Saturday, January 10, 2015

A little more Charlie

The finest of the Mohammed caricatures, I think, was Cabu's from 2006, in the wake of the Jyllands-Posten riots, which showed a little sympathy for the old Prophet overwhelmed by intégristes or fundamentalists and doing a double facepalm: "It's tough being loved by cons..." (the word, etymologically referring to the vagina, has much less force than English "cunt" and is more of an equivalent to "asshole").

On the whole, though, the worst thing for posterity about the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff is that these heroes may be remembered for what wasn't their best work, the relatively crude and satirically unpointed drawings of 2011 and 2012 showing the naked Prophet eating his own shit or posing as Brigitte Bardot. They were so much better taking on the frisky College of Cardinals:

Papal conclave, February 2013, by Cabu.
or the piety of George W. Bush:

A prayerful Bush with Bernanke at his side announcing the $700-billion rescue plan: "We thank thee, O Lord, for enabling us to bail out the banks with the taxes of those they bankrupted!" Honoré, September 24 2008.
The cryptofascist National Front is always a worthy target:

"Le Pen, the candidate who's like YOU"

But the Parti Socialiste is fair game when it's represented by an entitled rich dick (literally).

The penis of Dominique Strauss-Kahn confesses: it's taking bribes from Sarkozy's party to throw the election. Charb.
The Mohammed caricatures were offensive, though, to people they weren't particularly aimed at—not the intégristes, not the murderers, but just the ordinary struggling people of the banlieues, of North African or Subsaharan African descent, mostly hardly Muslim at all, victims of discrimination and joblessness, people who didn't even know the magazine or its reputation as an "equal-opportunity offender" but just saw the cartoons on the Internet, side by side with the fake movie trailer Innocence of Muslims in September 2012, as a racist rather than religious assault.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was friends with the Charlie cartoonists, fellow soixante-huitards, especially with Georges Wolinski and Cabu, scolded them at the time in an interview on BFM TV:
"I think what they're doing is con" at Charlie Hebdo, began Daniel Cohn-Bendit before explaining his point of view on the blazing up of the Muslim world after the anti-Islam film trailer Innocence of Muslims started spreading. "You could go after the mentally handicapped people who made the film," he said, "the Islamist fundamentalists who jumped on it, the Bolsheviks or Jacobins of the Arab revolution. Over here, most Muslims have a hard life and I say, 'You're beating up on a minority.' To my way of thinking, provocation means beating up on those who have power. As far as I know, it's not the Salafists and the cretins in the Muslim world who have the power."
No, I don't think it would have been right to stop them from publishing the work. I wish the Sarkozy government hadn't banned Muslims from demonstrating against Innocence of Muslims and that batch of cartoons in front of the Grande Mosque on September 22, though. It was as if high-class intellectuals had freedom of speech but low-class Arabs and Africans did not.

Scott Long (via The Arabist) said something like what I wanted to say much better than I've been able to write it, though I'm not comfortable about how categorical he is in condemning satire as siding with power (please read the whole piece, which rakes up Voltaire's anti-Semitism and calls Kierkegaard the best satirist of the 19th century):
am offended when those already oppressed in a society are deliberately insulted. I don’t want to participate. This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do. Yet this means rejecting the only authorized reaction to the atrocity. Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity. When a rabid Islamophobic rightist killed 77 Norwegians in 2011, most of them at a political party’s youth camp, I didn’t notice many #IAmNorway hashtags, or impassioned calls to join the Norwegian Labor Party. But Islam is there for us, it unites us against Islam. Only cowards or traitors turn down membership in the Charlie club.The demand to join, endorse, agree is all about crowding us into a herd where no one is permitted to cavil or condemn: an indifferent mob, where differing from one another is Thoughtcrime, while indifference to the pain of others beyond the pale is compulsory....
Charlie Hebdo and its like never treated Muslim immigrants as individuals, but as agents of some larger force. They weren’t strivers doing the best they could in an unfriendly country, but shorthand for mass religious ignorance, or tribal terrorist fanaticism, or obscene oil wealth. Satire subsumes the human person in an inhuman generalization. The Muslim isn’t just a Muslim, but a symbol of Islam.
It's in that sense that I want to say "nous sommes tous musulmans"—nobody deserves to be treated as a symbol.

Now, as Lardon says, after being murdered by cons, the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo are being reclaimed by cons (President François Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, with fascist leader Marine Le Pen hastening to bring up the rear) as if the magazine had belonged to the con party all along, insult to deadly injury.

I'd like us to remember them for what they were at their best, a scourge to the cons of all kinds but especially the powerful.

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