Stéphane Charbonnier (“Charb”), the editor of Charlie Hebdo who was murdered by Muslim thugs, has a new book out, sadly still only in French, that was completed just two days before his death, and published April 9. The New York Times has a brief description of the book, which gives the lie to two myths about the magazine:
1. It made fun of Islam but not of other faiths, and
2. It was “Islamophobic,” that is, it made fun of Muslims in general and thereby was a “hate magazine.” In reality, the magazine was pro-immigrant and against those segments of French society that denigrated immigrants, including Muslims.
But there’s also another important part of the book:
3. It warns of the dangers of Western liberals capitulating to fears of Muslim rage
Here’s what the Times says about Chabonnier’s book, which I hope will soon be translated into other languages (Arabic would be nice!):
The book, “Open Letter to the Fraudsters of Islamophobia Who Play Into Racists’ Hands,” argues that all religions, including Islam, are fair game for ridicule in secular Republican France. The weekly newsmagazine L’Obs published excerpts from the book this week.
And indeed, Charlie Hebdo often mocked other faiths, particularly Catholicism. Although my French is probably good enough to read the excerpts linked above, I haven’t the time. Francophone readers may want to do so, and weigh in below.
. . . “By virtue of what twisted theory is humor less compatible with Islam than it is with any other religion?” he wrote. “Saying Islam is not compatible with humor is as absurd as claiming Islam is not compatible with democracy or secularism.”
. . . In keeping with the spirit of Charlie Hebdo, the book does not shy away from harsh jabs at religion. “The problem is neither the Quran nor the Bible, sleep-inducing, incoherent and badly written novels,” Mr. Charbonnier wrote. The problem, he said, is the faithful who read the holy books “like instructions for assembling Ikea shelves.”
Re point 2:
“If tomorrow all the Muslims of France convert to Catholicism or abandon all religion, that would change nothing to racist discourse: These foreigners or French citizens of foreign descent will still be singled out as responsible for all problems,” Mr. Charbonnier wrote. He added that “being afraid of Islam is most likely stupid, absurd and many other things, but it isn’t a crime.”
Re point 3:
Warming to his theme that the fight against Islamophobia had backfired, he argued that a misplaced fight against Islamophobia led by white elites had stifled free speech and paradoxically encouraged the mistreatment of Muslims by singling out their religious identity.
. . . In the 120-page book, which does not contain any new caricatures, Mr. Charbonnier criticized the media, politicians and some civil society groups for what he called “disgusting white, left-wing bourgeois paternalism.”
. . .He placed special blame on the media for creating a climate that allowed Charlie Hebdo to be targeted.
“It is because the media decided that republishing the Muhammad caricatures could only trigger the fury of Muslims that it triggered the anger of a few Muslim associations,” he wrote in reference to 2006, when the newspaper reprinted cartoons of Muhammad that had first been published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
I was upset, but not surprised, when a number of bloggers immediately accused Charlie Hebdo of “hate speech” after the terrorist attack, more or less blaming the magazine for its own fate. But I was surprised when one of these clueless critics was Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury. Apparently some people took a cursory look at a cartoon or two and jumped to the conclusion that Charlie Hebdo hated Muslims.
Well, like me, the magazine doesn’t care much for Islam, but doesn’t bear personal animus against Muslims themselves. And it wouldn’t have been hard to find that out. One could, I suppose, blame the time pressure involved in writing on websites, but it’s clear that much of the pushback against Charlie Hebdo came from the very kind of liberal, Islam-coddling guilt that Charbonnier criticized.
Here he is with some of his covers: