I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever read Charlie Hebdo. I always bought a few bandes dessinee magazines, but I had a preference for lushly rendered ligne claire tales full of hard SF and occasional naked people.
Since the magazine’s offices were attacked, there has been an amount of self important commentary suggesting the cartoonists brought the violence upon themselves. It’s not just been from the sort of right wingers who would like to have the power to threaten and censor for themselves, either. People who would normally, and rightly, rail against victim blaming, have been saying, “Well, if they would go out in those covers, they were asking to be shot.”
They’re wrong, of course, and many people have explained why, so I’ll not go into that. But what’s bothered me is their inability to read a cartoon, or do some basic maths. Everyone’s been concentrating on the covers depicting Mohammed and the blame brigade are pointing at them and implying that the magazine was a non-stop anti Islam hate fest. There’s a pool of a dozen or so cover images from the period since 2006 (date of the image above), that are being concentrated on. But Charlie Hebdo was weekly. There were 52 issues a year (maybe 50 if they took a break for Christmas and New Year), which kind of makes the charge of concentrated Islamaphobia a little weaker. Of course, I can’t speak for the content of CH, and just how nasty it was to whom and in what ratio, but none of the magazine’s sudden critics can either, judging by their concentration on the most repeated cover images.
The left-leaning victim blamers are all determined to see racism aimed at France’s muslim population, and have decided that cartoons about the prophet are an example of that. A favourite argument has been that, with drawings of Mohammed, Charlie was “punching down when it should have been punching up”. But they’ve only come to that conclusion because they can’t do something as simple as decode a cartoon. They see that the image is supposed to depict the prophet and decide that it’s nothing more than a simplistic attack on Islam and, by extension, an attempt to demean muslims. There’s a snobbery in their refusal to actually look at the cartoons and work out what they’re really saying. Cartoons are a juvenile art form, they’ve decided, crude scribbles meant for the young and the simple-minded, so they can’t possibly be loaded with nuance.
Let’s look at that cartoon up above again. I’ve seen a few, slightly different, translations of the caption and speech bubble, but the gist of it is- ‘Mohammed despairs of the extremists, “It’s hard to be loved by arseholes!”‘ Ignore the edict against depictions of the prophet and this is a very sympathetic depiction of him. Here’s an entity with the empathy to be apalled by the actions some are claiming to do in his name. The only people who should be offended by this cartoon are the very arseholes whose behaviour has driven the one they claim to revere to tears. Similarly, another image, of a returned Mohammed about to be beheaded by a masked ISIS type, is showing, in a suitably brutal way, how the terrorists have diverged so far from the religion they claim to represent that they wouldn’t recognise it’s creator.
In those two cartoons, CH attacked the people who would go on to attack them. They also stood with the thousands of muslims who have been killed in Syria and Iraq by arseholes who think praying in a slightly different way merits the death sentence. But some people are too busy trying to read shallow intentions into the images to look deep enough to see that.
I’m not in possession of large reserves of physical or moral courage, I leave that sort of thing to my protagonists. Only once has anyone demanded that I shelve something I was planning to write. But he was an obnoxious, bullying little shit, so I carried on with it, only putting it aside when it became obvious that my drawing skills weren’t good enough to produce the sort of art it deserved. I have written, and will write in the future, stuff that offends people, but I couldn’t say that I’d carry on with it when faced with constant death threats. It’s galling to think that, if I were attacked, there’d be some self-righteous pricks who’d turn around and say, “Yes, but just look at the tacky genres he was writing in, and such short books, lacking any pretentious prose. It’s not like he was creating worthy, literary novels, is it.”
Fuck those idiots.
Je suis Charlie.