A few points on the recent controversy around PEN’s award to Charlie Hebdo:
Jeet Heer wants to know how everyone has suddenly become an expert on French visual satire. It’s a peculiar argument, based on the premise that in order to judge Charlie Hebdo cartoons one has to be an expert on a long and rancid tradition of French satire. It has always struck me as odd, as if the only obvious conclusion to be drawn from the argument simply doesn’t occur to those making it. If one has to be an expert on a distinctly French tradition of satire because what others may consider vile and bigoted is common within that tradition and the broader national culture then perhaps it is logical to assume that French society is more racist than others. It’s certainly a more logical conclusion than whinging in perpetuity about how no one understands the French.
Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo, Again”
Since the attack on Charlie Hebdo a few writers have offered to explain the uniquely French context of the magazine. Voltaire and Diderot are invoked, as is the spirit of May ’68. Those who think the cartoons are racist simply do not understand the French political context, the argument goes. Charlie Hebdo follows a distinctly French tradition of anti-clericalism and laïcité, as is evident by its far-left and anti-authoritarian history. While they may appear racist to those outside of France the cartoons in fact lampoon racism. I have explained my own misgivings with Charlie Hebdo in a previous post (also worth reading is this 2013 letter from a former Charlie Hebdo staffer). Here I merely want to see if the enviable history volunteered by those explicating Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons has any bearing on its obvious racism.
Continue reading “Racist or French? The Charlie Hebdo Quiz”
Reading commentaries on the massacre in Charlie Hebdo‘s office I have learned that there is a correct way to respond to the tragedy. One is supposed to immediately condemn the attack, defend the right to blaspheme (some, like Jonathan Chait, would ask us to defend blasphemy itself), and angrily denounce any conversations about the cartoons regularly published by Charlie Hebdo. There are additional comments the inspired and politically astute among us can make: assert the universality of our freedoms, claim that they are under attack by fundamentalists, and applaud the distinctively French tradition of irreverence and “anticlerical spirit that goes far back in French history.”
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements following the attack are fine, eloquent examples of this required response. According to Kerry, “No country knows better than France that freedom has a price, because France gave birth to democracy itself.” The terrorists, continues the Secretary of State, “may wield weapons, but we in France and in the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful. Not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear.”
These sentiments were echoed by President Obama: “France is America’s oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world. Time and again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended. France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers.”
Continue reading “On the Charlie Hebdo Attack”