Charlie Hebdo does it again
Why does Charlie Hebdo do it over and over and then press rewind and replay yet again? Last week marked the fourth time since 2006 that the French satirical magazine provocatively set out to offend those who believe in Islam or wish it well. Its cover shows two people lying in pools of blood, having been run over by a van, in a clear reference to the recent terrorist attack in Barcelona. The cartoon bears the words “Islam: Religion of peace… eternal.”
Charlie Hebdo’s cover leaves us in no doubt about its view of the spate of terrorist attacks roiling Europe. According to the magazine, Islam is to blame and it’s no longer possible to say that Islam is a religion of peace.
There are two points to make about this. First, portraying self-proclaimed jihadist killers as representatives of an entire faith is neither accurate nor fair. Second, Charlie Hebdo, which has long drawn on France’s anti-clerical tradition and cherished the right to offend, is entitled to free speech but not, however, at the expense of other people’s right to live in peace with the expectation their deeply held beliefs will be respected.
More than anything else, it is unfair to equate the murderous actions of jihadists with the faith of more than 1 billion people.
As prominent French Socialist MP and former minister Stéphane Le Foll said of Charlie Hebdo’s latest cartoon, it is “extremely dangerous,” mostly because it can create “misleading associations (that) can be used by other people.” Indeed, as Le Foll noted, the cartoon appeared to sweep away the intense debate and the probing questions the world has been asking “about the role of religion, and in particular the role of Islam, in these attacks.”
This newspaper condemned the January 2015 terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office when masked gunmen belonging to al-Qaeda killed 12 people, including some of the magazine’s longest-serving cartoonists. Soon after, Charlie Hebdo excited controversy yet again with a cartoon of a weeping Prophet Mohammad bearing a placard that said “Je suis Charlie” and “all is forgiven.” It was of a piece with the magazine’s repeated portrayals of the Prophet and its swipes at Islam.
In 2006, it reprinted inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet from Denmark, an act that was deplored by France’s then President Jacques Chirac as a “manifest provocation.” In 2011, its offices were firebombed after publishing an issue that was supposedly guest-edited by the Prophet. As its late editor, Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, who died in the 2015 attack, insisted: “We have to carry on until Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism.”
One must ask: Is this the way to do it? Is it not absurd to repeat an action that inevitably draws a hostile response, one that might even lead to violence or a disturbance of the public peace?
That said, however outrageous they might be, Charlie Hebdo’s offensive cartoons cannot be used to divert from the main task at hand. The jihadists’ perverted ideology must urgently be countered. The distorted Islamic State vision that claims to speak for Islam, and which seems to have motivated the Barcelona killers and others before them, is one of the dark cores of the violent intolerance sweeping the world. A cartoon cannot be equated with a gun. An illustration or an opinion may be unwise and irresponsible but nothing can justify terrorism as a response.