If you’re going to pound the frigid air for free speech, start with better heroes!
To the placard-toting hordes in the streets of capitals from Paris to New York, I say: Chill. Unfurl your yoga mats … Take a few deep breaths.
It is one thing to express sadness at the death of twelve humans, or to condemn the senseless violence visited upon them. It is another to clamor for the instant (if unwitting) martyrdom of a gaggle of faded white geese who struggled to hawk forty thousand copies of a weekly rag, one the Dean of London University’s Paris Institute called a “museum piece”.
He, Andrew Hussey, also professor of cultural history, added (in his NY Times op-ed): “… for most Parisians (Charlie Hebdo was) … a quaint relic of the 60’s and 70’s that had long since lost its power to shock”.
The dead cartoonists did not lose their power to shock because they forgot how to mock, or draw. The joke has a way of turning on ex- self-proclaimed shit-kickers who somehow fail to notice (or acknowledge) that they have turned into the shit.
To inveigh against Mohammed in 21st century Paris is not some gallant Gallic tilt against Power, just insufferable pretense; satire is the mask that bourgeois condescension wears to mouth off against the beliefs (and prejudices) of those who lack the ability and means to object.
Unless you can picture our Islamic-terrorists-du-jour as nice assimilated Frenchmen; bastard-great-grandchildren of the Enlightened rape of Black, Brown and Yellow, and yet, somehow, still grateful Western citizens and earnest participants in the great big democratic debate … pausing thoughtfully between rounds of delivering pizza to compose letters-to-the-Hebditors, complaining about the gratuitous insults aimed at their prophet, their religion, and by extension their very-Mecca-facing-pizza-distributing selves.
It took Prof. Hussey (author of ‘The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and its Arabs’) but two lines to effectively, if unintentionally, kneecap the twin narratives of Heroic Satirists and Islamic Terrorists:
“… a member of the establishment for a very long time … this is how the magazine is viewed out in the banlieues – the enormous and often wretched suburbs that surround all major French cities and that are home to a huge immigrant population, mainly from former French colonies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. What is seen in the center of Paris as tweaking the nose of authority – religious or political – is seen out in the banlieues as the arrogance of those in power who can mock what they like, including deeply held religious beliefs …”
We are reminded, over and over, that Charlie did not just have it out for Mohammed, that Jesus and Yahweh got theirs too! In a state ruled by an official and officious secularism, you can mock all religions equally or you can mock the idea of secularism itself. You only get to call one kind of mocking anti-authoritarian.
Born out of a people’s history of struggle against the Catholic Church (and commendable as such), French secularism has kept up with modern times as much as Islam!
Its view, that the best way to prevent religion from having undue sway over the populace is to ban all religious expression from the public sphere, is infantile in theory and far from fair in practice. Voila, headscarf bans even as the Interior Minister proclaims, “Yes, France’s Jews can wear the kippeh with pride”!
A better way to put religion in its societal place may be to invite every religion into the public sphere, equally, including the religion of those who disavow (organized) religion. This more civilized secularism has actually existed, to various degrees, over thousands of years in places like India (not today), Thailand and Syria (before the French got there!).
We live in a world where Buddhist monks chase Muslims in Central Myanmar alongside mobs armed with machetes and swords; I would not recommend the Contemporary East to any alien tourist.
But if we’re talking ideals, would you prefer your State as a sponsor of dialogue and mutual understanding? Or as schoolmasterly enforcer of bogus neutrality, grim-faced, with the Pope’s scepter stuck permanently up its ass?
And if we are just comparing spotty record to spotty record, let us cut the ‘Western values’ bit, shall we? The last spill of said virtues left a stain on history that took five hundred long years to wash out. So Clash of Civilizations? The Free West vs. Islamic Terrorism? Non, merci.
This is no tirade against those who died, not even against the puerile way they made a living at Charlie Hebdo; no offense is meant to the departed spirit of old Cabu or a Wolinski (or any of the others). Nor is this a glorification or pardoning of random violence.
This is a lament for the loss of common sense and judgment among a public riled up by the media and shrilly insistent on elevating a cabal of sad clowns – rebels in their own heads (only) and neck-deep in nostalgia – to the canon of supreme satirists (silenced by the rat-a-tat of the Barbaric Brothers Kouachi).
Sorry, but I do not see much (French) humor or tragedy in this cautionary tale, only hypocrisy.
I do not hear a nation in mourning; I hear a nation in denial.
Vive la France! Vive le Spectacle!