On the Two-Year Anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo Shootings, It’s More Important Than Ever to Stand in Solidarity with the French Cartoonists

by BK Munn

A few articles from around the web this week make it clear that the left is still sharply divided on Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content. It’s been a tumultuous two years for the magazine, and with the rise of right-wing movements and governments in Europe and North America the creators rightly feel that their support is falling away from the highs of the “Je Suis Charlie” mass-reaction to the murders. The magazine continues to piss-off and offend just about everyone, which doesn’t bode well for continued wide-spread support. As editor-cartoonist Riss recently wondered, “We get the impression that people have become even more intolerant of Charlie. If we did a front cover showing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad now, who would defend us?”

One sign of hope is this recent article in the LA Review of Books by self-described “Charlie-sceptic” Jacob Hamburger:

“As I learned more about Charlie Hebdo’s history and came into contact with their surviving staff, I discovered how far off the mark my reservations had been. France’s historical and legal traditions of free speech create an important niche for satirists that Charlie Hebdo has long filled. Despite the rebellious attitude of a paper that has called itself a journal irresponsible, its staff has been constantly attuned to the responsibilities that their role demands. Its confrontations with Islam, as well as with Catholicism and the Front National, were an attempt to fulfill these responsibilities. And in a time when the ideal of free speech is in danger of losing its meaning, Charlie Hebdo sets an increasingly rare example of a commitment to defining and defending its bounds.
The paper is an example of what an authentic commitment to free speech looks like in practice. Recognizing this can help us distinguish responsible and intelligent satire from its many sorry imitations today — the internet trolls and the self-proclaimed “provocateurs” like Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos who glorify nastiness for its own sake. Of course, my discomfort with some of what I had seen them print has not gone away. As with all good satire, it isn’t supposed to. Understanding Charlie Hebdo in context does not mean always liking it, but for those struggling to affirm their commitment to free speech in today’s climate, the paper’s example is worth exploring and, yes, celebrating.”

On the minus side, this tone-deaf article from the normally progressive and downright revolutionary Jacobin mag, which goes through the exact same points, but with a different takeaway.

“Whether Charlie liked it or not, it had also become an avatar of Western antagonism to Islam. Its writers have refuted this cooptation, insisting that they target Islamism rather than ordinary Muslims. They further deny that their caricatures of Muhammad and other Islamic figures constitute Islamophobia (indeed they deny Islamophobia per se), simply stating that they act in their longstanding anticlerical tradition and France’s strong secular laïcité convention.”

Oh well…

As usual, the best explainers of Charlie remain the cartoonists of Charlie themselves, including (now-former) contributor Luz, who provides the strip below in response to outrage over the controversial Syrian refugee cartoon last year.