Charlie Hebdo: The French Satirical Magazine Is Heroic. It Is Also Racist.
While many pine for their European Heritage, there are parts of that heritage which should never be imported to the US. It’s common to portray minorities as extreme racial stereotypes in cartoons there, which includes exaggerated lips, top knots, and other features for blacks that would be roundly condemned here. So while you support free speech understand also that there is an ugly xenophobic and tribal nationalist pride component supported by magazines like Charlie Hebdo as well. Just as much as you support their right to say it, you should be willing to vocally condemn the xenophobic ugliness.
The editors and cartoonists murdered in Wednesday’s attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo are now martyrs for the cause of free speech. Threatened with death for publishing drawings of the prophet Mohammed meant to mock Islamic radicals, they refused to censor themselves, and so were gunned down. They died bravely for an ideal we all treasure.
But their work featuring Mohammed could be sophomoric and racist. Not all of it; a cover image of the prophet about to be beheaded by a witless ISIS thug was trenchant commentary on how little Islamic radicalism has to do with the religion itself. But often, the cartoonists simply rendered Islam’s founder as a hook-nosed wretch straight out of Edward Said’s nightmares, seemingly for no purpose beyond antagonizing Muslims who, rightly or wrongly, believe that depicting Mohammed at all is blasphemous.
This, in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia. France is the place, remember, where the concept of free expression has failed to stop politicians from banning headscarves and burqas. Charlie Hebdo may claim to be a satirical, equal-opportunity offender. But there’s good reason critics have compared it to “a white power mag.” As Jacob Canfield wrote in an eloquent post at the Hooded Utilitarian, “White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire.”