be in a rage. Hell, I cant stand South Park but if some fundamentalist killed 12 members of their staff I'd be "IAmSouthPark" all over the place.

You can argue that Daily Show, Colbert Report, Charlie Hebdo, etc go too far and sometimes verge over into actual prejudice instead of mocking prejudice but just writing the whole lot of as reactionary, xenophobic racists is utterly wrong.

TL;DR - Research is your friend. Especially before going off half cocked about a culture you know nothing about.

#52 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 12:56 PM:

re 50: With a Catholic*, a cultural Christian in a Lutheran country, and someone vaguely alleged to be "Christian" (and that's a big "maybe" on all three), none of whom have any connection with racial violence against blacks, I don't see how any of them is relevant to the matter. I went back and sorted through the bombers and assassins of the '60s civil rights movement, and I could find one single person of whom it was said he had been a part time preacher at some point in his life. That's basically it for testimony on their religion. With the exception of the abortion bombers and some of the Muslims, recent US terrorism has been perpetrated by people who weren't religious, and rather often of late by avowed atheists. The stats do not say that someone who left a bomb near the NAACP was likely to have been a Christian at all, much less an evangelical. And it says something that the presumption otherwise has been left unchallenged by anyone other than myself.

*There's a lot of disagreement about Rudolph's brush with the Christian Identity people, but he claims to be a Catholic and in any case the CI movement represents evangelical Protestants the way that Pol Pot represented progressives: as an egregious aberration.

#53 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 01:05 PM:

Also, how am I supposed to take your invitation to bet as anything but an expression of a prejudice against evangelicals as presumptive perpetrators of white-on-black political violence?

#54 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 02:59 PM:

Prejudice? Maybe. Or perhaps just long experience listening.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 03:33 PM:

On the one hand, I rarely have a lot of spoons for "But Christians are a persecuted minority!" from anyone living in a country where church membership is all but required for political office. On the other hand, we are, in point of fact, not yet in possession of enough evidence to guess the religious affiliation of the NAACP bomber.

Tell you what, Fragano and C Wingate. Why not disengage now before I have to get testy?

#56 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 03:40 PM:

I suspect also that those among the Evangelicals prone to terroristic violence will choose the kind most approved of by their peers: against abortion clinics and abortion doctors. There, they will have people cheering them on, people willing to consider their actions righteous, people willing to hide the evidence and help them avoid the authorities.

#57 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 03:42 PM:

(abi, I hadn't read your #54 before posting that; please blank it if you think it's just stirring a pot you'd rather not see stirred).

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 03:46 PM:

No, Matthew, I think that's fine. It's not exactly controversial to say that the people who have perpetrated violence against abortion clinics and doctors tend to identify as Christian, usually Evangelical.

The matter at hand, or rather, no longer at hand thankyouverymuch, is any similar assertion, in the absence of evidence, about the NAACP bomber.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 06:25 PM:

Note that comment 51 was held in moderation for Too Many Links, so references to numbers from then to now will be one off.

#61 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 06:41 PM:

KevinT @45
I find it striking that Canfield writes "These are, by even the most generous assessment, incredibly racist cartoons" without elaborating.
I don't see this at all.
Is this due to differences in the cultural context, as mentioned by Matthew J Brown @31 or as described in that (very good) Al Jazeera article shared by Avram @44?

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were particularly effective at eliciting visceral reactions from people. They once ran this cartoon (drawn by the late Charb).

Here’s the breakdown of that particular image. The woman depicted is Justice Minister Christine Taubira. Just days earlier, the far-right Minute magazine had run a cover that read “crafty as a monkey, Taubira finds the banana.” (avoir la banane is a French expression that means “to be happy”; a few weeks earlier, an FN candidate appeared in a televised interview defending a Facebook post where she had compared the minister to a monkey. The title, “Blue Racist Gathering”, is a play on Rassemblement Bleu Marine (bleu marine = lit. navy blue), a coalition of right and far-right political parties created by current FN leader Marine Le Pen.

Taken out of context, I would have found that Charlie Hebdo drawing incredibly offensive. In context, I found it was a brilliant way of depicting just how horribly racist the French far-right was — Charb took an extreme position even further to hold it up to ridicule, using a visual medium that could tap into implicit associations and draw strong emotional responses far more rapidly than prose can.

According to their own words, they were not aiming to shock or offend, but to make people laugh uncomfortably, and have this discomfort make them think.
Sometimes they missed the mark.

Laughing uncomfortably, and thinking about it, was exactly my response to the Taubira cartoon. But I can only find it brilliant because I know the background, I know how to read this sort of satire, and I don’t have to deal with the associated stereotypes all the time.

Charlie Hebdo was strongly anti-establishment and anti-extremist, and they deliberately used puerile, obscene, grotesque imagery to punch up. Yet as much as I understood their targeting of authority and thought it necessary (and the events of Wednesday bear this out), they punched up at their targets at the expense of (often marginalized, oppressed) groups that weren’t their audience at all but who were hurt by what they did nonetheless. It’s hard to tell if it was borne of the blindness of privilege, or if it was a calculated risk in the battle they picked, if they thought that the hurt caused in the short term was a price worth paying to pursue and protect the ideals they held dear.

I do believe that their intent was to make people think (and indeed, Charlie Hebdo honed the critical faculties of many in the post-Mai 68 generation). I wasn’t a buyer of the paper because I found their approach of late counterproductive, one that hardened positions rather than facilitating dialogue. When the net effect was considered, I felt they missed the mark more often than they hit it. But while I didn’t agree with their methods, they were clearly passionate about equality, justice, and human rights, and it makes me flinch to see people I like and respect, who are unfamiliar with the cultural context, simply write them off as vile, xenophobic bigots.

#62 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 09:42 PM:

Lurker95 @ 51: "For god sakes, the original magazine that Charlie Hebdo was successor to was banned by the French government for mocking the death of Charles DeGaulle."

That seems a powerful defense against the charge that Charlie Hebdo was exclusively anti-Muslim, but not at all a defense against the charge that Charlie Hebdo published a whole lot of racist and anti-Muslim cartoons. I confess I am not much impressed with the "but they mock everybody!" defense of bigoted satire: it's a bit like saying "but I swing this crowbar at everyone, armored knights and immuno-compromised orphans alike!"

Pendrift @ 61: "Taken out of context, I would have found that Charlie Hebdo drawing incredibly offensive. In context, I found it was a brilliant way of depicting just how horribly racist the French far-right was — Charb took an extreme position even further to hold it up to ridicule, using a visual medium that could tap into implicit associations and draw strong emotional responses far more rapidly than prose can."

The thing is, though, when you do a really offensive and terrible thing in order to show how offensive and terrible it is, the inescapable end result is that you've added one more offensive and terrible thing to the world. Whether anyone's mind is opened by your 'daring' and 'provocative' humor is less certain. Poe's Law is a powerful force: caricatures of bigotry aren't necessarily seen by bigots as caricatures, but as good common sense.

#63 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 11:02 PM:

Heresiarch @62, was anyone claiming that Charlie Hebdo was exclusively anti-Muslim? The articles I’ve seen complaining about their cartoons have pointed out general anti-black racism (like the monkey cartoon discussed above), as well as anti-Semitism, and anti-Catholicism.

#64 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2015, 11:24 PM:

I've never read Charlie Hebdo, but I do read a fair bit of French humor, political and otherwise. I usually can't find copies of Le Canard Enchainé, which I love, but I regularly read Le Gorafi, Topito and a bunch of online comics.

Topito has a interesting list of 45 covers of Charlie Hebdo. Skimming through these, I see:

  1. "After the scandal of 'Piss Christ' in Avignon… To The Shitters With All The Religions."
  2. "Belgium: Can It Welcome All the World's Cholesterol?"
  3. "But Who Wants English People in Europe?" (This is one of the nastiest caricatures of the bunch, actually. Visually, it's sort of like an anti-English version of the old Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda.)
  4. "Dominique Strauss Kahn: The Conspiracy." (His enormous erection is saying, "I'm being paid by the UMP!", the major opposing political party.)
  5. "Charlie Hebdo must be raped!" (Yelled by caricatures of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders.)
  6. "Pedophile Bishops (Do Some Cinema, Like Polanski…)"

So… how does this read to my eye? You can definitely find a ton of anti-Muslim caricatures and anti-Jewish caricatures, but the anti-Catholic-Church stuff is brutal, at least if you can read the captions.

Politically, several of these covers are mocking the extreme right. They hit Marine Le Pen and La Front National constantly. They definitely go after racists a bunch. Overall, this particular selection of covers supports the hypothesis that Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity offender, with a bias against Abrahamic religions and right-wing nationalists.

As for the tone, I can't really think of a US equivalent right now. Perhaps somebody like Howard Stern, or something like Dave Chappelle's old "black KKK member" skit? We have a lot of stand-up comedians who are roughly as offensive as the covers Topito picked. Or maybe the satire in Hustler magazine about Jerry Falwell and his mother.

heresiarch @ #62: That seems a powerful defense against the charge that Charlie Hebdo was exclusively anti-Muslim, but not at all a defense against the charge that Charlie Hebdo published a whole lot of racist and anti-Muslim cartoons.

Charlie Hebdo is definitely problematic, and consciously so.

But it's also a bit weird when English-speakers try to criticize and explain Charlie's brand of humor based on a selection of cherry-picked cartoons. Personally, my opinions are very tentative, and I'm reluctant to go further without at least reading a half-dozen issues and Googling things like the "Piss Christ" scandal in Avignon.

I mean, if I lived in France, and a terrorist shot a dozen US comedians at a dinner some night, and a French magazine published an article saying, "Chris Rock's use of stereotypes in 'How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked By the Police' shows evidence of internalized oppression," then I'd be really reluctant to have an opinion either way. At the minimum, I'd feel obliged to actually watch a bunch of Chris Rock videos on YouTube and read what US writers had to say.

#65 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 12:27 AM:

Eric K @64: Just for clarity, number five actually says "voiler", not "violer". "Charlie Hebdo must be veiled/hidden/unseen!" (Literal/figurative/figurative).

#66 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 12:32 AM:

Argh, double-post, sorry - number seven is, I think, the most interesting. The image is titled "If Mohammed came back..." and features a man (presumably Mohammed) on his knees, saying "I'm the Prophet, idiot!" and being told "shut up, infidel!" The headlines above the magazine name have as their first one "French Muslims have had it up to here with Islamists".

This cover seems more sympathetic to local Muslims than anything, though I can't speak as to their reaction to the drawing of Mohammed. I know that's something that's a big deal for very conservative Muslims, but I don't know enough to know how many people that's a big deal for.

#67 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 12:44 AM:

Eric K @64, I’d pick South Park as the closest American equivalent. And as much as I used to enjoy the show, and recognize that often their hearts were in the right places, Matt Stone & Trey Parker have produced plenty of racist shit in their time (both on the show and in their other productions).

#68 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 12:55 AM:

Avram beat me to it.

Stone & Parker not only punch down but seem to think themselves terribly clever and insightful while doing it.

#69 ::: Matthew J Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 01:33 AM:

I think most of the time, though, Stone & Parker aren't aiming their blow down; the intended attack is on the attitudes of the privileged. They're just not being at all careful about collateral damage, in fact even reckless about it.

I'm sure you can pick examples to the contrary, but I don't disagree that there are.

#70 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 02:55 AM:

Matthew J Brown @69: That's how I felt about Charlie Hebdo, and it's precisely why I didn't want to buy the paper. Given that they were struggling to survive financially, I doubt I was the only one to feel they did more harm than good.

Tignous, who died in the attack, is quoted here (in French) as saying that satirical drawings needed to meet three criteria: make people laugh, give people something to think about, and (if pulled off perfectly) make people feel ashamed for laughing.

The article concludes:

We can measure the complexity of the message. And we can measure the risk taken by every cartoonist of missing the mark, of not pulling it off "perfectly", of falling short of the subtlety they were aiming for.
Which leads to the question: can the current state of discourse in France, but also Europe and in many other countries, bear the power and complexity of [satirical] illustration?
This text is obviously not a defense of the end of satirical cartooning. Quite the contrary. But it expresses the hope that one day, we can rise to the level required by [visual satire] of nuance, confidence in ourselves and in others, and the acceptance that there are bad drawings and that even "perfect" ones will always need to be explained.

Their hearts were in the right place. But their "no sacred cows" approach could only be truly effective in the aggregate if society were truly equal, which it most emphatically is not.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 05:02 AM:

Lurker99 @51:

One tiny thing:
Americans really like to think that their cultural context in regards to racism and prejudice can be exported to other cultures willy-nilly. It can't, of course, because every racist culture is racist in its own way. But some American liberals seem utterly incapable of grasping that.

What's the word "liberals" doing in that sentence? Are you positing that non-liberal Americans are doing any better?

And one big thing:
if someone shot up the offices of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report and some non-American was going on about how they were just a bunch a of racist, I'd be in a rage. Hell, I cant stand South Park but if some fundamentalist killed 12 members of their staff I'd be "IAmSouthPark" all over the place.

The problems with "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" decision-making are manifold, but the biggie is that you end up with some pretty frightful friends. Sometimes awful people do terrible things to other awful people*, and even though the terrible things are unjustified, the second group of awful people remains awful.

It's not a football match. There aren't two sides, and the tendency toward polarization is probably the worst damage that these sorts of incidents have on our communities. (Which is why my tiny thing above is not, in fact, genuinely tiny.)

I do appreciate the other links, and the emphasis on understanding the context in which the cartoons were drawn. And on that note, thank you, Pendrift @61 & 70 for your insights as someone closer to the ground than most of us in this conversation.

One additional thought about the cartoons in their cultural context: the people who are reproducing them internationally, and the people who are approving of that, are no more part of the context in which they were produced than the people reacting to them negatively. As a result, the proportion of those who benefit by them (by seeing, understanding, and having their worldview broadened) is smaller and smaller, and the proportion of those who are damaged by them (either by a confirmation of their comfortable worldview or by the infliction of collateral damage) is larger and larger.

And that, I think, is contrary to the intent of the artists themselves.

* this is not a reference to Charlie Hebdo, but rather an abstraction

#72 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 08:26 AM:

Em @ #65: Just for clarity, number five actually says "voiler", not "violer".

Ouch, thank you for the correction. I have no idea how I read those two letters backwards. That's right up there with the time I said baiser instead of baisser.

Avram @ #67: I’d pick South Park as the closest American equivalent.

Given my admittedly limited knowledge, this feels like a pretty plausible comparison. The "Best of Charlie" stuff I'm seeing on French-language sites reminds me strongly of things like Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary, or Chef, or the scene with Saddam Hussein and Satan in Bigger, Longer & Uncut. There's the same desire to shock, the same liberal-ish intentions, and similar sorts of collateral damage. Charlie Hebdo may, overall, take things a bit further than South Park, however.

I think if you assume that "#JeSuisCharlie" is basically "#IAmSouthPark" (as Lurker99 suggested), you'll have a decent mental framework for interpreting what I'm seeing on French sites right now. There's a strong desire to close ranks behind Charlie Hebdo, a widespread but not universal acknowledgement that Charlie Hebdo is problematic, plus a huge amount of childhood nostalgia and grieving. And to the extent that "#JeNeSuisPasCharlie" has filtered back into the French media, the general reaction seems to be "WTF? Do you really think that's appropriate way to criticize them right now?"

Also, one other thing that often trips up French/US discussions: The French will go to the mat for laïcité, in a way that's hard to explain to Americans. Americans tend to believe that the government should be strictly neutral in matters of religion, but laïcité implies an almost hermetic isolation between the public and religious spheres. To give a famous example, French believers actually have two marriage ceremonies: They get married once in the town offices, and then they all pile into cars and get married a second time in a church. I've known French people who were actually shocked by the idea that a religious leader can perform a binding marriage in the US—they said it felt like a pretty major violation of the separation of church and state.

I don't want to imply that either the French system or the US system is better. I just want to warn people that it takes a long time to sort out all these little cultural disconnects and put everything into a useful context. I've been working on it for years, and I still get blindsided occasionally.

#73 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 09:48 AM:

Here's a Charlie Hebdo cover from Topito's list that I think I can unpack. (Please, corrections are eagerly welcome!) This was drawn by Luz, one of the survivors.

As far as I can tell, this dates from sometime before the Sarkozy/Hollande election, back when Sarkozy was enthusiastically scapegoating a new minority every few weeks to show that he was "serious," in the sense that US politicians usually mean it. One week he would go after immigrants, and the next week next it would be the Romani or senior citizens or whoever else looked convenient. (My opinions of French politics! Let me show you them!) There was a series of anti-Romani raids and round-ups.

Anyway, this cover features an out-of-shape officer from the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (the anti-riot wing of the French National Police). He's chasing what appears to be a stereotype of a Romani accordion player.

The large text reads: "Quickly! The demonstration for the pensioners!"

The officer is crying: "They run less quickly than the Romani!"

The basic message appears to be, "The French government is engaging in blatantly opportunistic scapegoating of the powerless and elderly, and they're going to go after the weakest target."

The collateral damage, of course, includes fat shaming and Romani stereotypes.

If anybody would be willing to correct my misunderstandings, I'd appreciate it greatly.

Even more interesting, there's an interview with the same artist Luz (fr) in which he talks about some of the same issues we're discussing:

L’Humanité had a front page headline saying "It's liberty that's being assassinated!" above a a reproduction of my cover with Houellebecq, which—even if there's a bit of depth—is a bit of jackassery about Houellebecq. People are putting on our shoulders a weight of symbolism which doesn't exist in our drawings, and which surpasses us a bit. I'm one of the people who has trouble with that.

Does this help people get a better view of what's going on here?

#74 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 11:26 AM:

What's that about the enema of my enemy, abi?
("Not 'enema', Serge. 'Enemy'.")

#75 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 12:24 PM:

Thank you for your unpacking!

#76 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 02:54 PM:

[ sigh, I think I may have broken my "previous posts" link, ah well ]

I'm not sure I find the satire of Charlie Hebdo funny. I am also not sure I find South Park funny.

I do know that I think neither should be the subject of violence.

I'm also pretty sure that the religious affiliation of the killers is pretty irrelevant, to me at least. Whatever religious affiliation they may have, they're a pretty small minority and orher followers of the same religion(s) should not be tarred with the same brush.

Mostly, it makes me depressed and wanting to cry. Why, people, do you perpetrate hate and violence on each other? It seems like a quick, effective and good solution, but it never really works, does it?

#77 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 03:17 PM:

Avram @ 63: "was anyone claiming that Charlie Hebdo was exclusively anti-Muslim?"

Perhaps not exclusively, but disproportionately. Lurker @ 51 writes "Furthermore, Canfield says: "While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic" and "Hebdo’s goal is to provoke, and these cartoons make it very clear who the white editorial staff was interested in provoking: France’s incredibly marginalized, often attacked, Muslim immigrant community.""

This may be less than entirely fair to Canfield's piece, but as my point is that "exclusively" versus "occasionally" bigoted is a distinction without difference, I didn't feel like arguing over that particular bit.

Eric K @ 64: "But it's also a bit weird when English-speakers try to criticize and explain Charlie's brand of humor based on a selection of cherry-picked cartoons."

It's always a bit weird to me when, upon a comedian being criticized for appalling behavior, defenders argue you can't really judge that behavior without a deep, nuanced view of that person's entire body of work. I'm fully willing to accept that there are layers upon layers of nuance in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that I'm not getting. I'm much more skeptical that those subtleties somehow erase or compensate for the overtly racist, anti-religious, or homophobic element of the work. If one is pissing on the walls of public places as part of a performance art piece illustrating the excesses of male privilege: yes, yes very clever, but at the end of the day there are still a bunch of walls covered with piss.

#78 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 05:08 PM:

Les Inrocks just published an English translation of the article linked to by Erik K @73.
The line that jumped out at me when I read the French earlier was "Charb thought we could continue to strike down taboos and symbols. But today we're the symbol. How do you destroy a symbol when that symbol is yourself?"

I sympathize with his obvious discomfort at seeing the paper and the dead cartoonists being sanctified in public opinion. I am much less sympathetic of the whole disingenuous "we were just drawing funny pictures" part (and if you haven't seen Joe Sacco's "On Satire" linked to @59, do take a look.)

A friend and I were just talking about Wednesday and its aftermath thus far, and this is what came out of that discussion: this impulse to turn Charlie Hebdo into a symbol is really deeply distasteful. Sure, it’s part of many people’s childhoods and education in politics, satire, and critical thought. There was plenty to laugh at in their pages — along with a host of other things that we strongly disagreed with. They routinely pushed the limits of freedom of speech. But turning it into a symbol of 'France resisting obscurantism' is so contrary to the spirit of Charlie Hebdo that it feels like yet another murder, when it's made out to be something it never was nor intended to be.

Also, that people here need to mourn is natural and understandable. But after all the tears and the "Je suis Charlie" navel-gazing, we should be asking ourselves why it's almost always second- or third-generation Muslim immigrants that are involved in these acts, what led to making them so easily manipulable, and what we can do to change things — even if I have serious doubts about the possibility of turning around the effects of 40 or more years of bullshit so-called “integration” that has so effectively yielded a stigmatized class. But when “egalitarianism” is held sacred and the approach seems wholly bereft of pragmatism ("we have free education, so everyone has the same opportunities”, “affirmative action = crappy thing that shortchanges the deserving” and other such nonsense), at least in France, it's nearly impossible to have that discussion. The premise is that that model is the best model evah and if you're left behind, the model couldn't possibly have failed you. And this is part of the price: French nationals from different origins who feel no affinity for or loyalty to the country and society to which their legal identities are tied.

One of the tragic things about last Wednesday is that the folks at Charlie Hebdo saw this as their struggle too: breaking down barriers, fighting xenophobia (they were, at the time of the shooting, busy preparing a special issue on racism), working for a better world. And their tools in that struggle (satire, caricature, gouaille - their skill at it is clearly up for debate, and see my previous comments here and upthread on their recklessness and wilful ignorance) turned against them. They were privileged folk who knew full well the world wasn't fair, but gave themselves a free pass and wrote and drew as though it were. And now the court jesters have been killed. They should not have died for that. And it grieves me that they couldn't or wouldn't see how their life's work could contribute to creating an atmosphere where attacks like last Wednesday's could happen — and that so many others can't or won't see their individual contributions in a systemic othering that does the same thing.

#79 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 07:51 PM:

abi @ #71: One additional thought about the cartoons in their cultural context: the people who are reproducing them internationally, and the people who are approving of that, are no more part of the context in which they were produced than the people reacting to them negatively… And that, I think, is contrary to the intent of the artists themselves.

This is a really interesting observation, abi, because you seemed to have touched on a theme that comes up again and again in the Luz interview. Let me present his words as best as I can:

The media have made a mountain out of our drawings, but with respect to the world, we're a damn fanzine, a little fanzine for high-school students. This fanzine has become a national and international symbol, but it's people who have been assassinated, not the liberty of expression! People who were making little drawings in their own corner.

…Every drawing has the possibility to be read from the perspective of geopolitical stakes or domestic politics. People put on our shoulders the responsibility of these stakes. Now, we're a journal. You buy it, you open it, and you close it again. If people post our drawings on the Internet, if the media highlights certain drawings, this is their responsibility. Not ours.

…Finally, the current symbolic weight is everything which Charlie has always worked: destroy the symbols, knock down the taboos, to lay down the fantasies [for inspection]. It's wonderful that people support us, but it's the anti-thesis of the drawings of Charlie.

…Charb thought that we could continue to knock down the taboos and the symbols. Except that today, we are the symbol. How to destroy a symbol that is oneself?

I agree with Pendrift that parts of this feel a bit disingenuous. But there's a deep discomfort here with taking things out of context, with putting them on the Internet, and with turning them into symbols. (There's quite a bit more about anti-symbolism in the interview; this is apparently a thing for them.)

Interestingly, they're not the only French satiric journal which has strong feelings about the Internet. Le Canard Enchaîné, a witty and high-brow journal of satire, writes:

No, despite appearances, Le Canard ("The Duck") hasn't come to paddle around on the net. This isn't for lack of having been invited here by operators who were more-or-less well-intentioned, and sometimes by readers who would love to read their favorite weekly on-line. And most importantly, by the expatriate ducklings, at the other end of the world, who sometimes don't receive their newspaper until several days after publication.

But our trade is to inform and amuse our readers, with newsprint and ink. It's a beautiful trade, and it suffices to occupy our team.

Among other things, this is a rejection of click-bait articles, of Internet culture, and of "virality." They really do want to be a weekly newspaper; it's their artistic medium. And this is, I think, also related to the ongoing conflicts between Amazon and French publishers.

heresiarch @ #77: It's always a bit weird to me when, upon a comedian being criticized for appalling behavior, defenders argue you can't really judge that behavior without a deep, nuanced view of that person's entire body of work… I'm much more skeptical that those subtleties somehow erase or compensate for the overtly racist, anti-religious, or homophobic element of the work.

I don't disagree with your point. But it's going to require a detour to explain what I'm trying to say. I promise I'll get back to the point shortly.

I divide the world into two camps: People who are engaged in a good-faith intellectual enterprise, and people who are engaged in a bad-faith propaganda war. I feel no obligation to listen to the propagandists or the sea lions, because life is too short.

But if people are acting in good faith, I'm deeply reluctant to be—as you once put it—"angry at a spherical right wing of uniform density." If I think they're wrong, I want to know how and why. Now, this is absolutely an ideal, and I often fail to hold myself to it in practice. But it's one of the reasons I find writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates so valuable—he engages his intellectual opponents, and he tries to find the roots of things, and he doesn't know the answers until he has looked at the evidence. I need the example of people like him, because so much of our modern culture encourages the opposite.

I am reluctant to condemn somebody based on carefully selected soundbites. As Richelieu is claimed to have written, "Let me be given six lines written by the hand of the most honest man; I will find something there to have him hanged." At one point in my life, I was told that Malcom X hated white people, and that he believed that armed rebellion against them would be justified. I was told that Andrea Dworkin claimed that all sorts of ridiculous things. And yet Malcolm X's Autobiography is a deeply worthwhile book, and there are those who say the same of Dworkin's works.

And this is why, yes, I do personally need to put Charlie Hebdo into context. From my limited sample, I agree that:

  • …some of their favorite styles of caricature are reminiscent of the worst Nazi propaganda, and that they applied these styles to both the powerful and powerless.
  • …they played recklessly with stereotypes, even when trying to "punch up."
  • …they freely indulged in an extreme Catholic anti-clericism.

But as Pendrift points out, this is not the whole story. They were frequently anti-racist and anti-nationalist. They savagely mocked some of the worst people in French politics. Judging from the mourning I'm seeing online, they convinced quite a few young people that politics mattered.

And so, yeah. Charlie Hebdo seems to suffer from most of the same sins as South Park. They also published a ton of racist imagery, which becomes even more toxic when torn out of context and published around the world. But I'm happy that I took the time to look deeper and examine things for myself, and my conclusions are still very tentative.

As for the larger political issues in France, I defer to Pendrift's analysis. My ridiculously limited data is consistent with his argument. Also, for folks here who read French, I recommend the graphic novel Immigrants, which contains beautifully-illustrated first hand stories of trying to integrate into French society. Let's try to signal-boost more voices than just Charlie Hebdo's.

#80 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2015, 06:29 AM:

Serge @ #74

That post was a bit of a washout.

#81 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2015, 08:22 AM:

Cadbury Moose @ 80... Probably not one of my better bun mots. :-)

#82 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2015, 06:48 PM:

Serge @ #81

Perhaps more of a "bum note"? 3:O)>

#84 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 08:33 AM:

Cartoonist Robert Crumb about the recent events...

In related news, I've been told I look like Crumb.
Keep on trucking!

#85 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 11:11 AM:

Nothing is ever straight. Charlie-Hebdo published a lot of material that was anti-racist and anti-right-wing. It also published a lot of material that was racist, and that belittled people of colour and non-Europeans. Its satire was satire; that is to say it was directed at a broad range of targets, and it bit. This is a publication that went after its enemies with a razor, and its friends with a scalpel.

#86 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 12:02 PM:

I was at the march in Paris yesterday; it was important to me. I'm glad I went. And I was also deeply troubled to be there, and couldn't bring myself to cry "Je suis Charlie", and will at times likely regret going when I see what all this will yield.

Already there's talk of a PATRIOT act à la française and of stepping up anti-terrorist measures à l'américaine. That's really going to make everything better, right?

Je ne suis pas Charlie, I identify more with the pigeon who shat on François Hollande's shoulder when he was greeting the Charlie Hebdo staffers, triggering a laughing fit.

#87 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 12:31 PM:

Here are some more reactions from France, for anybody who's interested.

When I read English-language websites talking about recent events, I often find myself cringing at really strong opinions from people who—to put it charitably—seem to be operating from incomplete evidence. It's hard to become an expert overnight! This is common failure mode in cross-cultural discussions, especially when there's a language barrier involved. Or to put it another way, the more time I spend reading the French press, the more I realize how many of my own opinions were once totally uninformed hogwash.

Also note that some very important voices are missing from what I'm posting: Those of Muslims, and especially those from northern Africa whose countries were once colonized by the French. A lot of that conversation takes place in Arabic, and I'm not subscribed to any French-language RSS feeds from Algeria, etc.

So anyway, here's my modest contribution to knocking down the language barrier. As always, corrections are appreciated. My translations include some profanity and other dubious language. (I'm trying to accurately represent what people said.)

Le Gorafi is more-or-less a French clone of The Onion, though usually not quite as good. They write:

Les traces d’hypocrisie laissées dans Paris après la marche républicaine nettoyées pendant la nuit

This reads, "Traces of hypocrisy left in Paris after the Republican March cleaned up during the night." As with The Onion, the article rehashes the gag in the headline:

A 6am, Paris city hall announced that they had managed to remove 98% of the traces of hypocrisy. "An impressive performance, when you realize that the cleaning teams also had to deal with the area's traces of bad faith, and in certain locations, marks of indecent fucking around [foutage de gueule]," explained Didier Choucq.

This is pretty tricky stuff to translate well. As usual, there's a choice between preserving the literal words and the original tone.

Madmoizelle could be described as "a feminist version of Cosmo for young French women." I've been really impressed by a lot of their longer articles on social issues. They published a roundup article with lots of cultural reactions. Some highlights:

- A photo of marchers carrying a sign which reads On n'a pas peur des trous de balle. This is pun which can be read as either "We've not afraid of assholes" or "We're not afraid of bullet holes."

- A cartoon of the five dead Charlie Hebdo artists, looking down onto the march from a cloud, and saying, "Shit, guys, it's crazy!" "Hey, come on, we're spitting on Luz… [one of the surviving artists]" "Ha ha. Yup."

- A Tweet reading, "I FeAR ABoVe AlL ThAT tHIs NeW SoLiDaRiTY WiLL ENcOuRAGe eVeN MORe PeOPLe tO aSk uS TO HeLP tHeM MovE."

- A photo of a young girl holding a sign reading, "The bad guys: You're a bunch of rotten [soft] potatoes. Jeanne, 5 years old."

- A cartoon of St. Peter, standing on a graffiti-covered cloud and complaining about the Charlie Hebdo artists, "They've already drawn dicks everywhere."

- A Tweet from the brilliant @DieuOfficiel "Official God" account: "It will make me really happy when you're not a bunch of damn idiots."

- Photo of a little girl holding a sign with her own drawings of two faces: "Me, too, I'm an illustrator."

In particular, I think that two cartoons about the deceased artists capture the French attitude towards Charlie Hebdo: While the nation is trying to turn them into icons, they're happily hocking loogies from heaven and drawing penises all over everything. And yet, those marches are enormous, and the signs range from hilarious to heartbreaking.

And there are lots of French voices saying, "Um, yeah, this can be complicated and troubling." And the same nationalist politicians that Charlie Hebdo once satirized so brutally in this problematic cartoon are already trying very hard to exploit this situation.

#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 01:46 PM:

Eric K @87:

I'm very much appreciating your contributions to this discussion.

#89 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 02:32 PM:

Really interesting, Eric K. Thank you!

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 04:54 PM:

Eric K:

I also appreciate your comments about this. I don't feel like the (limited by time and attention span) information I've seen about this in media reports is conveying a lot of important stuff.

#91 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 06:18 PM:

Eric K, 87: And the same nationalist politicians that Charlie Hebdo once satirized so brutally in this problematic cartoon are already trying very hard to exploit this situation.

First of all, as a freelance translator, albeit not from French, kudos on your efforts!

I've been reading a lot the last couple years about the outbreak of World War I, and especially last year about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (who I've come to think of as seriously mischaracterized). The thing that really hit home for me in my reading is that the Archduke was the one man in high circles in Austria-Hungary who could have stood athwart the efforts to attack Serbia and yell Stop!, and have had an effect, so that by killing him, Gavrilo Princip couldn't have done his great enemy a bigger favor. (A favor they squandered, but that's a story for another day.)

The analogy isn't exact - whoever bears the brunt of the French nationalists' efforts, it won't be the killers or those who taught them - but it gives me that ironic feeling nevertheless.

#92 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 06:53 PM:

Adding to Eric K's stuff @87:

I'd translate @DieuOfficiel's tweet (published late Sunday evening) as "I'm quite pleased when you're not being idiots."

Bulles Picard, a comic book blog run by journalists working with regional news daily Courrier Picard, invited professional and amateur Picard cartoonists to send contributions. (the Picardy region includes Amiens, which hosts one of the major annual French-language comic book festivals) and published a selection here and here.


Péji: "A dick?" "Whoa! That's Charlie Hebdo?!" "It's filthy!" "Good Lord, how vulgar!" "Horrors!"

Alex: "Bad seeds don't die just like that!"

Rodho: "We're putting a fatwa on the next people to draw us in heaven with God!"

Lardon (with Ruffin): Double sentence for Charlie: Killed by jerks, exploited by jerks

Lupano & Gomez: His only crime was his hairstyle

Ferri: A: "Nooooo! Not Cabu, you guys! Not Cabu! Récré A2! Club Dorothée*!"
The others: "Who's that?" "Jean-Etienne. Newbie." "He's kicking up a fuss."

*two popular TV youth programs spanning the late 70s to the late 90s

Chimulus: Monday morning, January 12.
A: "So there, we joined the march."
B: "Do we really have to buy Charlie Hebdo now?"

#93 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2015, 09:46 PM:

Thank you so much, Pendrift and Eric K, for going so deep into the cultural context of Charlie Hebdo, and also into your own feelings and others' feelings on the subject. I feel I wouldn't have half a clue what was going on there without having read this thread.

In other news, I thought this was worth posting:
These 'staunch defenders' of the free press are attending today's solidarity rally

#94 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 12:50 AM:

Joining in the chorus of thanks, Eric K. I'm hoping you become a very regular commenter on ML!

#95 ::: Pendrift has a URL-rich comment in the moderation queue ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 05:39 AM:

With a few more reactions from local cartoonists.

#96 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 08:34 AM:

Agreed: thanks to Eric K and Pendrift for some very lucid and helpful comments.

As tweeted elsewhere, I also found this article on interesting:

Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist

not so much for the article, but the comment below it by "docteurjuju" (the "Top Comment"). I have no ability to judge the provenance or verifiability of this comment, but it seems informed, and certainly gave me pause for thought before rushing to judgement. I reproduce it below:

People are entitled to have their own opinion about Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. These cartoons are hugely provocative and subject to many interpretations. Fine. But what is absolutely outrageous is to lie and invent false facts about Charlie Hebdo’s team in order to justify this opinion. Jordan Weissman or people like Jacob Canfield shamefully state that Charlie Hebdo’s staff is composed of racist homophobic heterosexual white men. When I read this, I think about the Charlie Hebdo team members and I just want to cry out of rage. I think about Caroline Fourest, female, president of the Gay and Lesbian Center, who is regularly conducting dangerous fights to defend gay and lesbian rights; I think about Riad Sattouf, Syrian, who wrote a wonderful comics “The Arab of the Future” about his childhood in Syria; I think about Philippe Corcuff, born in Algeria, who militates in several anti-racist leagues and risked his life in Tunisia to support the Tunisian altermundialist militant Sadri Khiari; I think about Charb, killed yesterday, who was regularly taking risks to provide political asylum to cartoonists and journalists from Maghreb who were fleeing death threats in their own countries; I think about Mustapha Ourad, Algerian, copy editor, killed yesterday; I think about Coluche, Renaud or Michel Polac, great French artists/journalists, who actively supported the biggest French anti-racist movement in the 80’s “Touche pas à Mon Pote” for SOS Racicm, etc. The list is long of Charlie's fighters against racism. Could you please tell us what you have actively done to fight racism? As I said, I understand that people can be hurt by provocative cartoons. But presenting the Charlie Hebdo Team in objective terms as “racist, white, homophobic” is at best lack of knowledge about them, at worst total dishonesty.
#97 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 01:22 PM:

Thank you all for welcoming me! I've been lurking here for a long time, and I dropped by the room party at Anticipation in 2009. (Where I sat shyly in a corner until I got into a really interesting conversation with another lurker.)

Pendrift @ #92: I laughed uproariously at the Péji cartoon. Thank you for your remarks, and for the links, and for fixing my translation of @DieuOfficiel. I also noticed several other minor errors in my translations last night, mostly dropped words. This is what I get for reading in one tab and translating in another!

Chris Quinones @ #91: I have a huge amount of respect for professional translators. Translation is such a weird experience: sort of like trying to rewrite an interesting text using near-synonyms. Nothing ever wants to line of up quite right, and it's satisfying to find the right word.

I've been struck by how much art helps me to understand the human condition. (This is surely not an unusual experience here on Making Light!) For folks like me, who rely on art to build mental bridges, here are four works about people from Africa and the Middle East who approached French society as outsiders. All of these works are readily available in the US, and all are either translated or subtitled into English. The first three are among my personal favorites, and the fourth is on my "to watch" list.

  • Persepolis. An autobiography of a young woman growing up in Iran and moving to Europe, divided between two worlds and fitting into neither. This graphic novel is full of keen observations and delightful sarcasm, and I have seen a wide variety of readers fall in love with it. (Also, the original French version is quite accessible.)
  • The Battle for Algiers. This is difficult movie, a brutally dispassionate examination of the logic of terrorism, torture and revolution. It's set in colonial Algiers, and it makes almost exactly the same argument that Joan Cole did in the post above.
  • The Rabbi's Cat. Another delightful graphic novel, this one about a rabbi in Algiers, and his cat who wants to learn the Torah. This is a love-letter to Judaism, set against a backdrop of colonialism. The humor is frequently glorious.
  • La haine. I haven't gotten around to watching this yet, but everyone keeps telling me I should.

There's also a lot of interesting stuff that never gets translated, of course.

I'm still trying to get some sort of handle on what people are saying in Algeria. I don't know enough to sort out the internal divisions in Algeria or put things into perspective. One thing which is already clear: Algeria's political divisions are profound, with people like Kamel Daoud (fr) on one side, and certain groups in Belouizdad on the other (fr).

#98 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 03:22 PM:

Avram @10: "There’s been some discussion of the fact that Charlie Hebdo is a reactionary, xenophobic, often virulently racist paper."

Where do you get that from?

My understanding -- I don't speak French -- is that Charlie Hebdo is a left-wing satirical mag that is pro-immigration, pro-diversity, and anti-racist: they employ biting sarcasm and irony in their captioning, to an extent alien to American readers (in a manner similar to but more extreme than The Onion). Poe's law applies, but they're as likely to take pot-shots at the Front Nationale or the government as they are at religious nutters of all varieties.

#99 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 04:09 PM:

And that's what I get for coming in 100+ comments in and sounding off at the first off-message thing I see that doesn't get shouted down within five more comments ...

You'd think I'd know better by now, right?

I'll just get me coat.

#100 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 05:35 PM:

Eric K @97 -- I want to second your recommendation of The Rabbi's Cat, both volumes. And I'm planning to watch the DVD of the animated version once my partner gets home from visiting her mother in Florida. This is part of why I love public libraries: I came across the first volume while browsing, and then the second -- and looking it up online to buy it got me to the DVD. The appearance of Tintin in the second volume was absolutely priceless!

#101 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2015, 11:52 PM:

I hesitate to say _anything_, but what I haven't seen asked explicitly (I may have missed it) is "cui bono?"

#102 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 12:36 AM:

Two links that may be apropos.

1) “Charlie Hebdo”, not racist? If you say so… (by Olivier Cyran, former Charlie Hebdo employee), written 2013-10-05

2) Brown, Caitlin Joline. Irony of Ironies?: ‘Meta-disparagement’ Humor and Its Impact on Prejudice.

First few lines of abstract:

“Meta-disparagement” humor refers to jokes that explicitly target a minority while implicitly ridiculing those who would laugh at the joke at face value. Through the use of irony, an implicit bigot is summoned as the true joke target. But at an explicit level, these jokes are offensive perpetuations of stereotypes. Using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, this dissertation investigates this possibility vis-à-vis humor that targets women, blacks, gay people, and Arabs.

#103 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 12:48 AM:

(One of the references for the Brown, 2012 thesis was the paper linked by heresiarch @#62)

#104 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 03:17 AM:

Owlmirror @ #102: Thank you for the Olivier Cyran article; that's an enormously useful contribution to this discussion. The key claim is that Charlie Hebdo's editorial line changed significantly after September 11, 2001:

Doubtless I would not have had the patience or the stoutness of heart to follow, week after week, the distressing transformation which took over your team after the events of September 11, 2001. I was no longer part of Charlie Hebdo when the suicide planes made their impact on your editorial line, but the Islamophobic neurosis which bit by bit took over your pages from that day on affected me personally, as it ruined the memory of the good moments I spent on the magazine during the 1990s.

There's also a passing hint about what sorts of things make it onto Charlie Hebdo's covers:

It’s obvious that you’re working this same vein in your opinion piece in Le Monde. “It’s still the case, you moan, that Charlie devotes many of its cover cartoons to the papists. But the Islamic religion, whose flag has been imposed upon innumerable peoples on the planet, as far as Indonesia, should somehow be spared. Why the hell should it?

Taken together, this calls my major data sources into doubt. Up until now, I've been relying heavily on two things:

  1. Conversations with people who grew up reading Charlie Hebdo in the 80s and 90s, which I've been using for general background. Most people outgrow sophomoric humor at some point.
  2. Charlie Hebdo covers published in last 3 years or so. These are recent enough that I get most of the jokes, and because they're covers, I don't have to worry about somebody clipping a few panels out of context. (And complete issues from this time period are being bid through the roof.)

But Olivier Cyran's article points of the potential weaknesses of this approach: If the editorial line has changed since September 11, 2001, or if the anti-clerical material tends to be displayed preferentially on the covers, well, I need to dig deeper.

Fortunately, Cyran links to specific Charlie Hebdo editorials to support his case. I've been able to recover all of these from the Wayback Machine. I'll post a separate comment with the actual links, to avoid getting gnomed.

#105 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 03:41 AM:

It's a long time since I studied French at school, and little of it stuck. It didn't include the sort of language that Charlie Hebdo uses, slangy and rather vulgar.

But I can figure out that the cartoons cover a wide range. If you are offended by the "sobbing Mohammed", or by this week's cover, because of the image, that's part of your freedom. But think carefully about the captions. I see Muslims, worldwide, saying much the same things about the murderous fundamentalists.

There are other cartoons which are more difficult. And translation is, as they say, treachery.

Anyone, on either side of the argument, who cannot distinguish between the cartoons, shouldn't be trusted to decide whether they should be printed again. Anyone non-French who just posts a copy without a translation of the caption is being an idiot.

And it can be annoying that somebody shows off their superiority by simply reposting something in a foreign language, without an attempt at explanation.

There's more to this whole business than just the question of what Charlie Hebdo is really saying to us. We had Sunday's hollow support in Paris, representatives of countries with a despicable record on press freedom standing as proud liars, apparently at the front of a march that turned out to be a contrived photo-opportunity on an otherwise empty street. Meanwhile, a million or more people in Paris were marching, not faking it.

And can we believe, any of us, what our News Media are telling us? How about that story about Russian driving licences? Birmingham as a Muslim-run no-go zone for the British government? Does Lincolnshire really have a Muslim Sheriff?

Who can you trust?

#106 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 04:26 AM:

OK, here are the four Charlie Hebdo links from the Olivier Cyran article that Owlmirror posted:

Sexe and the Syrie. Apparently, CH fell for some anti-Islamic propaganda produced by the Syrian government claiming that Jihadists were allowed "temporary marriages" (fr), drew some remarkably tasteless cartoons, and then allegedly failed to retract their cartoons once it became clear that they were dupes of propaganda.

Cette jeunesse irresponsable. This article attempts to contrast the Femen, "young women of unheard of courage" against "the pigs of the desert who preach morality at home and pay escorts in foreign palaces." There's a seriously gross undertone to this editorial, and I want to translate more later.

Les salafistes ont leur roi des belges. This one will take a while to unpack—the writing style is rather impressionistic, to put it charitably. But they're throwing around barbus "bearded people" like a slur, and the rest looks suspicious.

Tunisie: l'islamisme menacé par du rap et des tétons. An interview with two members of Femen, and a Tunisian rapper. Very little of Charlie's voice remains in this article—several of the cartoons are missing, and the rest looks like they're mostly just signal-boosting people who have to live under repressive governments—but Olivier Cyran argues that they should have called out the rapper for his remarks:

Yet, you weren’t appalled when the Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 described his own country’s police as “dogs who should have their throats cut like sheep”. On the contrary, you interviewed him, with all the respect due to a “fighter for free expression”[18].

And yet, several of the artists at Charlie could draw some pretty cutting anti-racist cartoons. And several people have already pointed out that Charlie was an ensemble of multiple voices, with different opinions.

At this point, I've established two data points to my personal satisfaction:

  1. When fighting against the French right, Charlie Hebdo could be genuinely anti-racist and pro-immigrant, and sometimes quite bitingly so.
  2. When fighting against Islamic radicalism, Charlie Hebdo could be seriously gross, to the point that it makes me want to go take a shower. This isn't just a comedian using ironic racism and failing.

This is a seriously weird combination—though by no means an unprecedented one—and different people might have seen very different faces of CH at different times. I'll try to translate more later.

#107 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 05:28 AM:

Eric K @104: I've gathered from similar discussions with French friends that Philippe Val's stint as the editorial director (2004-2009, though he was there from 1992 and was one of the co-founders of the paper's second incarnation that year) alienated many in the paper's traditional readership because of the direction in which he took Charlie Hebdo.
Meanwhile, Le Grand Journal reviewed the paper's last 52 covers and found that 35 were on internal affairs policy, several on Hollande, 10 on the Front National, 2 on Catholics, 1 on Palestine/Israel, and 1 on Mohammed. I can't find a link that shows the 52 covers in question, though.

#108 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 05:48 AM:

Random thought of the hour: I think in Europe we have also tied ourselves in knots trying to limit free speech via a number of restrictions on speech that "incites violence" or "incites racial hatred" or is a "incitement to a breach of the peace" or somesuch.

My thoughts on objectionable speech tend far more towards the more absolutist position of the US (just as my thoughts on separation of church and state veer more towards the French laicite postion). It's not just and extreme view that compromises muddy the water, or are less ideologically pure. Nor is it just a practical objection that such attempts lead to very real arguments of favoritism (re antisemitism vs Islamophobia etc).

It's just that I really do strongly believe that objectionable is speech better out there being debated, combatted, and indeed ridiculed and laughed at.

I have spent most of my life enduring the most offensive speech variously suggesting that I am a pervert, that my sexuality makes me a paedophile, that it makes me untrustworthy, that it makes me incapable of keeping national secrets, that it makes me unfit for public, military or commercial office, that it makes me subhuman, that any love I feel is not real. Throughout this, it has never crossed my mind that this would best be combatted by BANNING THE SPEECH.

I still don't believe that. And it is difficult to see how such speech and writing could be banned without banning the Bible, for example, with its clear incitements to horrific violence. I also believe that the fact that these viewpoints were casually expressed on national television relatively recently has enabled their challenge. I suspect that, if this is all unspoken, the attitudes remain. Unchallenged.

I apologise if not everything is fully considered in my posts by the way: I get little snippets of time to respond!

#109 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 06:12 AM:

Dave Bell #105 - yes, Lincolnshire does have a Muslim Sheriff, but that sort of position is largely ceremonial, so the appointment (To an aristocrat, as is usually the case) is not controversial.
The Birmingham comment is of course a piece of lunacy.

THe answer of course is that we can't entirely trust our news media.

#110 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 06:19 AM:

#105 ::: Dave Bell

Has the story about the Russian government not letting transexuals have driving licenses been debunked? Or has it not been adequately checked?

#111 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 06:22 AM:

Does anyone know the history of Muslims trying to forbid non-Muslims from making images of Mohammed?

#112 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 07:29 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 110, I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but I heard this interview on NPR the other day.

I think I heard a more detailed one about the differences between Sunni and Shi'a interpretations, but I can't find it with a quick search.

#113 ::: Eric K is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 07:55 AM:

I posted a long comment after Dave Bell's #105. This contains links to the CH editorials singled out as objectionable by Olivier Cyran, with short summaries.

#114 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 07:59 AM:

#111 ::: Cassy B

Thanks, that was interesting, but not what I was looking for.


What's going wrong with mainstream Islam, and how it can be healed, from a more or less Sufi point of view:

How Bidar developed his ideas:

Details about problems with the translation at the memri link.

Cory Panshin: It strikes me that there's a subtle bias. They translate éloignés as "estranged" when it more properly means "far-off" and sévères as "harsh" rather than "severe." They translate avec le recul de la distance as "from a distance" -- that one is trickier. because it means something like "with the hindsight of distance" and there's no direct English equivalent.

All of these exaggerate the emotional distance of the writer from the Muslim people and add a note of alienation and judgmentalism that isn't there in the French. The fact that the French uses the intimate second person singular -- te, toi, and so on -- that would be used in speaking to a relative or close friend also softens it and makes it more heart-to-heart. None of that comes through in the English "you."

They combine two sentences into the single, "I see you in a state of misery and suffering that saddens me to no end, but which makes my philosopher's judgment even harsher, because I see you in the process of birthing a monster ..." A more literal translation would be something like, "I see you -- you -- in a state of misery and suffering that makes me infinitely sad and makes my philosopher's judgment even more severe! For I see you in the process of giving birth to a monster..."

Again, it's a subtle difference -- but in the original, the emotional weight falls upon "infinitely sad," while combining the sentences places it upon "even harsher." it gives the translation a scolding tone rather than the note of pity and pleading that comes through in the original.

It would take me far too long to carry this all the way through, but those examples are enough to satisfy me that this is a textbook case of "traduttore, traditore."

#115 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 09:56 AM:

Of all the stuff I've read so far, this Vox article comes closest to my views. The entire thing is worth reading.

But just as we have to consider the larger context when understanding the intent of Charlie Hebdo's satire, so too must we consider that larger context when evaluating the satire's effect. And that larger context is not flattering to Charlie Hebdo.

James Harvey @108: I'm with you on both free speech and laïcité.

#116 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 10:25 AM:


Thanks for the link.

The trouble is that I'm not sure I quite buy the line that Charlie Hebdo is a bunch of "white men punching down", given that the white men who were killed include a Jewish woman and a Muslim Algerian man.

Five minutes of research also reveals that current staff also include Zineb El Rhazoui (originally from Morocco), Sylvie Coma, Catherine Meurisse, Sigolène Vinson etc etc. Overall this doesn't look to me like an isolated bunch of white straight Christian guys pursuing sophomoric humour unaware of the wider meaning. It may be a bunch of racially, religiously and gender diverse people pursuing that sort of humour: but that isn't the charge leveled by Jacob Canfield et al. And I do think before pinning a backlash piece on the corpses of the dead, perhaps that five minutes research on the staff of Charlie Hebdo might have been appropriate?

#117 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 10:45 AM:

[My comment upthread @ #106 just got ungnomed, and it provides some background.]

I'm working my way through a couple of Olivier Cyran's arguments. I'll break this into two posts, in hopes of saving the gnomes some extra work.

* Argument #1 from Olivier Cyran: Charlie Hebdo propagated Syrian propaganda and drew some really offensive cartoons

First, some background. There's a long-standing debate in Islam about a practice known as Mut’a, or "temporary marriage." This is legally supported by some Shiite Muslims, including Sistani, and condemned by many Sunni Muslims. When permitted, it is supposed to follow a series of rules including mandatory waiting periods.

Anyway, according to a blogger at Le Monde (a mainstream newspaper which leans vaguely liberal/left at the moment), the Syrian government claimed that the rebels had declared temporary marriages to be a praiseworthy form of jihad. I'll do my best to translate some key phrases. (I keep getting "stuck in the translator's interlanguage", as I once heard it put, so this may be a little rough.)

…the propaganda of the Syrian regime invented, at the end of 2012, a new concept:

…[This concept attributed to the regime's enemies] authorized, in effect, the jihadists who lacked sexual relations on account of their distance from their families to enter into "temporary marriages", which were supposed to be short-term, in such a manner as to permit them to satisfy their needs. Needless to say, the "temporary wives" had to be older than 14, and had to be widowed or repudiated. The women volunteering for this jihad of a type previously unknown in Islam would be able to claim the title of moudjahidât, and if they died for one reason or another, they would have, like all combatants in the holy war, immediate access to paradise.

…But, thanks to the lack of credibility of these witnesses [young women shown on Syrian TV] and the weakness of their accounts, their stories didn't convince many people, even among the ranks of the partisans of the regime at whom they were primarily aimed.

There's a lot more detail in the article, and Google Translate tends to work well on Le Monde's prose.

Now, according to Olivier Cyran, Charlie Hebdo swallowed this propaganda hook, line and sinker, and proceeded to draw a series of cartoons ridiculing "sexual jihad" in extremely crass terms. You can find Charlie Hebdo's editorial on the Wayback Machine. The article begins:

[Warning: This is pretty vile.]

September 25, 2013

Un bon combattant doit avoir l’arme chargée et les couilles vides. Voilà ce qu’a décrété Mohamed al-Arifi, mufti saoudien, théoricien du djihad en Syrie. Tout a commencé lorsque son âme de philanthrope s’est émue de la misère sexuelle que vivent les moudjahidine d’Allah contre Bachar, qui, lui, affiche une jolie épouse. Il n’a pas tort, al-Arifi, car, pour ces soldats de la liberté, cela ne doit pas être bien agréable de se contenter de violer.

A good combatant must have a loaded weapon and empty balls. Voilà that which has been decreed by Mohamed al-Arifi, a Saudi mufti and theoretician of the jihad in Syria. Everything started when his philanthropic soul was moved by the sexual misery experienced by the mujaheddin of Allah against [Syrian president] Bachar, who personally boasts a very pretty wife. Al-Arifi isn't wrong, because, for these soldiers of liberty, it can't be very agreeable to have to content themselves with rape.

It gets worse from there. And if you've read this far, you can probably interpret the cartoons reasonably accurately without me translating the captions.

Anyway, a question for Pendrift or other people in France: Would I be justified in saying that this article is pretty repulsive, even by the norms of French political satire, and taking into account the relevant context?

I'm finding it really hard to reconcile this editorial with some of the anti-racist, pro-immigrant cartoons I've also seen from Charlie Hebdo. It's no wonder that everybody is having such a hard time understanding what's going on here.

Pendrift: Thank you for the Vox link. I especially like the way they use a New Yorker cover to explain what's going on. Concrete examples like that greatly reduce the risk of people in the US exotifying French culture.

#118 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 11:53 AM:

James Harvey @116:
The trouble is that I'm not sure I quite buy the line that Charlie Hebdo is a bunch of "white men punching down", given that the white men who were killed include a Jewish woman and a Muslim Algerian man.

Repeating Canfield's "white men punching down" line was an unfortunate choice; "collateral damage" is far more apt. This was the weakest part of the essay, because CH was not fighting on the winning side of the culture war; quite the contrary.

The people behind the paper, however, are part of the winning side. Even looking at the racial and gender diversity (not religious, as they were all ferociously laïc), the paper occupied a place in French collective memory; its senior cartoonists were revered; the staffers tended to be highly educated. Its most visible figures are white guys with loud voices in leftist intellectual circles. This is a privileged bunch. And they have the blindness of that privilege.

I'm reading today's issue right now, and have translated a large chunk of the editorial written by editor-in-chief Gérard Biard on the second page. Corrections welcome; it's a bit rough. (The inside pages of CH are fairly text-heavy, in case anyone thought it was only full of cartoons.) I hope it helps give a clearer idea of the paper's position and attitudes.

Est-ce qu'il y aura encore des "oui-mais"? (Will we still hear "yes-but"?)


One question continues to nag at us. Are we finally going to rid political and intellectual vocabulary of the vile epithet that is "laïc extremist"? (laïcard intégriste). Are we finally going to stop inventing knowing semantic circumlocutions to qualify assassins and their victims as belonging to the same basket?

These past few years, we have been feeling rather isolated, and attempted to use our pencils to push back against the gross insults and the pseudo-intellectual nitpicking that were thrown in our faces, and in the faces of our friends who staunchly defended laïcité: islamophobes, christianophobes, agitators, irresponsible, throwing fuel into the flames, racists, you-were-asking-for-it. Yes, we condemn terrorism, but. Yes, sending death threats to cartoonists is bad, but. Yes, setting fire to a paper is bad, but. We've heard it all, and so have our friends. We often tried to laugh it off, because that's what we do best. But we'd like to laugh about something else now, because it's starting again.


We will nevertheless try to be optimist, even though it's not the season for it. We will hope that beginning this January 7th, 2015, the staunch defense of laïcité will be self-evident to everyone, that people will finally stop legitimizing or even tolerating - whether by moral position, electoral calculation, or cowardice - communitarism* and cultural relativism, which open the way to only one thing: religious totalitarianism. Yes, the Israel-Palestine conflict is real, yes, international geopolitics is a series of maneouvers and low blows, yes, the social situation of the - as they call it - "populations of Muslim origin" in France is profoundly unjust, yes, racism and discrimination must be fought constantly. There are fortunately a number of tools to try and solve these grave problems, but all of them are ineffective if one is missing: laïcité. Not positive laïcité, not inclusive laïcité, not I-don't-know-what laïcité, just laïcité, period. Because it advocates universal rights, it is the only thing that allows the exercice of égalité, libérté, fraternité, sororité. It is the only thing that allows full freedom of conscience, a freedom that is denied - more or less openly, depending on their marketing position - by all religions as soon as they leave the private sphere and encroach upon politics. Ironically, it is the only thing that allows believers and non-believers alike to live in peace. Those who claim to defend Muslims in accepting totalitarian religious discourse are in fact defending their oppressors. The first victims of Islamic fascism are Muslims.

All the millions of unknown people, all the institutions, heads of state and government, political, intellectual, and media personalities, all religious dignitaries who proclaimed "Je suis Charlie" this week should know that that also means "Je suis la laïcité". We are convinced that, for the majority of our supporters, this goes without saying. We leave the others to sort it out themselves.

*in the sense of "sticking only to one's community", can't find the word right now

#119 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 12:01 PM:



*in the sense of "sticking only to one's community", can't find the word right now


#120 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 12:03 PM:

Thanks due again I think to Eric K and Pendrift for 117 an 118

I have to say, on first reading of the paragraph that begins "We will nevertheless try to be optimist" in #118, that I find a great deal there personally to agree with, and little to disagree with. That may just be my position, however.

#121 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 12:46 PM:



*in the sense of "sticking only to one's community", can't find the word right now


My own idea was "tribalism", in the most general sense.

#123 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 01:04 PM:

Owlmirror @121: Tribalism! Yes, that's the word I was looking for.

James Harvey @122: You beat me to posting that one.
As for your previous comment, indeed. I agree with that passage. So knowing how their cartoons worsened things instead makes Wednesday's shootings even sadder for me.

#124 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 02:46 PM:

James Harvey @ #122: Thank you for the "Lost in Translation" link. The comparison to post-9/11 Christopher Hitchens is interesting, and the observation that "there is a difference between a left-wing newspaper gone rotten and a racist publication" seems to have some relevance.

Here's the second half of my post on the Olivier Cyran article.

* Argument #2 from Olivier Cyran: Some of Charlie Hebdo's writers need to examine their id

Here's what Olivier Cyran has to say:

Speaking of which, we could say a lot about the sleazy aspect of your motivations. The euphoria with which Charlie Hebdo welcomed the topless activists of FEMEN suggests that the grease of Islamophobia blends perfectly with a splattering of testosterone. The ode of Bernard Maris to Amina Sboui, a Tunisian FEMEN-ist who posed topless on the Internet, offers a good example of the hormonal muck dripping off your pages

He's referring to an article by Bernard Maris, who died in the recent attacks. It's partly a panegyric to Clément Méric, a left-wing activist who was beaten to death by skinheads, and to youthful idealism. This was the most challenging of my translations so far. This text is written in a highly rhetorical style, and word choice was often challenging. Corrections are very much welcome.

[All ellipses in the original.]

Clément Méric... Cette jeune tête, cette bonne bouille... Un petit gars de 18 ans, extrêmement doué, mention très bien au bac, un petit Sciences-Po sympa, qui croit à ce que l’on croit à 18 ans: la générosité, la liberté, la justice. Rassurez-vous, ça passe. Le plomb entre vite dans la tête. Clément était de ces petits gars libertaires qu’on a tous connus, et tous un peu été. Antifasciste, antiraciste. Tué par des fascistes racistes. Tué par des cons. Comme Évariste Galois, tué par un spadassin, un crétin.

Clément Méric... That young head, that handsome face… A little guy, 18 years old, extremely gifted, good scores on his baccalauréat, a friendly little Sciences-Po student, who believes in what we believe at 18: generosity, liberty, justice. Reassure yourself; that passes. The bullet enters quickly in the head. Clément was one of those little freedom-loving guys that we have all known, and that we have all been, a bit. Anti-fascist. Anti-racist. Killed by fascist racists. Killed by assholes. Like Évariste Galois, killed by a sword-happy cretin.

Commentaire d’une journaliste, sur BFM: «Mais ne les avait-il pas provoqués?» Tué par des cons, enterré par une imbécile. La vie est triste, pour cette jeunesse joyeuse... Regardez les Femen: ridiculisées, méprisées, et menacées de prison. Mais quel courage! Quel courage! Manifester seins nus dans des pays machistes d’obsédés sexuels, la Russie, la Tunisie, quel courage! Les seins ne sont pas des obus bien méchants. On dira d’elles aussi qu’elles ont provoqué, qu’elles l’ont cherché...

Commentary from a journalist on BFM [business TV news]: "But hadn't he provoked them?" Killed by idiots, buried by an imbecile. Life is sad, for this happy youthfulness... Look at the Femen: ridiculed, despised, and threatened with prison. But what courage! What courage! To protest with naked breasts in macho countries full of sex maniacs, Russia, Tunisia, what courage! Breasts aren't terribly dangerous weapons. People will say of them, that they provoked, that they were asking for it...

But further on, there's a section that leaped out at Olivier Cyran (and at me).

[Warning: Potentially creepy id ahead.]

Respectable! Montre tes seins, Amina, montre ton sexe à tous les crétins barbus habitués des sites pornos, à tous les cochons du désert qui prêchent la morale à domicile et se payent des escorts dans les palaces étrangers, et rêvent de te voir lapidée après t’avoir outragée...

Respectable! Show your breats, Amina, show your sex to all the bearded cretins accustomed to porno sites, to the pigs of the desert who preach morality at home and pay for escorts in foreign palaces, and who dream of seeing you stoned after having committed outrages against you...

Ton corps nu est d’une pureté absolue en face des djellabas et des niqabs répugnants. Quel courage!

Your nude body is of an absolute purity when opposed to the repugnant djellabas and niqabs. What courage!

I don't know what the author intended with this paragraph, but as a reader, it makes me feel unclean.

So after all this, what do I think? Charlie Hebdo was a left-wing paper. The authors frequently disagreed. They were anti-fascist and anti-racist, and often fiercely so. They were sophomoric and fond of dick jokes. After 9/11—and after the first attacks on their offices—they could be anti-Islamic to the point of obsession. They fell far too eagerly for Syrian propaganda. They relied too carelessly on ironic racism to fight racism. And in their worst moments, they could write things that make me shudder.

So they were, as we so often say today, deeply problematic. But nobody deserves to die for blasphemy or for drawing cartoons. And I await the future with trepidation, hoping that all of us will heed the better angels of our nature.

#125 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 03:13 PM:

Marjane Satrapi is the author of the autobiographical Persepolis, which I mentioned up-thread as one of the best graphic novels I've ever read. She grew up during the Iranian revolution, she struggled to integrate herself into European life, and she is herself a cartoonist of considerable talent.

She has been quoted in the New York Times:

The Iranian-French graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, the author of “Persepolis,” praised Charlie Hebdo’s willingness to “give the finger to all kinds of authority,” whether religious or political. “I wasn’t always in love with what they did,” she said in a telephone interview from Paris, where she lives. “But I was in love with the idea we had one magazine that was this subversive.”

Ms. Satrapi said she worried about the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment, but that questioning the scathing satire of Charlie Hebdo was “the wrong conversation” to be having in the wake of the killings.

“People have the right to have a different point of view, and to provoke,” she said. “If we allow acts like this to create a climate of fear, we will have lost our freedom.”

#126 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 07:24 PM:

The more I think about this, the more I feel that it comes down to one principle: there are certain things that one does not do if one wants to remain a member in good standing of civilized humanity.

Torture is one of those things.

Vigilante murder is another.

No matter how problematic the writers and cartoonists at CH may have been, they did not deserve to be killed by a vigilante. Or, to turn it around, no vigilante had the right to kill them. For me at least, that's the irreducible minimum here.

#127 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2015, 10:00 PM:

Eric K @ 106

At this point, I've established two data points to my personal satisfaction:

When fighting against the French right, Charlie Hebdo could be genuinely anti-racist and pro-immigrant, and sometimes quite bitingly so.
When fighting against Islamic radicalism, Charlie Hebdo could be seriously gross, to the point that it makes me want to go take a shower. This isn't just a comedian using ironic racism and failing.

This is a seriously weird combination

Here is where I think historical context is helpful

The French left has always been laic; effectively, that means firmly believing that religion is at best a hobby, and generally a fairly despicable one, and should absolutely not be an identity that the state acknowledges. This viewpoint goes back to the Revolution.

In pre-Jacobin France, anti-clericalism was probably mostly aimed at the privileged. But the French left has stayed anti-religious--it's anti-religious, not anti-privilege. The concern about "religion encroaching on politics" as a major threat is absolutely typical of the French left (and we're seeing echoes of it in the American left in the last half-century).

#128 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 04:17 AM:


I wouldn't grace these people with the term "vigilante". I reserve that term for people who take the law in to their own hands. They certainly weren't taking French law into their own hands, and I would like to believe that they weren't taking Islamic law either.

(In reality I suspect they may well have been taking Islamic law into their own hands. That that has no jurisdiction in Paris, and is bad law, is a different argument.)

#129 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 04:29 AM:

Sorry to bombard with links and double posts, but I'm afraid I also have a lot of time for Suzanne Moore's article in the Guardian here:

Add faithophobia to my crimes: I have no respect for religions that have little respect for me

#130 ::: KevinT ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 04:42 AM:

Thanks for your translation efforts. I think it helps a lot.

One small correction:
"Le plomb entre vite dans la tête." does not mean "The bullet enters quickly in the head".

"Avoir du plomb dans la tête." means to be more reasonable, more responsible.
In the context of the Maris article, "Le plomb entre vite dans la tête." means "As you grow older, you quickly lose some of your youthful idealism and impulsiveness, you grow more pragmatic."

#131 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 09:51 AM:

'lead in the head' figuratively meaning lead in one's rear end?

#132 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 10:51 AM:

SamChevre @ #127: It's not the anti-clericism that grossed me out. It was the way that those two particular editorials seemed to sexualize Arabic men and women, what Olivier Cyran referred to as la mayonnaise hormonale qui colle à vos pages. But then again, plenty of newspapers have the occasional strange editorial.

My main reason for digging so deeply into the Charlie Hebdo stuff was to help me understand how people in France were reacting. I needed the background to understand the news.

KevinT @ #130: Thank you for the correction! I was thrown off by the Stallone movie with the French title Du plomb dans la tête. This is what I get for learning French from BDs, SF novels and trashy TV. :-)

#133 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 11:31 AM:

SamChevre at 127: In pre-Jacobin France, anti-clericalism was probably mostly aimed at the privileged.

In pre-Jacobin France, anti-clericalism would get you in deep trouble with the Law, if it was noticed, for values of deep trouble up to and including public execution. Where do you think the motivating energy behind anti-clericalism comes from?

(There's something similar here in Scotland. Scotland was a pretty brutal theocracy during the Reformation, run by presbyterian clergy, complete with witch-burnings and atheist- and catholic-hangings that persisted into the 18th century. That sort of thing ultimately undermines the legitimacy of an institution. And it lends me some grounds for hope, in the very long term, that places like Saudi Arabia or Iran will get better.)

#134 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 12:13 PM:

SamChevre, #127: The concern about "religion encroaching on politics" as a major threat is absolutely typical of the French left (and we're seeing echoes of it in the American left in the last half-century).

With good reason. Or have you not been following American politics for the past decade?

#135 ::: KevinT ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 12:27 PM:

P J Evans @ 130:
I'm not familiar with the phrase 'lead in one's rear end'. A quick googling suggests it means lazy or sluggish.
Is that right?

We do have 'avoir un cul de plomb" ('arse made out of lead') for people unable to run/move quickly.
Laziness would be 'avoir un poil dans la main' ('hairy palms').

#136 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 12:42 PM:

James H., #129: That's an outstanding article. She makes a point that I've been banging away on for a decade or more: Tolerance has to be reciprocal or it is not tolerance at all.

Someone who tells me that I have to be "tolerant" of a person, a government, or a religion that's trying to take away my own personhood is telling me that they already think of me as not a person. They are asking me to give over all power into the hands of bullies and leave me with no recourse. I am under no legal or moral obligation to be "tolerant" of someone who refuses to return the courtesy.

And (just in case it needs to be repeated) it is not true that removing someone's ability to oppress others is itself oppression.

#137 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 01:28 PM:

Lee @ 136

Tolerance has to be reciprocal or it is not tolerance at all.

I agree, for values of "tolerance" that don't mean "approval." Tolerance is a slippery word.

I think that "tolerance" is a good term for NYC's attitude toward cigarette smoking. Lots of landlords won't rent to you, lots of businesses won't hire you, and the taxes are punitive. But you won't go to jail (as long as you pay the taxes/fines). That's tolerance.

The problem comes when "tolerance" slides into "approval"; Stephen Gaskin did not tolerate marijuana, he approved of it. "I don't tolerate people who don't tolerate me" is compatible with getting along even with people who disagree about important things, and "I don't approve of people who don't approve of me" is too; but "I don't tolerate people who don't approve of me" is corrosive.

#138 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 02:43 PM:

SamChevre, #137: That's an excellent illustration of why religion encroaching on politics is a serious threat. Thank you.

#139 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2015, 07:15 PM:

The idea seems to be the same. Idiomatic English for 'get moving' can be 'get the lead out'.

#140 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2015, 09:44 AM:

For some reason this action of the French state seems particularly powerful to me as a counter narrative to the "War of the Cultures" polarisation:

Muslim man who saved lives at kosher market siege awarded French citizenship

#141 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2015, 08:26 PM:

EricK @ 79:

Let me note at the outset that I find looking deeply and examining things for oneself an intrinsically excellent pursuit, and that I quite appreciate the awareness of Charlie Hebdo's complexities that you and Pendrift have brought to this conversation. I am wiser due to your contributions. However, where we (seem to) part ways is in how we see the relationship between that deeper examination and the simple, superficial judgement that Charlie Hebdo was a purveyor of bigotry.

I hold that one can draw a (justifiable) conclusion regarding the presence of bigotry without first engaging in deep examination. Furthermore, I find it implausible (though not impossible) to assert that any amount of deeper examination can be expected to alter that conclusion.

To illustrate this, I would like to ask: how is it that you divide the world into two camps, those arguing in good faith and those engaged in propaganda? How is it, having established these two mental categories, you file newly encountered individuals into them? To draw such a conclusion must require some, albeit partial, level of awareness of what it is they stand for. There you allow yourself to stop and conclude: ah, here is a propagandist. I need hear no more to be certain of this.

There are some things, then, that can be justifiably concluded on the basis of only a partial familiarity. Those conclusions are unlikely enough to be challenged by further analysis that to sea lion--“but if only you heard my argument in a longer form, engaged with me further you would see”--is to engage in absurdity under the guise of reasonability.

I think that to conclude that someone trafficked in racist imagery after seeing a handful of racist cartoons they published is that sort of thing. Learning that they published all sort of other things, some anti-racist, some critical of all sorts of other things* cannot change that conclusion. And therefore the insistence that before concluding anything about Hebdo I must familiarize myself with Hebdo's whole range feels very much like a form of sea-lioning itself.

I am in no way opposed to examining Hebdo's full range of work--there is much to be learned there. It is, as I have said, intrinsically rewarding. But it is rewarding in a way that is parallel to, not necessary for drawing fast distinctions about where I want to allocate my mental energy. As you say, life is too short.

* As an aside, the claims that “their hearts were in the right place” and “they attacked everyone equally” are mutually exclusive positions: one cannot be a left-wing, anti-authoritarian and anti-clerical publication and simultaneously swing punches in all directions.

#142 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2015, 09:41 AM:

heresiarch @ #141: And therefore the insistence that before concluding anything about Hebdo I must familiarize myself with Hebdo's whole range feels very much like a form of sea-lioning itself.

I apologize deeply if you felt "sea-lioned" by anything I said. That was certainly not my intent. I think that your points are perfectly reasonable and sensible. CH makes frequent use of dehumanizing caricature, and when it's directed at people who lack power, the results are repulsive.

I do, however, think that—depending on personal goals—it's worth supplementing the visual analysis with a political analysis. For example, if the goal is to understand how the French have reacted to these events, it helps to translate the captions, to figure out the jokes, to listen to French readers, and to carefully consider political critiques like Olivier Cyran's. But that's obviously a matter of personal choice, and people's interests differ.

#143 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2015, 04:17 PM:

If a picture paints a thousand words, this look at a year's worth of Charlie Hebdo covers provides more context of a different sort.

#144 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 03:47 PM:

Lee @ 17: Indeed. One of our business associates worries about traveling home from cons with large amounts of cash; he is of Jewish descent, which means he has the same coloring and type of features as some Muslims, and the bigots don't care about anything else.

James Harvey @ 116: The trouble is that I'm not sure I quite buy the line that Charlie Hebdo is a bunch of "white men punching down", given that the white men who were killed include a Jewish woman and a Muslim Algerian man.

It should be mentioned that, far from being just another aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the four Jews killed out of 30-ish held hostage at the Hyper-Cacher store, were deliberately targeted as part of the Charlie Hebdo attack - not only the press that says bad things about us, but Jews in general, must be killed.

1) It was a different attacker at the kosher store than at the Charlie Hebdo, although he seems to have been their brother-in-law.

2) The attack was timed to catch a large number of Jews in the store just before closing on Friday, as they shopped last-minute for the Sabbath. Coulibaly was North African just like the Jews in the store; he knew the rhythms of that community.

3) It was aimed at a Jewish store, not at a general supermarket.

4) Coulibaly told a TV station that he deliberately targeted Jews, and was working together with the Kouachi brothers.

The MSM seemed to treat it as an afterthought or aftermath after the crisis was resolved Friday evening. Just as in Mumbai, this attack was a coordinated assault on both an open society, and on Jews who exist. Many in the Paris crowd carried signs saying "Je suis Charlie, Je suis Juif (because of the store), Je suis Musulman (because of the Muslim cop)." You just had to go to the nonstandard (non-US mainstream) media to see it.

#145 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 05:01 PM:

EricK @ 142: I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to respond. Life is.

Thank you for your apology. If I accept it with some hesitance, it is because I am not sure it is necessary: your contributions--not only digging into the larger context of Charlie Hebdo but also sharing it with us--is the best possible demonstration of the authenticity of your engagement. You don't have anything to apologize for in this thread.

I hesitate, perhaps, also because what I was trying to describe was less an error committed than a blindspot unrecognized. (Or not?) I do not doubt your sincerity any more than I doubt my own, but I have not found my own sincerity a reliable protection against hurting others.

As a general contribution to the thread: Equal in Paris?

IN THE FIVE YEARS that I have lived in France, I have more than once been welcomed into well-furnished rooms where I have been left to silently puzzle over colonial detritus—Sambo-like dolls and figurines, thick-lipped, bug-eyed, disembodied brown porcelain heads—cavalierly displayed on illuminated shelves and marble tabletops. The first few times I saw these mementos I was jarred, though it is also possible for me to talk and laugh and drink in such spaces, because I am with friends, and I am comfortable in my status as an American who has made his home in Paris but is always free to leave. And yet, I would be lying if I denied that there is some small part of my consciousness still tender with ancestral ache, which cannot ever allow me to lose sight of these outlandish trophies and souvenirs. They seem to somehow comfort or amuse my hosts, reminding them of nothing at all or of some far less complicated and stressful past, and fit smartly in the décor alongside equestrian prints, layered “oriental” rugs, and grandfather’s antelope heads from Africa mounted on the wall.
#146 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2015, 05:05 PM:

Jon, for what it's worth, I'd heard that Jews were targeted in the second attack in France, and I mostly follow mainstream media, including a lot of NPR and BBC. I'd also heard about Je Suis Juif and Je Suis Musselman.

I had *not* heard about Jews being targeted in the Mumbai attack.

#147 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2015, 07:47 PM:

Nancy, the Mumbai terrorists went specifically to the Mumbai Chabad house and killed most of the family that ran it, and three other Jews who were staying there. The terrorists then seem to have used the building as a base of operations from which to attack the other hotels and targets. Look up the role of "Nariman House" online.

#148 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 04:27 AM:

Random link of the day on offence and free speech. For those of you who don't know, Frankie Boyle is a highly scatological Scottish comedian who has been highly controversial in the UK. Not stupid though.

#149 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2015, 10:53 AM:

Related: Wolinski's widow Maryse talks about their relationship, his work, and the notes he'd leave around the house.

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