I am perplexed, confused and a bit obsessed by the reaction of some to Charlie Hebdo. Like one is perplexed, stunned even, when two of your best friends don’t like each other. How could that be? What is going on? WTF?
I have theories about those who like to say that Charlie Hebdo is racist or who cannot support its brand of expression. Not all of them are based on the fact that these people are mostly Anglophones, and some non-French-readers at that.
Yesterday, I was finishing reading the Charlie Hebdo of April 22, still buoyed by my having been able to find a copy while travelling, and excited by some of the ideas in the texts and cartoons that as always stand against the right things with unlimited outrage. I was thinking of tweeting a few of the ideas but then I find that in the last hour certain people, almost all Anglophones, are reacting on the Internet to what they seem to have agreed to pretend is a cartoon from the latest Charlie Hebdo. Except it’s not in there, I just finished reading it. The fact that the rumour is false does not stop anyone, even journalists, from denouncing and retweeting, some finding justification for the assassination of Charlie Hebdo workers last January. The cartoon was not published in CH but it could have been, it was that type. But I noted the bullying behaviour. Among cartoons that were in the latest CH on the same topic: the cover depicts the leader of the right-wing racist party Marine Le Pen as the ship figurehead on the Titanic, singing that tiresome song from the movie, with African immigrants on the boat yelling “shut up”, and with the title « A Titanic a week ». Other cartoons on the subject of the African immigration tragedies showed piranhas complaining that they cannot be expected to take in all of the world’s poor, and one showed Europe handing a child’s ducky ring buoy to an immigrant.
And this is the type of cartoon that some call racist?! Consider the message, ask with whom sympathy lies, consider that leaders and indifference are being accused and shamed.
Those are the cartoons. The texts in Charlie Hebdo leave no doubt for whom or what they have contempt, and what they are advocating.
Yes, Charlie Hebdo is like that friend who is a bit juvenile and sometimes over the top in their righteous reaction to injustice, who uses absurdity to fight absurd situations. They are a vulgar, ferocious and true ally. And what? The only approved allies are those exactly like us? The only tolerable support for our ideals are those expressed exactly as we express them, in a tea room with pinkies raised?
A few hours later, I hear the news that a handful of authors are not in agreement with PEN United States, the association fighting for freedom of expression, giving an award to Charlie Hebdo. They are just a handful and 800 others are attending the gala, but still, how can one live by the pen and support censure?
I feel that this issue is telling, that it’s at the heart of something important. Otherwise sensible, educated people, writers even – France Daigle, Michael Ondaatje… – refuse to support Charlie Hebdo, a case of freedom of expression, (and in CH’s case, freedom to mock racists and exploiters). They can’t support CH even when they are of the same opinion? Why, because CH doesn’t denounce politely? Or are they only able to understand a cartoon at the first degree – a good guy, a bad guy and a clear comforting message?
This missing the boat on Charlie Hebdo is sometimes a question of people blindly following others on social media, ganging up on a chosen target, without checking out the facts. Or people with hang-ups about propriety or authority, or France.
I know that anyone who reads Charlie Hebdo can support its existence. And I know few with a negative opinion of it actually read it.