Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons weren’t racist

From what I know about the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (CH), and from what I’ve recently read about it, it appears to be a left-wing, pro-immigrant publication that is not racist, anti-immigrant, or anti-Muslim. It takes the mickey out of everyone, and while people may find it offensive, its purpose is not, as some claim, to offend. It’s satirical, which means that there’s a point to their cartoons, even though some might find them in poor taste.

And yet we hear from many that CH was a bigoted “Islamophobic” publication. Indeed, that characterization has been used to “explain” (some might say “justify”) the Muslim terrorist attack on the magazine’s artists and journalists.  For example, several bloggers (i.e., herehere, and here), have accused the magazine of promulgating “racism, sexism, and homophobia”, of being “racist” and “ugly,” of producing and distributing “vile, racist material in the guise of satire” as well as “hate speech and bullying of oppressed groups.”

I suspected these hair-trigger cries about political incorrectness came from a failure to appreciate the real politics of Charlie Hebdo, and to understand the context of the cartoons. (I’ll show asome examples below.) Now I haven’t read Charlie Hebdo, nor have I seen every cartoon they’ve ever published, but several articles I’ve seen led me to believe that their cartoons have been misinterpreted by those eager to see racism and Islamophobia everywhere.

To inquire further, I contacted Matthew Cobb, who writes for this site, lived in France for many years, speaks French fluently, read Charlie Hebdo, and holds extreme leftist politics (I’d say he’s a hairsbreadth from Marxism, but I’ll let him speak for himself). I emailed Matthew asking if Charlie Hebdo really was racist and anti-Muslim. If anyone would detect and decry reactionary elements in the magazine, it would be Matthew.

I first asked him this: “You must know Charlie Hebdo. Those cartoons are making fun of racism as well as religion, no?” Matthew’s answers are indented below:

Yes. they make fun of everything. But be careful, which are ‘those’ cartoons? People are rolling up whatever provoked the killers (representations of Mohammed) and the total output of CH, which must amount to hundreds of thousands of cartoons.

I then asked him, “They’re not Le Pen-type reactionaries, right?” His response:

No of course not. They supported and fought for the rights of sans-papiers (illegal immigrants). One of the people killed, Oncle Bernard, was an economist who wrote about globalisation, etc etc. They are generally on the left, but are not part of any group and would be vicious about everyone. Indeed, the “survivors’ issue” is going to take aim at the JE SUIS CHARLIE business and all their new-found “friends” around the world. That is typical.

He added this:

Part of the problem is that this is a weekly paper, responding to the news. So they make comment on very immediate issues, relating to things happening in France. Things then get taken out of context, and are incomprehensible. Here’s an example, explained on a generally good post, I think. What looks like a racist cartoon is in fact taking the piss out of right-wing people who were saying that immigrants were having babies to get child benefits – so they drew a caricature of the Boko Haram ‘sex slaves’ with them saying ‘Hands off our welfare handouts!’. I don’t think it’s funny (and it’s certainly not pretty), but it makes a savage point.

Indeed, that cartoon was highlighted and explained by the author of the strip Tom the Dancing Bug in a post called “In non-satirical defense of Charlie Hebdo.” And a post at Quora explains this cover and others, concluding:
Clearly people are cherry-picking Charlie Hebdo covers in an attempt to prove that it is a racist, anti-Islam publication, perhaps in some form of victim-blaming, when this assertion is absolutely preposterous to anyone who actually knows the newspaper.
Even so, one blogger at Patheos used this very cartoon (and others from the magazine) to accuse CH of promulgating “racism, sexism, and homophobia.” Maybe those folks should become more acquainted with Charlie Hebdo before initiating their customary bouts of rageblogging.
Matthew also notes that Charlie Hebdo has savaged the anti-immigrant views of French politician Marine Le Pen:

The ‘allocs’ cover was preceded and followed by anti-Le Pen front pages.

And just to show that Matthew isn’t whitewashing the magazine, he notes this:
They equally satirise all religions, but have been focusing more on islam. One thing they are AWFUL on is sexual politics. But that’s also because of the time most of the cartoonists (Woliniski, Cabu) grew up: they were both in their 70s, and became artists in the post-68 world.
Finally, Matthew added that CH is an equal-opportunity satirizer, going after Catholics as well:
Loads anti-catholic covers here (NB this [below] is a *Catholic* publication showing its solidarity with CH).
Matthew is referring to a new post in the French Jesuit publication Études that espouses solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, showing this graphic. .
The Études post then shows some Charlie Hebdo covers mocking Catholicism and the Pope:

Starting at upper left and going clockwise, the first cartoon says “Free at last” (and the meaning is clear). According to Matthew, the strip at upper right reads: “Vatican: Another fixed election. ‘Let me down I want to vote!’” Matthew adds: The bottom right one is not quite clear to me. The word balloons say ‘You are God and you don’t have any shampoo’ or ‘You are God, do you have any shampoo?’  (the former I think). ‘No but hello? What?’ ‘Helloooo?’ Not sure what all this is referring to. (An example of why context is needed!). Why does he have wings? This may be a spoof on an ad.”

The strip at the bottom left is also pretty clear, with the header, “The Pope in Rio.” Matthew notes that the Pope is saying, “I’ll do anything to get people in.”

I clearly don’t like Catholicism, but it’s pretty big of those Jesuits to reprint satires of Catholicism and then express solidarity with those who produced those satires. On that page you’ll find the following statement from Études:

 C’est un signe de force que de pouvoir rire de certains traits de l’institution à laquelle nous appartenons, car c’est une manière de dire que ce à quoi nous sommes attachés est au-delà des formes toujours transitoires et imparfaites. L’humour dans la foi est un bon antidote au fanatisme et à un esprit de sérieux ayant tendance à tout prendre au pied de la lettre.
While I can read French o.k., I asked Matthew for a good translation, and here’s what he said:
It’s a sign of strength to be able to laugh at some aspects of the institution we belong to, because it’s a way of saying that which we are attached to is beyond forms, which are always transitory and imperfect. Humour in faith is a good antidote to fanaticism and to an over-serious way of thinking that tends to take everything literally.
These aren’t Bill Donohues, the odious Catholic who more or less said that Charlie Hebdo had it coming because of its “bigotry.”  Now if some Catholics can accept and even embrace this mockery—and you have to admit that the satires above have real points far beyond merely trying to insult Catholics—then why can’t Muslims do the same?
Finally, there’s a nice explanation and defense of Charlie Hebdo by Hugh Schofield at the BBC News, “My first encounter with the anarchic Charlie Hebdo.” Schofield notes this:

And if there is one thing that everyone in the West frets about, it’s Islam; it’s Islamism; it’s our countries’ relationship with Islam; and it’s our fear of what the future holds in a world where Islam – once our neighbour, once our enemy – is now part of us.

Cabu and the others knew this, and their reaction was to say: well if you’re part of us, then think like us, be like us. Understand that there is a difference between mockery and persecution; that words and pictures are only just that; and that part of the deal is that we rise above offence – yes, even when its towards our religion.

As I’ll note in my next piece about Reza Aslan, the “be like us” bit means “embrace our democratic values,” not “stop going to the mosque and refraining from pork.”  Schofield ends his piece like this:

I miss the world of the anarchic 70s when the worst that could happen when you showed a copulating Christ figure was a letter in Le Figaro from “outraged” from Aix-les-Bains. Now you die.

Well, you don’t just die, you also get excoriated by keyboard warriors who don’t even understand what you’re saying. And even if they do understand, they will somehow find a difference between mocking Christianity and mocking Islam. The former, in the argot of keyboard warriors, is okay because it’s “punching up,” while the latter is not okay because it’s “punching down“. After all, Muslims are an oppressed minority, so isn’t it understandable that, when provoked, they kill the perceived oppressor?

Nobody save extremist Muslims have said that CH’s staff really deserved to be killed, though some people, like Bill Donohue and Reza Aslan, have come pretty close, offering excuses for the murders. But of course even if CH was racist, sexist, and homophobic, that doesn’t excuse what happened. But before we trot out the excuses and explanations for the brutality of last week, let’s be clear on what Charlie Hebdo was really about.


  1. Nicholas
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    “There has been an enormous amount of sentimental posturing in the wake of the massacre of 10 journalists and 2 policemen at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week. Even now tearful crowds are parading across France holding up placards reading “Je Suis Charlie.” The whole production is slightly nauseating in its fakeness, its self-aggrandizing narcissism, and its essential mendacity”

    RTWT here:

    • MosesZD
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      When I was in HS one of my fellow classmates was a dagger’s drawn with our Spanish teacher. Our teacher was killed in a traffic accident about half-way into the year.

      So, we have an assembly and that girl gets up there and eulogizes the teacher (between sobs and sniffling) as if they were best friends for life. Even though she hated the teacher never had a nice thing to say about her and was, frankly, a rude, conniving jerk who did her petty best to make the teacher’s job difficult.

      So I’m not surprised. I’m only glad I learned the lesson first try instead of spending my life getting fooled.

      I’m also not surprised by the rampant ‘blame the victim’ that goes on. Especially from those who scream and yell at others for ‘victim blaming.’

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        It must be all right to “blame up,” but not to “blame down.”

  2. Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Cbcburke9's Blog and commented:
    Was oNly an excuse to commit such crime

  3. GBJames
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink


  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    They are generally on the left, but are not part of any group and would be vicious about everyone.

    Wednesday evening I heard an interview with a French woman (I forget who she was) and she said this as well. They weren’t politically affiliated with anyone as everyone was up for being satirized but they are considered a paper that is on the left.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure if it’s a good analogy, but I look at the cartoons and think MAD Magazine. I grew up on the snarky satire of MAD, and Charlie Hebdo seems to have the same irreverent free-wheeling feel to it — on a more serious level, of course, since it was ostensibly aimed at adolescent and above.

      Though MAD did manage to make some sharp points, as I recall.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        I hadn’t thought of that but I think that may be an apt analogy. I too grew up on MAD magazine and their folding covers to reveal the actual picture were often quite satirical too. Spy vs. Spy was also a great commentary on the silliness of the Cold War.

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        MAD wasn’t something I had more than cursory exposure to growing up, but, yes, I distinctly get the vibe the Charlie Hebdo is MAD for French adults.


      • Chewy
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        I devoured Mad Mag during an important formative time…

        BTW, Mad posted a Hebdo cartoon at

        • Sastra
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          … Don’t leave us in suspense! (ie there’s no link.)

          Unless that’s a trick you learned from MAD. 😉

        • Filippo
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Rance Rancid.

  5. Barry Lyons
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Great essay. I hope The New Republic picks it up.

    • ploubere
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:37 pm | Permalink


  6. muffy
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I read the comments at LJF, and anyone who tried to explain the context, as Matthew Cobb did, was told to ” STFU, you are a rich white male and your opinion doesn’t count.”

    It made me very sad to read such intolerant and hateful views, all in the name of moral superiority.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      I read PZ’s piece on it at Pharyngula and the comments are sickening.

      They’re so caught up in being the only righteous protectors of minorities that they completely disregard dissenting opinions from…..tadaa…minorities.

      All in the name of tolerance.

      I just don’t get it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Sam Harris said something really important on Real Time when he was on with Affleck. Few heard him because they were thinking of inventive ways to shout “racist” at him but he said that largely those who suffer from Islam are Muslims. Muslims hurt other Muslims. He further explained that it was problematic to put “infidel” feet on the ground to combat ISIS but doing nothing was unethical.

        So, these people yelling that commenters are just privileged white males – they are protecting the wrong people. It isn’t the Imam’s calling for covering women in sacks or the killing of the kufr that need protecting; it’s those who are oppressed by their totalitarian world view that need the protecting.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          Exactly. Any discussion about Islam is off-limits unless you constantly stress #notallmuslims.

          It’s condescending as hell and they’re directly involved in causing more harm to those minorities because honesty is off the table.

          And then they complain about neo-cons getting all the votes.

          Fucking idiots, as the old Greek might have said.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            You mean Plato?

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

              Plural. 🙂

        • Les
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          Exactly. Salman Rushdie said “we are the sideshow” in a war to control the Islamic World. Saudia Arabians have spent $100,000,000,000
          to promote extreme fundamentalist Sunni Islam. Nuclear Pakistan is falling apart and protected Bin Laden and nutured the Taliban.
          You can tell who is on what side by their statements on the attack.
          Abbas, of the secular PLO condemns the Paris attack.
          So does the Iranian controlled Shia Hezbollah.
          Has there been unqualified condemnation from the Saudi clerics?

          • Posted January 14, 2015 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

            The Saudi clerics are busy whipping a blogger to death, 50 lashes at a time, but they promise to say something about the next terrorist attack, which they say is set for [redacted] in [redacted].

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        We should also remember that the real minority, the minority of the minority, are the Muslims who advocate reform or who want to leave Islam.

        They are often oppressed by the mainstream Muslims who are powerful in their own communities, even though they are a minority in a Western country overall.

        The ex-Muslims actually *want* and *need* the blasphemy taboos to be broken. We should stand up for that minority. I argue that in The moral duty to draw Mohammed cartoons.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:42 am | Permalink


        • GBJames
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          And a good piece it is, Coel.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I got told that by someone on FB. I’m a working class woman!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        Which is ironic in more than one way because the assumption of that person reveals if not sexism, then a male bias.

        • John
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          was it meant to be a compliment or an insult?!

    • Posted January 12, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      Little Libby Ann banned me for posting the following outrageous comment on her LJF blog: “The victim- blaming here is most disappointing.”
      Pretty provocative, huh?

    • Posted January 12, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      Libby Ann banned me for posting the following outrageous comment on her LJf blog:
      “The victim-blaming here is most disappointing.”
      Pretty provocative stuff, eh?

      • muffy
        Posted January 13, 2015 at 2:41 am | Permalink

        LJF is turning into a mini Pharyngula.

  7. Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I could challenge anyone to find any cartoon in CH that could be seen as homophobic. They have always fought for the right of minorities – sometimes at the majorities’ expense. Besides, it is pretty strange that the criticism does not mention antisemitism – because it is OK? -, although some cartoons clearly targetted judaic extremists.

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I read this article from the Ottawa Citizen just now and it quotes an Imam who feels that any “derogatory” depictions of religious figures should be illegal. We all know that freedoms (at least here in Canada) can be limited. This is a liberal principle – my freedom may be limited if it infringes on your freedom and those cases need to be carefully considered. Well, this Imam twists that liberal value to limit freedom of speech so it doesn’t offend the religious:

    Imtiaz Ahmed, an imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said it should be against the law to publish cartoons that depict religious figures in a derogatory way.

    What is dangerous about this is I fear many liberals will think this is perfectly acceptable – freedom of speech limited as to not offend a group (especially a minority group).

    What’s worse – he backs up his opinion with something that is completely inaccurate:

    He says that seems to be the case for events such as the Holocaust. Members of the public denounce those who say the Holocaust never happened.

    Um no. You can say the holocaust never happened and as the Imam actually says how people handl this: people denounce those who say so. They are still allowed to say it and no one gets killed either. Just look up Ernst Zundel. It’s Zundel’s fault that I got myself in hot water in high school for defending his right to spew his bullshit and saying that if he spreads hate we need to change the constitution to prosecute him (later Canada did, introducing hate crimes and Zundel fit into it).

    • nightglare
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Holocaust denial is a crime in several European countries.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        However, this person is writing about Canadian laws and it isn’t a crime in Canada to deny the holocaust.

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        It shouldn’t be. See the video by Christopher Hitchens that I’ll post shortly.

        • lancelotgobbo
          Posted January 12, 2015 at 6:24 am | Permalink

          We do have ‘hate speech’ laws in Canada that might seem to be a good idea on the surface, but they also muzzle proper criticism of politics and religion. Perhaps this is illustrated by an interview on CBC Radio news broadcast last Thursday evening. A young muslim man, a representative of some council or other,was making the right noises and the final thing he said was that we need to work together to ‘solve the problems of free expression and peace’! Problems?

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            In the “Houston, we have a problem” sense, I’d say…

      • Robert Seidel
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        Here in Germany, not only Holocaust denial is illegal, but also the use of certain symbols (swastika etc.). Many films of the Nazi era are still suppressed, and of course, there are no new prints of Mein Kampf, because the federal state of Bavaria owns the copyright and doesn’t allow any (though that will change next year, when the copyright expires).

        Germany might be the most repressive country in this respect, a relict from the times after the war when people were to embarrassed to talk about it, or didn’t want to because they had escaped justice.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Here in Germany, not only Holocaust denial is illegal, but also the use of certain symbols (swastika etc.).

          I was just watching a documentary at the cinema set in the London (UK) National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman ; 90% plus fresh according to Rotten tomatoes, though I’d probably have trimmed a half hour of stuff from it’s 3 hour running time ; but I’m a Philistine), and noted several paintings with frames composed of repeated swastikas and many other uses of the symbol. Clearly these should be burned. Just because they were framed a century or two before the Nazis appropriated the symbol is no defence.
          [/sarcasm]Or maybe just a pause.

          • Robert Seidel
            Posted January 11, 2015 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

            There have been instances here where OUT-CROSSED swastikas, signs of protest against neo-facists, have been forbidden.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

              Ah, so my remaining tee-shirt from a Dead Kennedys gig (the third and final gig I attended – unless you count “Cabaret”) would get me arrested in Germany, for proclaiming how Nazi punks can jolly well go off and self-inseminate! Almost worth wearing next time I go to Bavaria!

        • Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          Does it burn old books that show the swastika?

          It was a good luck emblem which Baden-Powell adopted for the Scouting movement, and many pre-WW2 Scouting books have it on the spine. Although I doubt that those would’ve been published in Germany.

          The German law must cause some grief for those of certain Asian religions for whom the swastika is still a positive symbol.


          • Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            * “it” = the German government

            • Barbara Radcliffe
              Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

              I believe that the mirror image of the swastika is a symbol for a shrine (Shinto) in Japan. My problem is that I’m a bit vague as to which is which!

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                I have trouble remembering too!

          • Robert Seidel
            Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:21 am | Permalink

            > Does it burn old books that show the swastika?

            Now, that would be ironic! But no, there are exceptions for education, defence against unconstitutional activities (so confiscating out-crossed swastikas is, in fact, a misuse of the law), art, science, and journalism. In effect, you’re just not allowed to go on parade with these symbols, or things like that.

            Those books might, however, end up being locked away.

            • Posted January 12, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink

              It’s not forbidden to own “Mein Kampf”, or books from that time. I had a biology book from 1937 (I gave it to a museum.), it was full of nazi ideology, just reading made me sick.
              Those scouting books would be fine to own and to sell. I talked to my favority antique bookseller about it some time ago.

        • Mike Paps
          Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          Here in Germany, not only Holocaust denial is illegal, but also the use of certain symbols (swastika etc.).

          I don’t find Germany’s position on that, or it’s blasphemy laws surprising. I lived there from 1984 till 1999, and in the early 90’s I was cut of while driving near my home, and gave the person who cut me off the finger, and called him an asshole. The police arrive at my house a couple of hours later, and I was ticketed. A ticket that ultimately cost me 1100dm, around $700 at the time. Apparently it’s considered “verbal assault”. So in Germany you do in fact have the right not to be offended.

        • Genghis
          Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:23 am | Permalink

          When I was a Boy Scout (as an indifferent rather than atheist youth back in the 60s) the Methodist church in the UK to which the troop was affiliated had a carved stone swastika as one of the symbols which adorned its walls. The church was built in 1905, so well before it was adopted by the Nazis. I often wonder if it is still there.

          • GBJames
            Posted January 12, 2015 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            I’ve seen it in decorative telework in old homes in Milwaukee, also built around the turn of the century. I believe, however, that it is the old Sauwastika, not the modified right-facing version of the Nazis.

            • Posted January 12, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

              I think the sauwastika/swastika distinction is an artificial one; both are lucky in Eastern contexts. In Europe the “broken cross” was a sun symbol and should be doesil; a widdershins cross might be seen as inauspicious.


          • rickflick
            Posted January 12, 2015 at 7:39 am | Permalink

            The Swastika dates to the late stone age and has been adopted by cultures all over the world, including the far East.

    • bonetired
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      We have primary evidence that the Holocaust happened. As is frequently discussed on these pages, we just don’t know if Jesus even existed. And that is the difference between the two. Holocaust deniers are like Creationists – they just ignore the overwhelming evidence for it.

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        I think that they shouldn’t be prosecuted for that. Being a dogmatic person who ignores evidence against their claims is irrational, but shouldn’t be illegal.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Umm. . . you know that the magazine dismissed this person, don’t you? Or did you miss that part? And if you’re claiming that Charlie should have kept the guy because, after all, anti-Semitism is free speech too, remember that the magazine was devoted to satire: making political points, often by attacking religion. Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews themselves, not Judaism.

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        Two nights ago Greenwald wrote a compelling argument accompanied by the most hideous cartoons I have ever seen outside of the Holocaust museum. They were meant to support his point. I would be interested in what people on this site thought about it.

        • rickflick
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          I mentioned this article myself. I thought his first few paragraphs set a reasonable tone. Free speech is sacred. But he devolves into a comparison with anti-Semitic cartoons which are pretty rancid. He’s saying, well if CH can publish harsh pictures, why can’t anti-semites? But the parallel is not made clear. The creators of the anti-Semitic cartoons are obviously haters and racists and as far as I know are not under threat of being murdered.
          In other words, I think he’s a jerk.

        • Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          I think Greenwald believes Israel is an abomination, has something against the country that is more than just passionate disagreement with the country’s treatment of Palestinians. I believe this is also the underlying reason for his attacks on Sam Harris who defends Israel to a certain extent.

          • colnago80
            Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

            Greenwald, who is a gay man who lives with his partner in Brazil, also supports terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hizbollah, all of whom consider homosexuals to be subhuman. As you say, his hatred of Israel is pathological, even though it is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals can live in relative safety and with legal protection. In fact, there are a number of gay refugees from the Gaza Strip hiding out there assisted by local gay organizations as they would be executed if they returned. Several months ago, I challenged Greenwald in a comment on his blog, to go to Gaza City to interview Ishmael Haniyah. If he did any such thing, he would be fortunate to leave under his own power.

        • Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          I found Greenwald’s article pretty hopeless, and expected better from him. He takes advantage of this tragedy to make some pretty clumsy points about western double standards (some of which I even have sympathy with). Clearly he thinks the CH cartoons satirising Islam are racist, but does that then mean the cartoons satirising Christian sects are racist too? If we followed his advice we would all have to pull our punches with Islam alone. And it’s bad enough that religion as a whole gets too much respect, let alone allowing one version to have even more.

          Even *if* the CH cartoons were racist (and I guess some may even be, as well as sexist and so on), how does printing a load of *genuinely* racist cartoons prove a point? Many countries have legislation against genuinely racist output, and among the penalties is not summary execution by Kalashnikov.

          Conflating criticism of Islam with antisemitism is never going to persuade me that criticism of Islam is automatically racist, so he really needs to stop beating that drum and start calling out genuine racists.

          • Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            “Conflating criticism of Islam with antisemitism is never going to persuade me that criticism of Islam is automatically racist, so he really needs to stop beating that drum and start calling out genuine racists.”

            Thank you for that. It is sometimes difficult to judge where the line is drawn between genuine criticism and accusations of racism.

  9. nightglare
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this Jerry.

    I look forward to hearing about their take on the “Je suis Charlie” business. Certainly there can be no better people to take to task
    those who have hijacked this tragedy to defend their racism and anti-muslim sentiments.

  10. Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on raphaels7 and commented:
    I am born in Nice (S. of France) and one thing I love about this country is its cartoons. A good one will unapologetically cut to the heart of the matter in a way that anyone can appreciate, regardless of their level of intelligence or education.

    • Phil Giordana FCD
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Eh, un autre Niçois!

      I grew up with Cabu on Récré A2, Charlie Hebdo, Fluide Glacial, Psikopat (these last two having collaborated for a long time with Charb, Wolinsky and Tignous), and they are all a part of the reasons why I’m very left-leaning.

  11. Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:34 am | Permalink


  12. Harrison
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I think it’s more than a little telling that a bunch of people who claim to be incredibly concerned about other cultures are simultaneously brusque and dismissive of attempts by French natives to explain their own culture and how this magazine fits into it.

    What you have are a lot of non-French-speaking Americans attempting to dictate their own cultural norms and refusing to be educated.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      What you have are a lot of non-French-speaking Americans attempting to dictate their own cultural norms and refusing to be educated.

      That’s nothing new: they spend a lot of time over there telling the British and Irish what our words mean.

      They even tell British Black people off for calling themselves ‘Black’.

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        What, do they expect Brits to self-identify as African Americans?

        I regret that the term, “colored,” never got embraced — for, as the NAACP realized, we are all of us colored, just with different colors. No two the same, even — though, of course, there’s a fair amount of rhyming.


        • Harrison
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          “Colored people” is a horribly offensive term. Right-thinking people will now insist you use the term “people of color.”

          Sorry, I couldn’t resist a bit of snark.

          • Filippo
            Posted January 11, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            Well, how is it that “people of color” is fine, and “colored people” is not here in the U.S.? Same with “black” and “African American.” Seems that each term is endorsed in approx. equal numbers. If “colored people” is not “kosher,” ought the NAACP change its name? In England, do those of sub-Saharan African ancestry call themselves “African-British”? If so, wither those of (super-) Saharan ancestry? Is a white South African just that, or Boer, or English?

            I’m feeling sincerely accommodating this evening, if there are any experts to favor me with pearls of guidance.

            • Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

              Of course, in South Africa, “Coloured” was used as an ethnic label for people of mixed ethnic origin, not the autochthons.


          • SimonF
            Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:27 am | Permalink

            More offensiveness!
            “People of Right Thought” is the preferred term these days.

        • rickflick
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          I am colored.

          • Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            I am old enough to remember when “coloured people” was the polite way of speaking of eg. West Indians.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          “I regret that the term, “colored,” never got embraced — ”

          Not true. It was firmly ensconced at one time, as, of course, was Negro (we still have the United Negro College Fund, or did until recently). Both terms fell out of favor in the normal language process of acceptable words taking on bad connotations due to underlying prejudice.

          • Posted January 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

            What I was going after was the comparison with “gay” and “queer” and similar examples of once-derogatory terms that those referred to by them adopted as their own. Who doesn’t love a splash of color? How can there be objection to being colorful…or colored?

            Anyway, it’s a problem that’s not going to last much longer, I suspect. Every new generation of Americans is more and more mixed. It won’t be long (generationally speaking) before it’s so obvious that there are no hard divisions on the rainbow of human skin tone that the concepts of race lose all meaning and simply become incomprehensible.

            Of course, short generational times can easily be more than a single human lifetime….


            • Diane G.
              Posted January 11, 2015 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

              In middle school or high school I used to think that maybe someday everyone would be sort of a café_au_lait color or something similarly medium. Which I also thought would automatically lead to world peace. Ah, idealistic youth.

              • Posted January 11, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

                Oh, the former is happening, no question. But, of course, it’s gonna take just a wee bit more than that for world peace, even if it does make racism increasingly irrelevant. Lots more to war and peace than mere skin color….


              • Diane G.
                Posted January 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

                Yes, sigh.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:00 am | Permalink

                There was that song, which I heard as a human analogue of the heat death of the universe, all diversity blurring into beige. I probably didn’t value World Peace so much as a future goal, back in the 70s and 80s when my country had already declared peace (thankyou, Gough!) and wasn’t invading anybody.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:12 am | Permalink

                I don’t even remember that song…but you know what they say about the 60’s…

                Wow, you just lost Whitlam not that long ago, I see. We could use a lot more like him.

              • Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:19 am | Permalink

                Never heard the song, either, but do recognize the clothes.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:31 am | Permalink

                Gawd, I know, right? And we thought we were so hip.

                Well, I guess we were at the time…

              • Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:39 am | Permalink

                When I think I taught in short dresses like that in my early 20s. Could not bend over…

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 12, 2015 at 1:29 am | Permalink

                I remember going to a concert with my roommate Debbi, who was wearing quite the miniskirt. As we took our seats, she whispered to me, “Diane, I can’t take off my coat!” I asked her why. “Because I can’t find my skirt!”

            • Posted January 12, 2015 at 1:36 am | Permalink

              In which book (or short story?) was everyone made grey? _Lathe of Heaven_ springs to mind, but my copy’s in the loft.


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 12, 2015 at 7:03 am | Permalink

                I liked The Left Hand of Darkness as it explored gender identity. Also the hero was black and you don’t see that every day even though you see it more often in Science Fiction.

              • Posted January 12, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

                I honestly don’t remember either that particular story nor the motif. Which means it could well be that story.

                Race, of course, has been a favorite theme of SF authors, most famously Star Trek. But it’s practically a given as soon as you work aliens into the mix — and especially once you have more than one species of alien. Avatar was even rather heavy-handed in first and foremost being an allegory on colonial exploitation of aboriginals and their lands.


  13. John
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Those readers who can access the BBC might be interested in this show from this morning. The first section deals with free speech and the last question with Humanism. its a fantastic showcase for the muddled and intolerant thinking of some religious folk (Rabbi Jonathon Romain is the exception as he speaks well).

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Ah yes, that’s the show where we’re told that humanists who want to get married are “diabolical” because marriage is a religious thing. And where were told, about evolution, that: “I think that’s a lie, if we’re evolving, what are we evolving to?”.

      Why does the BBC give a platform to fringe nutters?

  14. boggy
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I asked my French wife to explain ‘Le Pape Moderne’ but she could not.

    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      It’s a reference to Nabilla Benattia, who became famous for the following utterance in a TV show:
      “Er, hello ! I mean, like, hello ? You’re a girl, you got no shampoo. Hello. Hello ! I dunno, you receiving me ? You’re a girl, you got no shampoo ? It’s like I’d say : you’re a girl, you got no hair”.
      Look at Wikipedia for more…

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        OK, that makes absolutely no sense to me at all.
        I initially thought I understood this bit

        The word balloons say ‘You are God and you don’t have any shampoo’ or ‘You are God, do you have any shampoo?’ (the former I think). ‘No but hello? What?’ ‘Helloooo?’ Not sure what all this is referring to.

        … reasonably well, as in the Victorian period there were repeated references in the gay slang of the time (as I’d seen referenced in discussions of Oscar Wilde’s shagging around) to “shampooing” in a “Turkish Bath” (when they really did comprise public baths, because many people had no running water in their houses) as being getting a hand job from a (male) masseur. Or, if not a hand job, a “bit of the brown”, in the slang of the time in London.
        But now I’m thoroughly confused. I still suspect there’s still some of that going on in there, but my French rude words dictionary disappeared decades ago.
        Nabilla Benattia – some bint from something Big Brother-ish? Incomprehensible.

        • Jacques Hausser
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t read this issue of CH, but I suppose it wants to tell that the reforms expected from the new pope may well be as significant as Nabilla’s performance…

    • natalielaberlinoise
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      It’s making fun of the newly elected Pope by combining him with a parody of this rather lowbrow cultural reference that was the rage in France at the time:

      And no, I didn’t know this, I looked it up. Probably not the most interesting parody for us now, but it still shows the Catholics as good sports to republish it.

  15. Allison
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I’m not fluent in the French language but I get the impression that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are a bit like those of The Onion’s ‘Editorial Cartoon’:,37684/

    The cartoons are superficially sympathetic to ridiculous right-wing memes but are clearly (at least to educated people) satirizing those views rather than endorsing them.

    Not sure if I can post an image here but I’ll try:

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Oh…That’s a very good one. Pilgram’s Progress. However, when you bring in religion it seems the humor tends to depart.

  16. Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    My attitude is that if someone glasse someone in the face for spilling their pint you don’t spend time debating whether the guy was caress or it was entirely accidental.

    The enormity of the over-reaction renders whether the victim bears any responsibility mute.

    What’s going on at Pharyngula is ‘well, if she didn’t want to be raped she shouldn’t have been wearing a mini-skirt’ level disgusting.

    • Gus
      Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Good point. But the argument can be inverted: if the dead are victims of a psychopathic over-reaction then how can they be considered champions of free expression?

    • HH
      Posted January 14, 2015 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      Hi Shatter,

      I’m not trying to be a language nazi or anything but the expression is to render a point of discussion moot as opposed to mute.

      • Posted January 14, 2015 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        Isn’t that a mute point? 😝

        Sorry … that might have been a damp squid. Folks should stop putting grammar on some kind of pedal-stool.


        • HH
          Posted January 14, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          I’m confident my grammar is pretty hideous most of the time. I base this assumption on my complete lack of certainty that it is correct. I welcome it when someone is pointing out an error I am making so long as it is not accompanied by jibes about my education or intelligence level.

          On a somewhat related (to the post) note:

          “People who practice freedom of expression are terrorizing our grammatical way of life.”
          – Bauvard

          I’m not sure if ‘pedal-stool’ makes you a champion of free expression or a terrorist 🙂

        • rickflick
          Posted January 14, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          The language seems to be mute-ateing before our eyes.

          • Posted January 14, 2015 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            Squids better be damp, or they’ll die🐙
            Damp squibs are a different kettle of fish🐬

            • Posted January 14, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

              Which reminds me, have you got that sick squid you owe me?


              • Posted January 14, 2015 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                She owes you PZ? How’d she get the title deed to him in the first place? And why on Earth would either of you want it?


              • Posted January 14, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

                Sick🐙 IOU??

              • Posted January 14, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

                Ah — I guess it really works only if you’re familiar with British English slang for money: Sick squid ~ six quid = £6.


              • merilee
                Posted January 14, 2015 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

                cool;-) Should’ve figured that out.

  17. Carl Morano
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Excellent post but watching Sunday morning coverage on cnn and msnbc is depressing. Especially msnbc where there is talk about ‘racism’ which is, of course, is irelevant when discussing a religion. On CNN there is a severely delusional muslim woman scholar (overdosed on some kind of happy drugs!) who claims that extremism is dying out and we are witnessing a new age of pluralism. I’m sorry, count me out on tolerance and pluralism. I would never accept ‘moderate’ or ‘compassionate’ nazism or tolerate concentration camps as long as they allowed were U.N. inspections to check on food and hygeine quality. Not acceptable. Islam in any form, is not compatible with western enlightenment moral and ethical concepts. A woman doesn’t choose to wear a burka. This is a perverse way of thinking. Where free choice is not an option, you have no choice! Yes, other religions are problematic but to a much lesser degree.

  18. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I am persuaded that the cartoons are not racist or Islamophobic for the reasons stated. But the strong caricatures will inevitably be seen by some as being racist, etc. The Africans in the cartoons look very African. The Muslims generally look very Arabic and traditionally Muslim. I have not seen cartoons posted from Hebdo of Jewish people or of people from China, but I can imagine what they would look like. Strong caricature ain’t subtle.
    Those who are defensive about strong caricatures showing people of different races and cultures (and to their own race/culture) will have their ‘I’m offended’ button pushed, and they will not get past it.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Its in the nature of charicarure to exaggerate features. A cartoon where you can’t tell who it’s supposed to represent is meaningless.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I agree. The style of all their cartoons is, well, cartooney to the extreme. A face is blob of color and very few dark lines. With such a minimal style one has to communicate the identity & expression of a person in very stark terms. Every cartoonist working in that style will do this. If their drawings of people of various races and cultures are racist and xenophobic, then their drawings of famous people are equally offensive. If they drew a cat it would offend the aurilophiles as to what a noble cat should look like.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. The portrayals are often rude and crude to an extent unnecessary for conveying the key meaning. So, these are not drawings I would approve of. That said, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t think they were hatefully created and I think there is plenty of social merit, but that’s not the point. I just think they should be allowed to publish whatever they want without being murdered for it. If they were actually racists, the argument for free speech still holds.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

          There are some that are pretty in-your-face and yes, rather rude. That is true. But I was going for how they presented caricatures of recognizable kinds of people & known individual people.

    • Gus
      Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      I think the problem is the context. The Muslim community in France is poor and harassed. Very few of them are fanatics.

      In the US: imagine WASPs running a mag where they depicted African-Americans as something halfway between a baboon and a human and whose only motivation is crack cocaine and sex.

      Satire works when you are punching up, not when you are punching down.

      • Mike Paps
        Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        Satire works when you are punching up, not when you are punching down.

        Is insulting or taking the piss out of Muslim extremists punching down? Sure images of Muhammad will offend most Muslims, but those who would kill cartoonists were the target. Also was Charlie punching down when taking on guys with Kalashnikovs?

      • Posted January 13, 2015 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Attacking *Islam* is punching *up*. Whether Muslims are a minority or not (and they’re certainly never a *racial* minority!).


      • HH
        Posted January 14, 2015 at 6:35 am | Permalink

        Ah more of this “punching up – punching down” garbage.

        The people who usually talk such rubbish are very quick to pounce on anyone making generalisations and stress ad-nauseum that most muslims are not extremists. Take the piss out of extremists though and suddenly you are attacking that poor minority we are told has nothing to do with extremists.

        Having one’s cake and eating it too.

  19. tveb
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Too many people who did/do not read French, nor are aware of the relevant context reacted to those cartoons. I little reading (in French) would have caused them to be be more nuanced about charges of racism. That being said, it is also true that France does not really have “freedom of speech.” The government apparently bans “insulting France,” sexist lyrics (a rapper is on trial as we speak), and denying the holocaust. This gives religious figures the opportunity to demand bans on other forms of speech too (ones they find “insulting”); this also gives them the opportunity to make the charge of hypocrisy. The solution, I think, is to have actual freedom of speech (the US, I believe is much closer to the ideal).

  20. Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    A very short quote of Salman Rushdie’s totally encapsulates my own views on this subject:

    “Nobody has the right to not be offended.
    That right doesn’t exist”

    That says everything that there is to say on this issue….

    It doesn’t matter if CH was of the left or of the right. Or pro-multiculturalism or against it. Or distasteful and crude or not. And most of all it matters not if anything they said or illustrated offended every sector of society at some particular time, or offended just one particular sector all the time. They had every right to do either. This is what freedom of speech comes down to – the freedom to offend others. What NOBODY has the right to do is to injure or kill someone who offends you.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      “There is no right not to be offended, or not to hear contrary opinions.

      Respect for people’s freedom of belief does not imply respect for those beliefs. The expression of opposition to any beliefs, including in the form of satire, ridicule or condemnation in all media and forms is vital to critical discourse and any restraint that is exercised in this expression must be self-restraint alone. The best response to the expression of a view we disagree with is to reply to it. Violence and censorship are never legitimate responses. All laws that criminalise language on grounds of ‘blasphemy’ or of offence to beliefs and values impede human freedom and should be abolished.”

      From The Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression

      • Posted January 12, 2015 at 3:23 am | Permalink

        Yes Rodger – the World Humanist Congress in Oxford this past August. I actually attended – and I must say it was both humbling and inspiring to hear firsthand the brave experiences of speakers who had stood up for free speech knowing they did it at the risk of their very own lives. So it was with the journalists at Charlie Hebdo.
        So it really irritates me when a gutless wonder like Bill Donohue criticises the “bad manners” and “immorality” of someone willing to risk their life for the free speech that he himself enjoys.

  21. jay
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Ah, religious debates about who represents the true left, and which are infidels. Entertaining.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      What left?

  22. rasmo carenna
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Curiously, Jean-Marie Le Pen himself, while lamenting the killings, has said “je ne suis pas Charlie” (I am not Charlie), because he says he cannot identify with an “anarchist trotskyst” publication.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      More exctly he said “je ne suis pas Charlie, je suis Charles Martel.” Martel, an 8th century Frankish leader generally understood to have booted the Moors (Muslims) out of France.

      • Nick
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        Martel halted the moorish invasion of Europe, which had resulted in the murder and enslavement of tens of thousands of Europeans more than 300 years before the first crusade.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          If your and Chimera8’s timings are correct, the moors started their enslavement of the Iberian a century or so before Mohammed started smoking his weed in a Mecca-area cave (or whatever it was he was taking, if he existed at all).

          • Nick
            Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            I believe Mohammed was the 6-7th century and the Battle of Tours was well into the 8th century.

  23. Randy Schenck
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    The self-made taboo’s of the religious are the reasons we love the Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris’s of the world. Same reason to love Charlie and we understand that without knowing French.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Nice and pithy.

  24. launcher
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Interesting take here on the same topic, by Scott Sayare:

    Of particular interest to me was why Charlie Hebdo would portray a French public figure, who is black, as a monkey. Isn’t that clearly racist? The Atlantic article says this, which squares with Hebdo’s left-side political views:

    A good example is a recent cartoon, noted frequently in the past few days, depicting France’s black minister of justice as a monkey; the drawing was in fact meant to skewer the French racists who have portrayed her as a monkey, but those unfamiliar with French politics might be forgiven this misunderstanding.

    • rickflick
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      The portrayal of blacks as monkeys is in very poor taste – I think all would agree – and even when mocking the bigots. However, bad taste is not a crime punishable by death.
      What would happen, do you think, if American paper did this?

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure the Onion could get away with it. In fact, I’d almost be surprised if they haven’t already….


    • barsanuphe
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t seen that cartoon, but I can guess it relates to Taubira, who was regularly depicted as a monkey by the extreme-right, as a way to discredit that fact that she was pushing for the French law for gay marriages. The extreme-right magazine Minute made it its cover. I’m guessing the cartoon you’re referring to was a reaction to and a satire of this extreme-right insult.

  25. lancelotgobbo
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry, for an intelligent analysis. Discussing the matter with my wife, a psychiatrist, I was surprised to hear her say that she felt that only 20% of the population is smart enough to ‘get’ the meta meaning of a satire, and the other 80% would always see only the surface. That’s terribly sad if true, so I hope she had just had a bad day!

    • rickflick
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      But, even if she was off by a big chunk…

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      The French are particularly enamored of “meta” humor and the second, third and fourth degrees of humor. It can be very destabilizing to someone coming from a different humor tradition, for instance if you’re American

      • mathieu siol
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        This is very true,
        having spent a few years in North America, I experienced this firsthand myself a couple of times. I was a regular reader of CH for years and I can absolutely, positively testify that there is no way that it is a racist journal (in fact it’s exactly the opposite). Whenever it can seem racist, it’s because they use the codes of far right to mock them.

    • Mike Paps
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I think the same is true of sarcasm, and analogies.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      It might be genetic, like catnip response. I think I’m pretty smart, but used to stare at New Yorker cartoons for ages and hardly ever got one.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        Sort of like spelling, perhaps? I’ve known a few extremely bright people who couldn’t spell worth a damn.

  26. Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Joe's Notepad.

  27. Guestus Aurelius
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Jerry.

    It takes some serious chutzpah to publicly pass judgment on another society’s cultural artifacts without so much as a nod to their context. Evidently, this embarrassing brand of accidental ethnocentrism is quite popular among a subset of self-styled social-justice advocates online, ostensibly culturally sensitive progressives one and all.

    Is that ironic? Perhaps, but there’s nothing unexpected about this state of affairs if you know that the mantra of these lovely people is “intent isn’t magic”—in practice, a euphemism for “we and we alone will decide when it’s okay to take intent into account.”

    Yes, some people really operate this way. Hence the belittling and wonderfully apt insult “SJW” (social justice warrior).

    If you can stomach it, here is an excellent case in point:

    As Jerry’s OP makes clear, the author of that Daily Beast article is incredibly wide of the mark in his discussion of the Boko Haram “pregnant welfare queens” cartoon. He’s utterly sure of his surface reading that the kidnapped girls are the butt of a joke, when in reality it’s a satirical piece whose target is right-wing xenophobia.

    But what bothers me isn’t that he’s wrong. Rather, it’s his transparent and smug certainty that his unimpeachable worldview obviates any responsibility he’d otherwise have to educate himself on French politics and culture before denouncing the just-murdered French cartoonists as racist trolls. He’s a true SJW.

  28. Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Laying Faith to Rest.

  29. Posted January 11, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Bill the Blowhard Donahue “came close?” No need to be diplomatic. The dingbat stepped way over the line. Hugh Hewitt, however, cut him down to size.

    Too bad the Blowhard was too dense to understand it.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Damn you, Dunning Kruger! Damn you to hell! 🙂

      • Posted January 12, 2015 at 3:33 am | Permalink

        It is sickeningly amusing to observe how Donohue claims that “writing a book on a subject”- which in truth any idiot can do – trumps being an established University Professor on a specialist subject.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 12, 2015 at 5:36 am | Permalink

          We’ve got the same phenomenon/problem here. Dansk Folkeparti ( right wing Christian national socialists ).

          They’re clever, but utterly disgusting in their manipulation of facts and they’re hypocritical to the core as long as it counts towards their final solution. ( Old tyme religious values and adherence to authority. )

        • rickflick
          Posted January 12, 2015 at 7:35 am | Permalink

          Another credential he touts, “I advised the President” – Bush 41, supposedly – I don’t doubt he got 10 minutes in the Oval Office to pick up support from his fanatical base.

  30. secularjew
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    It should come as no surprise that one person who clearly doesn’t get what is and isn’t satire is Glenn Greenwald. Not only did he print that very cartoon with the pregnant women as an example of Charlie Hebdo’s supposed bigotry, but he followed it up by printing a bunch of alternate cartoons, some of which are blatantly anti-Semitic. Of course, he ignores the fact that nobody was calling for those cartoonists’ heads, nor that such images are commonly accepted in the Muslim world.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that was the most idiotic and disgusting reaction to the massacre that I have read so far…

  31. Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    There’s an interesting collection of historical depictions of the Big M here–

    It was fine in the C15 to depict him, but later he started to be depicted with a blank face — obviously it was unclear whether or not it was allowed, and eventually the fanatical censors won. And their victory over any Muslim who might like to have a dig at the fake piousness of the imams is being cemented by those on the liberal left who have taken it on themselves to decide what is offensive to Muslims.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Can I just point out that it’s the ILliberal left who take it upon themselves to decide what’s offensive to Muslims?

      • Filippo
        Posted January 11, 2015 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if there has ever been a cartoon with the caption, “This is not Mohammed.”

        • Posted January 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

          I think that one of the Jyllands-Posten illustrations had a number of people scratching their heads and saying “Nope. No idea who he is” over a picture of a bearded man. ICBM, though. It’s been a while since I looked at them.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:21 am | Permalink


  32. stephen
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Matthew is spot on about “Charlie-Hebdo”,especially in his translations. Essentially a soixante-huitard (spirit of 1968) publication,it was and is a no-holds-barred antagonist of all and any sacred cows.Anyone who thinks it is racist, or otherwise right-wing , reveals ignorant incomprehension. It helped me to learn my street French and taught me a lot about tolerance and broad-mindedness -they really are(and always have been) no-holds-barred in the best French secular tradition. Cabu and Wolinski were genial and gifted cartoonists who were of my parents’ generation yet expressed the ideas and ideals of my own ( no surprises there ,except when you’re 20 or thereabouts 🙂 ). For a broader picture you could look-up Jean-Marc Reiser, Georges Bernier, and Francois Cavanna….

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      How does my comment at #34, just below, strike with you? A French Private Eye-a-like?

      • Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        It makes Private Eye look like a parish magazine 🙂

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

          Sounds good. Snoddy (my cartoonist friend) liked it a lot, and he has never been afraid to dip his drawing pen in the old vitriol and use the acid-resistant drafting film.

  33. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    By coincidence, I spent some time on Saturday with a cartoonist friend (big coincidence – a third mutual friend has just lost his leg and needed domestic things doing to sort his flat out while he;s in hospital), who had spent several years in France in the 1970s. He cited Charlie Hebdo as being one of the influences that put him onto a career in cartooning, caricaturing and that sort of thing, which he pursues to this day. Since his French was never fluent (though far better than mine – he did live there for several years), he missed a lot of what it was saying, but thought it somewhat similar to Private Eye, in attacking cant, hypocrisy, pomp and pomposity on a pretty even keel. Probably a distinctly leftist bias, but they’d go for the jugular on the left if they saw it exposed just as fast as they’d go for a right-wing jugular.
    No comment from me, and this may be completely obscure to the Americans anyway. But it may ring bells with MC?

  34. Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I don’t read CH but I have been getting their front covers on Facebook for a few years. Some I’ve found incomprehensible, but this one made me laugh out loud :

    So much for only targetting the powerless. (Florange is the name of a town, not a woman. It was in the news for some reason that I now can’t remember. The guy is Dominic Strauss Kahn

  35. dongiovanni
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I’ve found Jesuits to be quite interesting and pleasant people to talk to… I suppose valuing education does pay off.

    • kev
      Posted January 12, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Had to face a “well-educated” Queen’s Councillor in civil court once. He used his “education” to place false witnesses, lied to the judge about evidence and distract from the truth. Superficially interesting and pleasant man. Didn’t swear or lose his temper. The judge wouldn’t have liked that. Thought that he was a hell of o fella because he could get his guity client off by using his “education”. Remind you of any Jesuits you know?

  36. Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Re “punching down”:

    Sure, maybe we should “only satirise the powerful” but religions *are* powerful and cause oppression of individuals in minority communities

    — Alom Shaha @alomshaha


  37. Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Added this piece to my blog roundup on how Charlie Hebdo is not racist, but might well be anti-SJW.

    • Posted January 11, 2015 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      What is SJW? Ps didn’t realise Robert Crumb was still around 🙂

    • Genghis
      Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:34 am | Permalink

      I think there is a distinction between SJWs, who tend to be insufferable single-minded prigs, and advocates for social justice.

  38. Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if anyone else pointed this out here, but Slate explained the context for a lot of the more controversial covers of Charlie Hebdo publications here

  39. Posted January 12, 2015 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a great write-up Jerry. My mother tongue is French and I knew of Charlie Hedbo before these events and I’m in complete agreement. Cartoons and satire are also part and parcel of French culture. And it is a well know facts that humour is the most effective way to get people to think and change their mind.

    However, I firmly believe that in this case, outrage agaisnt the cartoons was just an excuse, an instrument to perpetuate a terrorist act and polarize people. Now the French will increase their anti-muslim behaviour which will cause many moderate muslims in France to become more radicalise. France is the main front in the battle to introduce their brand of Islam into Western Europe and a docile and moderate muslim population doesn’t serve their purpose.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      French humour is also tricky for the non-French. It can seem bizarre to anglophones.

  40. krzysztof1
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    That quote from the Jesuit periodical was excellent. Jesuits are provisionally OK in my book! Although of course I disagree with the foundation of their belief system, they are thinkers. Now if they could just go one step further…

  41. Posted January 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the late comment, but you ( and Matthew) are so very much spot on here…
    Charlie H, Hara-kiri, Fluide Glacial, etc. were/are most positively anti-racist.

  42. Gus
    Posted January 13, 2015 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    A bunch of white guys punching down on the beliefs of a poor, marginalized minority is not a good recipe for satire.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Oh, yes, those poor Muslims. 1.6 billion and counting.

      • John
        Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        and Charlie weren’t just selectively satirising Islam or Muslims. The targeting of the Catholic church, for example, is hardly hitting at a marginalised minority – or do we have different rules for different groups.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          What groups?

          • John
            Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:14 am | Permalink

            the different religious, political, ethnic groups that were satirised. They do not all share common characteristics such as being marginalised and poor.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:22 am | Permalink

              So, according to you it is the responsibility of the satirist to bare in mind your ignorance about what other “groups” might find offensive?

              What the hell gave you the right to decide that other people need their feelings spared?

              Do you know 7 billion people, or do you actually think you’re capable of taking everyone’s feelings into account?

              Go ahead, hit me with the most inoffensive joke you can think of concerning the tiniest minority you can think of?

              I bet it’s boring as hell. And quite possibly racist too.

              On your count, mate.

              • Gus
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:28 am | Permalink

                That’s not what he said. You should definitely work on your reading comprehension.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:29 am | Permalink

                Great argument. 🙂

              • John
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:30 am | Permalink

                If you read my initial response properly you will see that I’m not disagreeing with you. I was actually supporting your position in your response to Gus by pointing out that Charlie did not selectively target minority or marginalised groups. But hey attack me all you like based on your misunderstanding.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                Then why did you feel the need to answer my question to Gus?

              • John
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                that’s how discussion works. I can either support or challenge a part of the conversation. Thanks for the apology btw.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                Sorry, John. My bad. 🙂

                But I’m getting pretty fed up by having to wade through a minefield every time we’re discussing Islam.

              • John
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                me too. No one has the right not to be offended. If something offends, fight back with words and ideas not bullets or stones or whips or anything else you think might silence criticism.

              • Posted January 13, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                @ Jesper

                As long as it’s just a metaphorical one …


              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                No worries, it is. 🙂

            • Gus
              Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:41 am | Permalink

              And that was exactly my point. Satire doesn’t work all around with all individuals and communities.

              From wikipedia:
              “Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.”

              So, how exactly to do you shame a poor, marginalised community into improvement?

              I guess to you it’s exactly the same and equally valid to poke fun, ridicule and caricature the Pope and a poor immigrant. To me it’s not. Let’s agree to disagree and leave it at that.

              • muffy
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                Yeah, and Colbert mocked American racists by playing the ‘ching chong ding dong’ character on TV,thus upsetting SueyPark and starting the #cancelcolbert fiasco.

                And since over 1 billion chinese are marginalized in their home country, then one could argue that Colbert was ‘punching down’ by satirizing a racist stereotype of Chinese people.

                Ergo, Colbert is racist, just like CH 😛

      • Gus
        Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        We are talking about France here.
        6 million Muslims, of which 2 million declare themselves “observant”.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          Where talking about Islam here.

          Can’t cope it. Don’t read.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:27 am | Permalink


    • muffy
      Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      By that logic, Colbert is a racist and a sexist, since he satirized racist, sexist bigots by pretending to hold those views.

      • Gus
        Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        No, Colbert was spot on. He picked on the big shots.

        He didn’t impersonate an illegal Mexican escaping the border patrol in Arizona, right?

        • muffy
          Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          No, Colbert pretended to be an O Reilly clone, and made “bigoted” comments about other races, and women. To someone unaware of the context, Colbert was “punching down”

          Remember #cancelColbert?

          • Gus
            Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

            ok, but honestly, who could possibly be unaware of the context?

            The TARGET of the satire was O’Reilly. Thus, he was punching UP

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:46 am | Permalink

              Damn, you must be ‘Murican! 🙂

              • Gus
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                I’m not

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                Then why do you assume everyone knows who Bill O’Reilly and Steven Colbert are?

                I’ve never watched the Cober Repeort.

                It is weak satire in my opinion.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                *Colbert. 🙂

            • muffy
              Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:51 am | Permalink

              And the target of CH’s satire were bigoted French politicians!!!

              And no, just because some minorities happen to be Muslim does not mean that Islam should be spared ridicule.

            • muffy
              Posted January 13, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

              And the French are aware of the context of CH, and unlike privileged white people here in north america they knew what was up, just like we know what Colbert is all about.

              BTW, Suey Park didn’t get Colbert’s satire. She accused him of racism. Some American Republicans think that C is for real. So, by your logic, Colbert was punching down because someone thought he was racist!!

    • GBJames
      Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      “A bunch of white guys punching down on the beliefs of a poor, marginalized minority is not a good recipe for satire.”

      Yes it is. All ideas are fodder for satire.

      • Gus
        Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Ok, in the same vein some people think it’s a good idea for humans to hunt deer, since we have guns and trucks and they don’t. Each to its own, I guess.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 13, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          You should study up on the difference between ideas and people. They aren’t the same thing.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] 2015-01-11: Please see this article by Jerry Coyne and Matthew Cobb for more about Charlie Hebdo’s equal opportunity […]

  2. […] had nothing to do with the paper). As several Francophone commentators have pointed out (including Matthew), much of this stems from a misunderstanding of French politics, or just not having read (or been […]

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