Twisting Charlie.


There was a distinct lack of irony in the Vatican’s statement about the new cover of Charlie Hebdo’s publication, to coincide with the anniversary of the murders:

“Behind the deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism, the weekly is forgetting once more what religious leaders of every faith unceasingly repeat to reject violence in the name of religion – using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy, as pope Francis has said several times,”

“In Charlie Hebdo’s choice, there is the sad paradox of a world which is more and more sensitive about being politically correct, almost to the point of ridicule, yet does not wish to acknowledge or to respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion.”

– Ironic that an institution dedicated as it has been, to murdering heretics, to waging imperial wars, to crushing blasphemy, to backing the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, to scaring people into rejecting birth control, to Cardinal Turkson (a candidate for the Papacy) rejecting calls for human rights for gay folk, suddenly has the nerve to tell anyone that it rejects violence in the name of religion. I’m also not sure why claiming that religion might have a violent element represents a “deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism”. The reason secularism is a thing in the first place, is because religion didn’t deal too well with human rights when it had power. Indeed, it has power now in much of the World, and has very little respect for basic human rights. For the Vatican, not much has change, the Pope believes that if you commit blasphemy, you should expect a violent reaction:

“if my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.”

“It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

– The Vatican is violence in the name of religion. It wishes to hold illiberal ideas dear, to empower those ideas across the World politically, whilst desiring that no one criticise or satirise on fear of attack.

But the Church is not the only place you’ll still find anger at Charlie Hebdo. It seems to loom mainly on the regressive left of the political spectrum, from those who simply do not understand that Charlie Hebdo is a left-leaning, publication satirising the right wing, in much the same way that Stephen Colbert manages so brilliantly in the US. The point of the publication is to exaggerate right winged stereotypes, to absurd levels, whilst keeping the fundamental arguments they often make. Regressives struggle with this.

Max Blumenthal – no stranger to inventing what other people say or mean – stripped all context away from this, when he posted the front cover of a Charlie Hebdo publication, on Twitter:

charlie-hebdo-racist-monkey-cartoon copy

– The clear implication is that Hebdo is a racist magazine, that has just called France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, a monkey. As if the cartoonists have sat around a table, and decided it’d be really funny, to compare someone with dark skin, to an ape. What Blumenthal predictably left out, was that the picture was actually commenting and satirising the views of Anne-Sophie Leclere, a former Front National local election candidate who had recently compared Christiane Taubira to a monkey several times across media platforms. In the photo, you see the logo of the Front National. Further, Le Pen at this time was on a PR mission to reposition the Front National as less racist as they come across. She had started a group called “The Marine Blue Gathering” or “Rassemblement Bleu Marine”. The words in the photo satirise the attempts to reposition the Front National, replacing the word “Marine” for “Raciste”. The publication is essentially saying, you can try all you want…. you’re still a racist party, and here’s why…” thus the image on the cover is not devoid of context. Blumenthal left out the context, instead choosing to allow people to believe that Charlie Hebdo had just compared Christiane Taubire to a monkey.

Further, the image was drawn by the Charb; the late Editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo. His funeral was attended to by…. Christiane Taubire. The same Christiane Taubire who also delivered a wonderful eulogy to another murdered Hebdo journalist, in which she spoke so eloquently in support of Enlightenment values, and so wonderfully of the Hebdo journalist Bernard Verlhac (Tignous):

“The violence of these murders, of these assassinations, the barbarity of these crimes, the numbing, the stupefying horror, let us recognize it, has smashed our everyday sense of security, our routine, and, let us admit it, our drowsiness about these values, which we thought we had inherited from the Enlightenment, but about which we had forgotten that they carried with them the necessity of vigilance. And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.”

– She characterises Bernard Verlhac (Tignous) as dedicated to equality, to education, and to social justice. Meanwhile, Blumenthal implies that Charlie Hebdo just randomly decided to show a cartoon of a black lady as a monkey.

Political satire, that focuses on the victims of hypocrisy and indifference is not new. This piece for the Financial Times includes a similar photograph of the victims of Congo’s looted wealth, whilst the UN turns a blind eye. No one is implying that the cartoonist is mocking the victims. No one is implying white supremacism at the Financial Times. Charlie Hebdo is deliberately misinterpreted much of the time in a way that no other satirical publication or media outlet is.

On the anniversary of the murders of Charlie Hebdo’s writers and cartoonists, we liberals must defend and speak up consistently for the right to criticise and satirise political settlements, ideological frameworks of power (including religions), indifferent and illiberal responses to events, regardless of whether it be through satire, through serious critiques, through art. This is how we progress. We hold human rights, civil rights to be indestructible and undeniable, whilst ideas are simply targets to be scrutinised. We do not demonise for the scrutiny of ideologies. The scrutiny of ideas and the real World effect of those ideas, is a value we do not compromise for the sake of protecting bad ideas. Hebdo understands this. The Vatican, Islamists, and the regressives do not.

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