The Assassin’s Veto: Blasphemy and Charlie Hebdo

When an editorial dismisses as “xenophobes” those who blame terrorism on immigration, and is then taken as conclusive proof of racism, you know something has gone terribly wrong. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose offices were attacked last year by gunmen offended by its cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, has once again been denounced for “Islamophobia” and racism. The alleged offense came in an editorial that challenged the role of religion in society, and that is assumed by its critics to say that all Muslims are complicit in terrorism. Nowhere in the French original by the cartoonist Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, nor in its rather more awkward English translation, does it say that. Rather, it is an anguished defense of French secularism, tinged by bitterness in a man who was shot in the shoulder while watching his colleagues die. Far from attacking all Muslims — an assertion that assumes all Muslims are the same — it takes aim at the growing power of religious conservativism. It calls out society’s failure to question this for fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.” It blames our silence for creating an atmosphere of fear without which terrorism cannot succeed. That silence has left the field open to the far right and produced a fractured, anxious society more inclined to react emotionally than rationally to acts of terrorism. Unwittingly proving the point made in the editorial, Charlie Hebdo’s critics have loudly condemned it for “Islamophobia” and racism, silencing the issues it raised with a willful or ignorant distortion of what it said. It is a grotesque parody that could be ignored if the stakes were not so high.

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