Cabu – who spent his life caricaturing political figures – says Merde! to Japanese Manga drawer, Hayao Miyazaki, who instructs them not to make fun of holy figures from other cultures and restrict themselves to their own politicians (from here)
Charlie Hebdo: the Joy of Liberty. Andrew Coates.
From the latest Chartist magazine. (‘For Democratic Socialism’).
7th of January 2015, “I called my mother. For a moment, in tears, I was unable to speak. It was as if we’d lost members of our family.” (Le Monde 30.1.15) Millions in France, and across the world, shared the reactions to the slaughter at the office of Charlie Hebdo, expressed in images by the cartoonist Lisa Mandel. 11 people, from well-known artists to technical staff and police guards, had already lost their lives.
On the 8th of January a municipal policeman was killed at Montrouge. The following day the murderer, Amedy Coulibaly, left four hostages dead at the kosher supermarket, Hyper Cacher, Porte de Vinceness. He was shot by the security forces, as were the two Charlie attackers, tracked down by the police to Dammartin-en-goële.
The butchers, the two Kouchai brothers and Coulibaly, underlined the Islamist character of their ‘synchronised’ action. The first pair shouted, “We have avenged the Prophet Mohamed!” They claimed to spare woman, but murdered the Jewish psychoanalyst and Charlie columnist Elsa Cayat. Coulibaly could not have made his anti-Semitism clearer. He claimed affiliation to the Islamic State in the Levant and Syria (Isis). A more certain link to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula emerged.
The reaction to the atrocities was overwhelming. An avalanche of Je suis Charlies circulated on social media. On the 11 of January millions demonstrated in France. In Paris the French political class – except the Front National – and foreign leaders, including representatives of countries not noted for tolerating freedom of expression stood in the march.
The crowds celebrated Charlie in the Place de la Bastille. Some criticised the appeal to ‘national unity’. The vast majority of the left, the Front de Gauche, the Parti Socialiste, joined in. There were flags of every description, Puerto Rican, Kurdish, and French. Far from endorsing a ‘union sacrée’ hundreds of thousands of people were there simply to share their common grief.
Appearing after these events Charlie Hebdo (14th of January) stated, “In a week, Charlie, an atheist paper, has achieved more miracles than all the saints and the prophets together … Charlie has masses of new friends: people without a name, world celebrities, the lowest and the most privileged, sinners and religious dignitaries, the sincere and the Jesuitical, those who’ll be with us for life, and those who are only here for a short time.”
Charlie does not only have friends. Over the years there have been many attempts to silence the Weekly. Since its relaunch in 1992 legal challenges have mostly come from the extreme-right and Catholic fundamentalists. But in 2006 their publication of the Mohammed cartoons of Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, led to a court action brought by Muslim organisations. The case failed. In November 2011 they announced the production of a special Charia Charlie (Sharia Charlie) with Mohammed as Editor, to ‘celebrate’ the victory in Tunisia of the right-wing Islamist party, Ennahdha. Their offices were burnt out. The paper was still published.
In Britain some on the left also loathe Charlie. People who have seen no more than a few of its front pages have heaped ordure on the Weekly. Charlie wasn’t just printing a “‘depiction’ of the prophet, but repeated pornographic humiliation.” (Seumas Milne, Guardian. 15.1.15) Charlie, was “blatantly Islamophobic and increasingly Zionist.” (Tim Sanders. Socialist Review 2015)
For a wide range of critics the underlying cause of the massacre was Western intervention in Islamic countries and the Republic’s mistreatment of French Muslims. As Milne says, “So long as we allow this war to continue indefinitely, the threats will grow.” Charlie had played a role in the battle. Its secularist humiliation of these believers put it in the camp of the West.
Yet nobody could ignore that the weekly’s humour is informed by radical leftism. Charb, the Editor, backed the Front de gauche. His cartoons, like those of Wolinski, regularly appeared in the communist daily, l’Humanité. Cabu, one of the gentlest and most loved of all French cartoonists, was a libertarian anti-militarist green. Other Charlie authors are from the same stable. There views are as varied as any cross section of the left. Attempts to expell them from their own political family are not likely to succeed.
Charlie Hebdo defends secularism, laïcité, as part of the left’s identity, along with feminism and human rights. It is accused of haughty disdain for religion. But few can ignore that radical Islamism – only one of their targets but the one that it at stake here targets – is against the left’s central values. Charlie does not make the arrogant assumption that any religion is a single ‘community’. It wants the public sphere to be open to all, free of any religious domination. They state, “All of those who claim to defend Muslims, and who accept a totalitarian religious discourse, defend in effect their own butchers. The first victims of Islamic fascism are Muslims.”
“The killers have failed,” observes Serge Halmi, “they have given eternal life to the Weekly they wanted to annihilate” (le Monde Diplomatique. February 2015) More than that, Charlie, is loved.