#JeSuisCharlie? Foutre le Camp!

I see on Facebook today that Charlie Hebdo is still trending, and an email informs me that the asinine hashtag ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, started soon after the Paris attack, is still raging on the interwebs.

Well, I *am* furious about the disgusting – and frankly idiotic – murderers, but this “Je suis Charlie” nonsense is taking pop activism too far. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, thank you very much, and neither are most of you showing solidarity with the hashtag. European xenophobia – and I say this because most of my friends abroad live in the USA – is a beast quite unlike the hysterically blind, unself-aware American one: it is far more open and unapologetic. In a way, that’s often a better thing than the subtle poisoning of the subconscious, but it is still not a good thing. And much of this xenophobia is expressed culturally through satire.

Does that mean Charlie Hebdo’s staff deserved to be slaughtered? No. Litigated against, perhaps, but not violated physically, much less murdered. On the other hand, do they deserve to be universally applauded for ‘bravery’? I don’t think so. It’s easy to be part of the cultural majority of a land and claim to be an equal-opportunity satirist, but that is not how power works. And indeed, if googling serves me right, I believe France – which is trotting out it’s historical culture of appreciation of satire as a moral brownie point – once banned a magazine for satirising Charles de Gaulle [UPDATE: Facebook connections tell me the banned magazine was Charlie Hebdo’s earlier avatar. Fascinating.]. So much for historical equal-opportunity.

In summary, Hebdo had every right to print what they did, even if they didn’t have sterling taste or a clean social or political conscience. On the question of religious ‘offence’: if you’re a deliberately uninformed Hindu, you’re free not to eat beef (or any animal protein), but you have no right to stop anyone else from consuming it. If you’re a devout, conservative Muslim, by all means never draw the prophet, but you have no right to attack or slaughter those that do (but of course, you could take them to court). If you’re a conservative, stupid Christian, stay away from the school curricula. Your ignorance is your choice, not society’s collective burden. Let things stand at that, and all shall be well.

Well, well-ish. It’s a pity that that is the best we can ask for at the moment.


One comment

  1. These are some of the responses to this from social media:

    Matthew Belmonte: Je pense que « Je suis Charlie » dans ce circonstance veut dire simplement que je parle et je pense et j’ai de la solidarité avec des autres parleurs et penseurs malgré que je ne partage point leurs avis. Donc, oui, je suis Charlie.

    Rimi: Yes, all right, but it is nonetheless open to interpretation, and if I think a little more about it, open also to appropriation (this, I suppose, is more apparent when white middle-class people carry signs that read “I am Michael Brown” and so on). I agree with the support in context of this attack, but it is certainly true that xenophobia (plus class and feudal consciousness) and first-world humour/satire has often gone hand-in-hand.

    Dipanjan Chattopadhyay: Fair and balanced. One quick comment. Even though Muslims in Europe are largely a powerless minority, the risk of critiquing and satirizing Islam perhaps needs to be evaluated in a global context. Not all Islamic countries are powerless. By not cutting oil production and accepting large deficits, Saudi is economically destroying Russia as we speak. The fatwa against Rushdie was perhaps an inflection point in that regard, although expansive global aspiration of Islam has never been ahistorical.

    Parichay Patra:This is what my Parisian friend cum French film critic Berenice Reynaud has to say about the incident “In 1969, in the wake of the post 1968 movements, HARA KIRI HEBDO was founded and was immediately known for its irreverent cartoons and articles. In 1970, it was banned by the right-wing French government after a satrirical cover about General de Gaulle’s death (“Bal Tragique à Colombey: un mort.”) They reopened as CHARLIE HEBDO. They had no sacred cows. The killers can be proud of themselves: among those they sprayed with bullets were two genial cartoonists, both in or near their 80s: Wolinski (born 1934) and Cabu (born in 1938). The young editor, Charb, on the other hand, was born in 1967. He was known for his anti-capitalist cartoons “Maurice et Pataponi,” starring a bisexual, anarchist and scatological dog and an asexual, neo-con cat. After being first targeted by terrorist attacks for publishing a portrait of Mohammed saying “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons” (“It’s had to be loved by assholes.”) he said in an interview: “I would prefer to die standing than living on my knees.” Today the assholes have (temporarily) won, we are mourning, but Charb did die standing, and we have to stand for him, for Wolinski, Cabu, and for freedom of expression.”

    John Gamey: I have to say that I increasingly wonder whether European Islamophobia isn’t best understood as a speices of communal majoritiarianism: of course in Europe the term communal is reserved for non-European minorities but since I returned from India to the ‘clash of civilizations’ in the early noughties I really have wondered whether Europe might not be suffering its own version of the saffron wave: what political theorists described as majoritarianism in the Indian context.

    My own take is here:

    “Watching newsnight and reports from Paris I’m very much reminded of the mood shortly after 9/11 in initial reports from New York etc. This began by drawing in many who were genuinely shocked by what had happened-but over a period hardened into a hugely reactionary current of
    opinion whose consequences we are all familiar with. Its very clear that it will take very little to transform the defence of ‘our values’ into attacks on minorities. The difference seems paper thin to me. Already. Its all about ‘our’ values and ‘theirs’. Bernard Kouchner holding forth on the need to bring democracy to the middle east, others speaking of the need for Muslims who have ‘chosen to live among us’ to reform their religion etc. And much worse to follow I feel. The Hebdo magazine was at the sharp end of promoting these kinds of resentments about Muslims in France for a very long period of time (and yes it was indeed a magazine with a background in the left in 68, but this doesn’t change much: if anything it makes it worse). What is rapidly becoming an almost compulsory ideological gesture of solidarity is one which means that, like after 9/11, many will be too frightened to tell the other side of this story: the racism, the disenfranchisment, the
    discrimination, the utter lack of solidarity every day and in every way.

    This is not anti-racism, this is not solidarity, this is not opposition to to fundementalism, this is not freedom of speech. This is a kind of compulsory loyalty oath and is really about intimidating anyone who wants to speak otherwise and not according to the script. Its considerably more difficult to speak out against this script then it is to talk about how ‘its time to have an open discussion about Islam’ (a conversation that has been going on non stop now for a decade).
    The left need to break this silence: not help impose it. The left should be speaking about the urban uprisings against police oppression, about the near segregration in employment and in housing, about the disenfranchisement, about the diiscrimination, about the wars ravaging large parts of the world. None of which is happening because of a failure of Muslims who live here to ‘reform their relligion’.

    This idealist rubbish about evil ideologies masquerading as the values of Enlightenment and Secularism is in fact the dominant ideology of a world where these horrors actually occur. Those who are being left isolated are not those who think that it is a priority to establish the right to mock the religous beliefs of minorities, but those minorities worried and frightened by what the future holds living in a society caught up in this kind of triumphalist chauvinism were every basic
    liberal and leftist value appears twisted and upside down. And those are the people the left has a duty of solidarity towards, whether or not we agree with this or that religious belief. That actually is the real meaning of Voltaire. The defence of minorities against majorities, not the other way about.”

    This may also be of interest. I saw it just after I wrote the above. As is perfectly usual those on the recieving end of the blindspots of many on the French left don’t suffer from the same:


    Rimi: I appreciate your commitment, Parichay, but I’m not about to give a publication which used satire to pro-hegemonic ends a free pass. It would be like praising Nabarun Bhattacharya without mentioning his gender bias – a critical practice that does both the text/creator and the reader discredit.

    John Gamey: Is it really the case that organised religion is the main enemy in the world today? Isn’t this the view that Marx began by criticising in the first part of the 19th century? Don’t we have to get rid of material circumstances that create the need for religion if we are to move beyond an idealist ‘criticism of criticism’. Terry Eagleton has remarked appositely of someone like Dawkins that he’s probably too privilaged to understand the need many have to find meaning in suffering: never having experienced anything like real suffering himself. On the other hand there is the sense in which this type of hyper-rationalism might also function as a kind of opium: a belief in ones own mental superiority to the mass of humanity etc, and in some parts of the world, contempt for ignorant migrants. I think this kind of thing (lets call it the French ideology for short) is a very blunt tool indeed for those genuinely concerned about the horrors of religious nationalism and fundementallism. Its one that is not only counter-productive, but which resembles rather too closely the kind of object it preports to criticise. Which of course takes us right back to Marx’s critique of idealism.

    Rimi: I fear, John, that you are too nuanced for social media 😛

    Parichay Patra: Unfortunately enough, I usually work on and write on a country that does not allow me to be nuanced and subtle.

    James Gamey:I’m not sure its not the same everywhere. But thanks for the discussion.


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