Charlie Hebdo was too crude in its mockery of Islam to truly be satire.
Author: Bodie Robinson
I am not Charlie Hebdo. Charlie Hebdo is not the icon of free speech you’re looking for. The reason this Charlie Hebdo movement (#JeSuisCharlie) has become unsavory to me is because, unsurprisingly, mass media have birthed a sensationalized, essentialized, and toxic discourse which only serves to further divide the “Western world” and the “Muslim world.” And, as is expected at this point, it has stoked anti-Islamic sentiment among mouth-breathers and Fox News enthusiasts everywhere.
Now, to avoid any confusion or fist shaking, let me make a disclaimer: I do not sympathize with those men who perpetrated this atrocity, nor do I favour censoring the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Nay, I’m simply trying to make sense of a complex issue that news outlets and social media have bastardized and hijacked for their own devices, which seem to be misinforming people and creating sensation for a few clicks here, a few papers sold there. Go figure.
What must be understood is that Charlie Hebdo is a far-left satirical magazine, whose mission, they say, is anti-racist, anti-religious and deeply critical of anything nationalist andright-wing, especially far-right parties in France. I have little doubt that the media portrayal of this story will cause a spike in the polls supporting the ultranationalist, right-wing parties in France, for obvious reasons. During demonstrations in Paris shortly after the shooting, many people waved French flags and sung the national anthem in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. One of the cartoonists who survived the attack reportedly said, “We vomit on those who suddenly declared that they were our friends.”
Some of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad could make even the most experienced Space Dicks Redditor furl an eyebrow in shock and disbelief. The most graphic of these cartoons shows the Prophet bent over naked, penis fully visible and spewing an inexplicable discharge, with a star covering his anus. The caption reads: “A star is born!” Another depiction, meant to satirize the controversy around a movie that portrayed Muhammad, shows an actor in, what is presumed, a Prophet Muhammad costume holding a pig head. The actor asks, “Are you sure Muhammad had sexual relations with a pig head?” A cameraman replies, “I can’t afford to pay a 9-year-old prostitute, man.”
I understand that the magazine can reserve its right to draw such things and distribute them, but is this the sort of material we want to represent one of our most supposedly cherished values—the right to freedom of expression in art, speech, and writing? Do you consider these blatantly antagonistic and inflammatory depictions the sort of criticism worthy of our praise, worthy to be extolled as the face of resistance against religious extremism? Are these the sort of satires you would associate yourself with had this attack not occurred, or are you just taking a sensational, reactionary position to stick it to them terrorizers?
I’m unconvinced that the #JeSuisCharlie movement is designed to rouse enthusiasm for freedom of speech. My general impression of the movement is one of suspicion and cynicism. The movement asks: “Are you gonna support these cartoons, or are you gonna be a terrorist sympathizer?” I will be neither; I choose the narrow middle path. I won’t fall into the hands of these “terrorists” and take a reactionary stance to their violence and fanaticism. And I won’t fall victim to empty rhetoric for supporting “freedom of the press,” because such demagoguery only further inflames anti-Muslim sentiment, only further defames the name of Islam—a religion professed by over 1.6 billion people.