Like most of the world I was repelled by the murderous terrorist attacks in Paris last week. My sinking heart went out to the dead and their families. Now my overwhelming emotion is one of contempt for the magazine Charlie Hebdo, and their defiant adherence to a creed that they have an inalienable right to offend, come what may. I find it as disgusting as that of the so-called Muslim /Islamist attackers and unmasks Charlie Hebdo as self-obsessed and self-important. The kindest interpretation of its actions is that working in a political and artistic bubble isolates them from wider society.
The printing of 3, and then 5, million copies of their latest issue – complete with another front cover depicting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed – is no more than a cynical milking of the genuine outpouring of support for the dead and bereaved but portrayed as unqualified support for the magazine itself.
It is ironic that a publication so niche, so marginal in France that it was allegedly on the brink of financial disaster and selling less than 60,000 copies per issue normally, has been saved by this unique, and hopefully, short term spike in sales. Copies of the latest issue are already changing hands on e-Bay for vastly inflated prices, which calls into question the motivation of some who queued to, allegedly, express their support for free speech by buying a copy. Perhaps some, like Charlie Hebdo itself, were just out to make a quick Euro.
If you look at back issues of Charlie Hebdo, which you can do online, you find a magazine with many graphics that are more caricature than cartoon: drawings which depend on, and reinforce, the worst racial and cultural stereotyping to make a point. Take the so-called cartoons of Prophet Mohammed: there are no reliable images of him (just as for Jesus Christ) so the lazy cartoonists depict him as a fat lipped, boggle eyed, bulbously or hook nosed man with a turban. The depiction of a Jew is the same, except for different headgear and hair curls. Irrespective of the religious offence they cause, they are offensive in themselves, full stop, and in my opinion are borderline racist.
Our concentration on Charlie Hebdo has, regrettably, distracted attention from a coincident attack by Boko Harram, another murderous gang pursuing what they claim is an Islamic agenda, killing 2000 not 14 – but then they are Africans killing Africans in Africa, not Parisians.
A BBC journalist reported that the latest, first post-attack, issue of the magazine carried a defiant message which said that if you weren’t ‘with’ Charlie Hebdo then……..
He declined to repeat what it actually said on air as it was too explicit to broadcast. You can imagine what Charlie Hebdo said.
Well, I’m not ‘with’ them: Je ne suis pas Charlie. Are you?