In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of last week, attempts are being made to impose on society a simplistic choice: either you declare your full approval and endorsement of Charlie Hebdo, or you will be suspected of sympathizing with the terrorists. But this either-or is an over-simplification, which will only polarize society and radicalize the public discourse. This is what must absolutely be avoided. Obviously, no decent person can sympathize (and be it only tacitly) with terrorism. But can a decent person really sympathize with the style in which Charlie Hebdo has mocked what many of us consider sacred?
While the mass media continue describing Charlie Hebdo as a “satirical magazine”, one has good reason to wonder whether that description is appropriate. Religious belief is not stupidity – though there are some very stupid religious beliefs out there – nor is it of itself a vice or an evil.
Moreover, one has reason to question whether there was any genuine humour, or irony, or even exaggeration in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. Instead, there doubtlessly was plenty of malice and hatred employed in Charlie Hebdo’s work, a desire to cause great offence and shock for the sake of it, a desire to be provocative and hurt the sensibilities of the religious, Muslim or others. Also, the cartoons could never be said to excel in artistic quality – more similar to the Nazi publication “Der Stürmer” than to any genuine satire, they were never remarkable as works of art, but only as provocative exhibitions of spite and prejudice.
There is a need to understand the difference between satire – which by its use of humour and irony exposes stupidity – and blasphemy, which simply mocks God and religion. Satire is entertaining and enlightening because it can also be edifying. Satire, when done correctly, doesn’t simply run people – or people’s beliefs – down for the sake of it, in order to be gratuitously offensive, but instead uses humour to tell the truth.
It is absurd for politicians and media to claim that the four assassinated cartoonists have died as martyrs for “European values”. The sad truth is that they have needlessly offended other people. Rather than to tolerance and mutual respect, they have made a huge contribution the polarization and radicalization of society that causes problems today. Indeed, if there is any embodyment of the evil attitude that can ruin a pluralist and tolerant society, it must be Charlie Hebdo. There is absolutely no reason to glorify them.
Should Charlie Hebdo be discontinued, we would not regret it.
Twitter trend: #JeNeSuisPasCharlie
The Daily Beast has another article on the same subject (and with another particularly shameful cartoon…)