Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter to the anti-Charlie Hebdo faction


I have permission to publish the letter that Jennifer Cody Epstein sent to her colleagues who organized the petition opposing the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo. In it she describes doing what I wish more people had done: finding out more and changing her thinking as a result.

Herewith that letter:

Dear Colleagues:

Six days ago I received your petition protesting PEN’s decision to award Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. I added my name to the list based on a number of factors, chief among them the fact that while I was sickened by the fatal repercussions of Hebdo’s repeated lampooning of Islam, I was also deeply troubled by the idea that a magazine that seemed to cater shamelessly to Islamophobia (in a nation that has already banned the hajib from its schools, no less) might be celebrated in any way for its work. I was also influenced by the fact that I am currently at work on a historical novel set in Nazi Germany, and found Hebdo’s visual similarities to Der Sturmer jarring, to say the least.

Over the past week, however, I’ve found myself doing further research and considerable soul-searching, and have come to the somewhat chastening conclusion that my decision, while well-intentioned, was misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong.

For one thing, I’ve realized that Der Sturmer was state-sanctioned hate literature in a society where free expression was banned, whereas Hebdo is a free publication deliberately and—yes—courageously celebrating its right to free expression. There is also dismay over yesterday’s shooting in Texas; as writers, should we should really be censoring ourselves on issues that now almost automatically seem to provoke violent retribution, rather than protesting that violence by persevering? (To be honest, such thinking strikes me as more in line with a National Socialist society than a Democratic one).

But my conclusion mainly stems from the fact that at the time I signed the petition, I—like many, I now believe—fundamentally misunderstood Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content. The controversial images—while arguably tasteless, offensive and not even particularly well-drawn—sprang from satire, not hate. It is a profound and crucial difference: if one is to argue for freedom of speech there can be no caveats, no asterisks, no fine print qualifying that “freedom” only applies to expression we don’t consider too upsetting, or doesn’t enrage right-wing fundamentalists with guns. (I think it’s worth noting here that I was also under the misassumption that Hebdo disproportionately lampooned Islam. In fact, as Michael Moynihan points out in his—in my opinion excellent—piece in today’s Daily Beast , the magazine has featured significantly more anti-Christian covers (21) than anti-Islam (7) in the last decade.)

As a writer whose work is largely predicated on diligent and careful research, I am reluctant to admit that in this case, I didn’t do enough of it before sending my name out into the Cloud. Unfortunately, though, that is the conclusion to which I’ve been forced to come, and I thought it best to acknowledge it publically and head-on rather than disingenuously pretending otherwise. I’d therefore like to remove my name from your petition, while also thanking you and the other signatories for the opportunity your letter gave me to struggle with a very central—if thorny—question that impacts all of us as writers.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Cody Epstein

An excellent letter, don’t you think? If only more of the dissenters would join her! I find it hard to believe that if they actually considered the facts and arguments that have been presented, they would all continue to insist that Charlie Hebdo is racist and indefensible. Jennifer Cody Epstein told the Morgenbladet journalist that she would welcome the company.

Comments

  1. Milton says

    It’s not only an excellent letter for this particular situation, it could almost be a template for the gracious acknowledgment of an error and how to correct it.

    1. What I did.
    2. Why I did it.
    3. Why that was wrong.
    4. What corrective action I’m taking.
    5. What I could/should have done differently.

    Too many public figures would take the non-apology apology route or the non-specific ‘mistakes were made’ cop-out when they get something wrong. So it’s rare enough we see points 1, 2, and 3 expressed so clearly, frankly and unambiguously. It’s even rarer to see point 5, especially without some attempt at mitigation or buck-passing.

    It would have been so easy to point at sources of misinformation about CH, or to blame (in part) the petition organisers. But instead she thanks them for giving her the opportunity to make a mistake and learn from it. The whole thing just smacks of class and dignity

  2. says

    Ophelia & Milton, agreed. This is a classic example of introspection and self growth manifesting in a change of heart. I hesitate to call it an apology—she’s really just saying “oh, I was wrong about this, and here is why,” and really no apology is needed, per se, just a recognition that a mistake was made—but this is surely a template for how apologies should be framed.

    If only Dawkins could have done this after “Dear Muslima”.

  3. Dave Ricks says

    I agree this is an excellent letter, especially for fulfilling a sense of moral obligation to inform others. And her moral power is based on factual power, as she wrote, “As a writer whose work is largely predicated on diligent and careful research”.

    But her factual power is versus the Court of Public Opinion, where Amy Schumer played the lawyer:

    [1:37] Let’s break this down logically: I am a good person.
    [2:46] This is about not punishing ourselves.

    And the judge ruled against checking facts.

    As long as the PEN petitioners base their positions on seeing themselves as good people — as an intuitive foundation of their moral reasoning — then the PEN petitioners will not change their positions. In my comment here, I’m not undermining that logic by saying some people are good or bad at the foundation, I’m saying that line of moral reasoning is immune to facts.

  4. Mark Beronte says

    Actually, this letter just proves she still misses the point.

    “But my conclusion mainly stems from the fact that at the time I signed the petition, I—like many, I now believe—fundamentally misunderstood Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content. ”
    I was also under the misassumption that Hebdo disproportionately lampooned Islam.

    So if Hebdo had different content that was not Ok with her, or did have covers disproportionate to Islam instead of Chrstianity, then signing the petition would have made sense. And what in the world does it being a country that banned the hijab have to do with anything? I’m glad she changed her mind but she still understands nothing.

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    For someone whose work ‘is largely predicated on diligent and careful research,’ why did she allow her understanding of CH to be based on disinformation, much of it apparently deliberate?

    And why, on the basis of limited knowledge, did she reflexively find murderers more sympathetic than slaughtered artists?

    It is this default hatred of the West that is most disturbing. This definition of personal ‘goodness’ by support for barbarians.

  6. says

    Well, it’s complicated. As I’ve mentioned more than once, to Americans (and no doubt other non-French peoples) some of the cartoons do look racist – the style of them resembles the style of cartoons that are racist. That muddies things.

    Normally, if you see a cartoon that looks grossly racist, it’s reasonable to assume that’s what it is.

  7. Mark Beronte says

    Orphelia. It all still does (and always will). look racist to many people. This is why there should be no such distinctions when it comes to free speech. Someone will need to judge, and this judge is human, and can fall off the wall on the side of severe censorship, perhaps more easily than an enlightened society could be influenced by small “racist” publications. Indeed the only thing that could be worse than small “racist” publications in promoting violence, is the censorship of whole ideas that simply offend protected groups. With no recourse to speech in such cases, frustration can lead to the very thing such policies were put in place to avoid. We are coming perilously close to such a situation, and this is why free speech should trump such concerns in the absence off clear calls to violence. (which, ironically, are almost exclusive to the protected group we are talking about here)

  8. says

    They ran a “cartoon” of a person of color deliberately made to look like a monkey. The implication being that people of color are “animals”, “less than human”.

    Do please explain how that’s magically “not racist”, when I can point to a long, long history of white people equating people of color with apes and monkeys as a means of dehumanizing and othering them…

  9. says

    Mark Beronte @ 9 – No, I don’t agree with that. If Charlie Hebdo really had been the equivalent of Der Stürmer, I too would have thought PEN shouldn’t give them a prize. Der Stürmer was part of a line that led straight to genocide.

    WMDKitty @ 10 – have you not researched that cartoon yourself? The explanation you ask for is easy to find.

  10. says

    The woman in the cartoon was Christiane Taubira, who was and remains a supporter of Charlie Hebdo. Please explain how you know more about racism in France than a highly educated black French woman, a politican active in anti-racist causes, the Minister of Justice, who delivered a eulogy for one of the murdered cartoonists? And also how you know more about racism that SOS Racisme?

    The answers have been out there for a long time. The cartoon was a satire of Marine Le Pen & Front National. Taubira sued *them* for depicting her as a monkey, but not Charlie Hebdo. I think she knew what she was doing.

  11. says

    You’ve seen the tribute of Christiane Taubira to Tignous? She is the Minister of Justice whose face appears in that cartoon. The cartoon was not attacking Taubira.

  12. says

    What Alethea said.

    You should have investigated, WMDKitty. You made the exact mistake that Jennifer Cody Epstein explains that she made in her letter. You could have taken the few minutes necessary to find out more before repeating one of the same stale erroneous accusations that are the very issue in this post.

  13. Mark Beronte says

    “had been the equivalent of Der Stürmer,”

    So now you are comparing government propaganda in association with the government suppression of free speech, with a publication by a small group of people living within a framework of free speech, (that some people might consider racist) with each other. Please tell me you are not serious. If it had been Der Stumer we wouldn’t be living in the modern western world, and last time I checked I was. Der Stuemer is in no way relevant to this discussion at all, and the fact that you don’t seem to understand that is disappointing to say the least.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Mark Bertone @ # 15 – Uh, it was Epstein who brought up Der Stürmer, and Epstein who pointed out why she got the comparison wrong: why are you now beating up on her as if you’d only read the first ‘graf of her statement?

  15. Mark Beronte says

    Ophelia Benson @11 Perhaps I should modify my last statement a bit. Yes if Charlie Hebdo had been overtly racist like claiming all Arabs are dirty stinking pigs, (For instance much the same way many Muslims teach their children to think of the Jewish race) than even if they should still have a right to publish, it would not have been a good idea to give them an award, even though they did have many of their people killed. I could understand that. BUT FIRST OFF WE WERE NEVER EVEN TALKING ABOUT A RACE. It would be impossible in any case to be talking about “Muslims” and be racist since Muslims are made up of many races, but only a single ideology. This is not rocket science people. And secondly I would be impressed if you could provide a link to some piece of actual literature that is in fact racist in the kind of way she imagined Charlie Hebdo to be, because such beliefs, coinciding with the intellectual ability to write I think would be very rare indeed. The point is she was completely out to lunch in the first place, and still hasn’t punched back in.

  16. says

    Right, right, because there’s a context that makes racism “okay”. Just like there’s a context that makes sexism “okay”, or a context that makes, say, what the Slymepit does to you “okay”.

    Or is it somehow “different” when the target is a white woman?

    I’m all for free speech, but when you start calling blatantly racist images “satire”, you poison the very concept of satire.

  17. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    No, you don’t get to do that, WMDKitty. You don’t get to continue to characterize the cartoon as inherently, indisputably racist. Not right after you learned that the alleged “victim” of the racism—a government official who is a black woman—came right out in public and told us it wasn’t. That it was a poke at the people making actual racist statements.

    You don’t get to pretend you don’t understand that. Why are you doing this? Why don’t you feel obligated to engage

    I hope you get to the place where you understand you made a mistake. Until you do you don’t get to be dishonest that way and think everyone around you will not notice. We notice.

  18. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    And don’t pretend that context doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that images are inherently or “blatantly” X,Y,or Z. They are only X, Y, or Z depending on the context in which they’re deployed and seen. This is true of every depiction of everything, ever.

    You’re obliged to do better than that. You’re not stupid, so this isn’t beyond your capabilities. You might be dishonest out of ego or pride, though.

  19. says

    It has nothing to do with ego or pride, just the long and ugly history of white people depicting people of color as less than human.

    I don’t care that they found one person of color to say, “Oh, I’m not offended.” That doesn’t erase the racism, and it doesn’t make it “non offensive”. (“I have a black friend” much?)

    Your “context” argument is akin to saying there’s a “context” that makes it okay to call Ophelia a “c*nt”, or a “context” in which a white man calling a person of color a “n*gger” isn’t horribly racist, or a “context” in which rape is acceptable.

    So if y’all are going to die on the “context” hill, you might want to reconsider all your complaints about the Slymepit’s “satire”. After all, what they do is just as justified by “context”…

  20. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    That’s dishonest as all hell, WMDkitty. Dishonest. You have an ethical obligation to do better in conversations with people you know are trying to talk in good faith, even if they vehemently disagree. You don’t get to simply gesticulate and assert and have it be universally taken as the final word.

    You have *not* demonstrated that this is a case of “finding one minority to say it’s OK.” You haven’t at all. You don’t get to claim that. That’s bullshit, and it’s extra bullshit because you’re fucking smart. Stop it.

  21. says

    You have not demonstrated that it’s somehow “not racist” to depict a person of color as a monkey. You have not demonstrated that this is not yet another instance of white people dehumanizing a person of color. And you have not demonstrated much “honesty”, either.

    Now, why don’t you be honest and just say you think it’s okay to dehumanize people of color.

  22. says

    You haven’t learned a single thing about the cartoon, have you. You have no clue what it was about, what it meant, who the target was, anything. You’re just assuming you know, even though you’ve been told you don’t. You have it backwards. You’re 100% wrong on the facts. Go away.

  23. chigau (違う) says

    WMDKitty
    Have you taken a look at the vast number of Charlie Hebdo cartoons available online?
    What do you think of the depictions of The Pope?

  24. chrislawson says

    WMDKitty — you don’t really deserve a respectful response given your behaviour here, but I’m going to try anyway. Here’s the history of that cartoon.

    1. A candidate for the French right-wing party National Front posts a Facebook entry with a photo of a baby monkey “at 18 months” next to a photo of black justice Christiane Taubira “as an adult”.

    2. Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, makes public statement claiming that the party is not racist.

    3. Charlie Hebdo publishes the cartoon of Taubira as a monkey to remind people that you can’t trust the National Front when it claims not to be racist. To make the point clear, the cartoon includes the National Front’s logo in the left lower corner and is titled “RASSEMBLEMENT BLEU RACISTE”, a direct parody of the National Front’s election motto “RASSAMBLEMENT BLEU MARINE.” That is, the point of the cartoon is not “Taubira looks like a monkey” but “The National Front calls black people monkeys and then claims not to be racist.”

    4. Taubira doesn’t just say she wasn’t offended, she gives one of the most moving eulogies at the funeral of the murdered cartoonists and defends them without reservation — not just as having the right to make offensive cartoons but for being one of the forces against racism in France.

    Now if you take all of that information and still insist the cartoon was a racist attack on Taubira, then you’re simply not worth talking to.

  25. says

    chigau — Yes, I’ve seen others. I don’t particularly care how they depicted the Pope, but I’m damn sure they didn’t depict him as sub-human.

    chrislawson — First, thank you for actually explaining instead of going “nuh-uh, you’re wrong, and you’re dishonest for disagreeing.”

    If I understand you right, this racist group did a racist thing, then claimed to be “not racist”. I’m with you there, that’s a dumb thing to do, and it needed to be called out.

    Where we’re diverging is on the response.

    I can understand where it’s coming from, and I get the intent, but I find the presentation falls flat. I feel like people are deliberately ignoring the long history of dehumanizing people of color in order to justify this one piece of satire.

    Josh — I just love it when people tell me what I’m really thinking, and I love it even more when you have the nerve to tell me I’m “being dishonest” after I gave an honest opinion. Maybe you should step back from my head, and tend to your own.

  26. chigau (違う) says

    WMDKitty
    The Pope was an example.
    What exactly do you mean by “I’m damn sure”?
    There was also a Michael Jackson cover.

  27. says

    Eh… I’d consider a zombie to be borderline dehumanizing. It’s still technically human, but at the same time it’s demonstrably inhuman.

    I suppose the whole point of CH is to make people uncomfortable.

  28. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Are you truly this thick? Are you a lot denser than I gave you credit for?

  29. says

    Josh

    Again, you display your dishonesty.

    I’ve argued in good faith. All you’ve done is insult and purport to know what’s going on in my head better than I, myself, do.

    I’ll gladly engage with you once you stop behaving in this manner.

  30. says

    I’m not digging.

    I engaged honestly, and expected to be given the same courtesy.

    Josh has demonstrated an inability to argue in good faith, and resorts to ad-hominems because he has no real argument, and nothing to back up his allegations of “dishonesty” or that I’m “thick”.

    Ophelia has displayed Epic Level Hypocrisy. Defending racist “satire”, but complains whenever the ‘Pit “satirizes” her. I expect her — in the interests of intellectual honesty and integritry — to either retract all complaints about the ‘Pitters, or to retract her defense of Hebdo.

    I’ll be leaving now — I’d rather not associate with hypocrites and false “mind-readers”.

  31. Silentbob says

    @ WMDKitty

    chrislawson speaks the truth. More details here.

    Ophelia has displayed Epic Level Hypocrisy. Defending racist “satire”, but complains whenever the ‘Pit “satirizes” her. I expect her — in the interests of intellectual honesty and integritry — to either retract all complaints about the ‘Pitters, or to retract her defense of Hebdo.

    Look, I don’t want to pile on, but, seriously.

    *facepalm*

    That’s like saying if Ophelia doesn’t like MRAs she shouldn’t promote Dan Cardamon.

  32. chrislawson says

    The Colbert Report was conservative, Mark Twain was pro-slavery, and Jonathan Swift was in favour of eating children. Got it.

  33. Sal in Bed-Stuy says

    You got to consider the historical context, though. Those guys were writing in a less enlightened age, it’s unfair of us to judge them by today’s standards. And there’s probably even more context for Jon Swift, because I tried reading his baby thing, and some of those words were spelled so unbelievably fuckin wrong that I think he must’ve had a learning disability on top of it

  34. says

    WMDKitty, if you’re still reading, re: chigau@37, I suspect that the comment “stop digging” refers to Molly Ivins’ First Rule of Holes, which is: if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. You’re so far down now that you’re starting to dig *up*.

  35. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    “Scrawwwwk, scrawwwwk. . . PetGay want a Cheez-it cracker. . .SCRAWWWWWWWWWWWK,” the SpokesPet croaked from his gilded cage at the right of Lady Benson’s throne.

  36. says

    I apologise for the “pet gay” comment. It did a lot of splash damage.

    Oh, but you wouldn’t understand the concept, would you? You don’t care how people of color feel about that one CH cover (most feel it’s racist as fuck)…

  37. PatrickG says

    @ Josh:

    You know, it’s doubly funny (not ha-ha funny, but funny) because the first comment on the thread gives us…

    … a template for the gracious acknowledgment of an error and how to correct it.

    1. What I did.
    2. Why I did it.
    3. Why that was wrong.
    4. What corrective action I’m taking.
    5. What I could/should have done differently.

    … and WMDKitty graciously gives us a classic example of the notpology genre. Patently insincere, and only used as an opportunity for a ludicrous personal attack.

    Christ, WMDKitty is an asshole.

  38. PatrickG says

    WMDKitty, you’ve gotten so fixated on one particular aspect that you’ve completely lost the thread of the actual post subject here.

    Three things:

    Splash damage

    You know what? I agree with you. I do think the CH caricatures do splash damage. I do think they reinforce harmful stereotypes, and I do think that CH is wrong to use these stereotypes, even to make valid satirical points. I don’t think CH’s primary goal was using racist caricatures to incite hatred. Do you get that distinction, even just a little bit? Because it kind of has bearing on the issue at hand.

    Explicit Racism

    The PEN protesters compared CH to Der Sturmer, which may I remind you was effectively a state-sanctioned campaign of overt hatred, demonization, and dehumanization. They claimed that CH’s purpose was to marginalize disadvantaged groups. They made absolutely false claims about the content of the magazine, cherry-picked a few problematic issues (which I do think were problematic!) and presented them as the totality of work . They did this all in the context of protesting an award for journalistic courage for a publication that kept publishing after their colleagues were murdered by religious fanatics. Most of them remain completely impervious to argument, so blinded are they by their perceived moral rectitude. Kind of like you, actually.

    You Are An Asshole Who Can’t Read

    I’m an “asshole” for pointing out the racist implications of certain caricatures used by Hebdo.

    No, you’re an asshole because of your continued pathetic handling of a truly horrible comment you made, and your unwillingness to own it. To accuse Josh of not understanding the concept of splash damage is so absolutely stupid that you ought to be ashamed of yourself. To do it immediately following your “apology” indicates that you in no way actually feel bad about the slur you indulged in.

    I’ve seen what you’ve written in the Thunderdome, too, and you’re either (a) a really bad writer who manages to completely and consistently mangle your intended meaning, or (b) not actually sorry, and just trying to evade responsibility for your fuckup by hyperfocusing on other people. So far, I have to conclude (b).

    Christ, what an asshole.

  39. says

    “Mmmm, yeah, I’m an “asshole” for pointing out the racist implications of how I mistakenly inferred racism in certain caricatures used by Hebdo.”

    There. Fixed that for you.

    Continuing to claim something to be an absolute and irrefutable fact when it is only your opinion is not helping.

  40. says

    Once again, a caricature of a person of color, with grossly exaggerated racial features. A long and ugly history of using such caricatures as a method of oppression.

    If that’s not “racist”, then WHAT IS IT?

    And if “context” makes this okay — which is apparently your position — if “context” makes this racist asshattery “okay”, then anything goes, if you’re doing it “ironically”.

  41. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Serious question: how old are you? This is, quite literally, introductory level analysis. That you don’t get. At all.

  42. says

    Josh, you’re deliberately ignoring the history, here. The long, ugly history of dehumanizing people of color, gay people, the disabled, the “other”.

    THAT is what I am upset about.

    Further upsetting me is the dismissal and disregard of these concerns, because “duh, it’s satire!”

    I understand what CH was trying to do. I get their intent.

    I just don’t think that using racist imagery is the way to make an anti-racist point.

  43. says

    I agree that using racist imagery is not the way to make an anti-racist point. I’ve said that all along. I don’t love the style of many of the CH cartoons, for that reason and aesthetic reasons.

    But that’s not what you’ve been saying in this thread, or at the Thunderdome.

  44. says

    You know, I just noticed this comment from WMDKitty while rereading the comment thread:

    You have not demonstrated that this is not yet another instance of white people dehumanizing a person of color.

    At the risk of reopening this thread, it’s worth noting that the characterization of “white people dehumanizing a person of color” is wrong. The staff at CH was not all white. Even one of the murdered editors, copy editor Mustapha Orrad, was not white (he was Algerian).

    So EVEN IF we take WMDKitty’s assertion that the cartoon was racist as a set-in-stone fact, her narrative breaks down.

  45. says

    Also, too:

    Josh, you’re deliberately ignoring the history, here. The long, ugly history of dehumanizing people of color, gay people, the disabled, the “other”.

    Accusing Josh of “ignoring the history” of “dehumanizing … gay people” is somewhat bizarre. I suspect that he’s something of an expert on the history of the daily oppression of gay people.

  46. Maureen Brian says

    If I understand you right, this racist group did a racist thing, then claimed to be “not racist”. I’m with you there, that’s a dumb thing to do, and it needed to be called out”

    (WMDKitty @ 28)

    “Some racist group” is a choice of phrase either born out of ignorance or deliberately designed to mislead. No, we are really not talking about a few shaven-headed louts who meet in the greasy spoon behind the scrap yard.

    This is one of France’s main political parties, the Front National, with massive support across the country, which rose to prominence on the back of quite overt racism when the other right-wing groups were in disarray. It has always had massive internal tensions on precisely that issue – race. Indeed the present leader just dismissed the former leader from all his positions within the party because he cannot contain his little bursts of racist speech. Oh, and he’s her Dad.

    France is another country, they do racism differently there.

    And anyone who doesn’t know that much about French politics really has no business laying down the law on French political cartoons. Or on French political murders.

  47. Daphné C. says

    Good on Jennifer Cody Epstein to recognize her mistake, but she still has some research to do: France didn’t banned hajib.

  48. Frenchy Charlie says

    Dear Jennifer,

    thanks for this paper, which contributes to cleaning the tons of dirt that were spread by ignorant people about Charlie and our friends who got murdered. I say our friends because guys like Cabu, Wolinski, CHarb or Tignous were friends to 40 million people here.

    But I am afraid you are still missing the most important parts. I feel compelled to enlighten you, in a friendly manner, on the truth about Charlie, that not a single English-speaking media has picked up. Two points need to be clarified:

    1) Charlie did not make 7 anti-Islam drawings… They NEVER made any anti-Islam or anti-Christianism caricature. They made caricature on people, not religions. And not for their beliefs, but for their actions and political discourse. Hence they would make fun of a pope, or an epitome of a US pedophile bishops, or one particular muslim leader who would have taken a particular fatwa or made a crazy political statement. Charlie were the epitome of respect, and even when criticizing people in a way that involved the most dirty or pervert drawings, they only ever took on precise people for their demonstrable intellectual frauds.

    Thus, the one and only ever drawing of the Muslim prophet Muhammad that was drawn by a Charlie collaborator did feature the prophet, but the prophet was hiding his own face. As they were not Muslims, they made and publish the drawing, but this drawing was so respectful of Muslim people and their faith that it did not really show anything the world didn’t know: a man, with a beard, and a djellaba. No specifics on the guy, his face being hidden on his own will.
    Furthermore, on this drawing, you could see a bunch of terrorists with rifles and bombs on the right. Muhammad was hiding his face, because the sight of those terrorists made him cry, and he said: “tough to be loved by cunts”. Meaning Muhammad is such a loving and good guy that bastards killing in his name make him cry, and must be called cunts… Think about it a second… It is not only respectful and positive about Islam and Muslims, it does not only respect Muslims’ will to not see the prophet’s face, no, it even defends and supports those who are the first victims of salafist terrorism: Islam, Muslim, and the Prophet themselves! That is why they were killed: they treated Islam and terrorits as different, and they spread understanding…

    2) following point one, the absolute truth about Charlie appears: although you might judge their drawings to be of bad taste, they were extremely clever drawings, with several levels of reading, and a message that was always carefully thought by intelligent people. They do appeal to particular cultural, political, and symbolic knowledge that only Charlie’s French readers could have. The flow of stupid criticism of Charlie that came from the English-speaking press since January is the best demonstration of Charlie’s superiority: those who criticized them do not have half the intelligence that the Charlie guys displayed. They never understood any message. They only shouted prejudices and preconceived opinions in every direction.

    Ask yourself now: what was the message of Charlie’s refusal to bow to threat, before and after the killings? One answer that you acknowledged, is that by supporting the petition you gave way to violence over intelligence. And Charlie opposed this with all their guts.
    A second answer, is that an intelligent person who is proud of his/her intelligent way to deal with the world does not have to feel afraid by the threats of killers. Fear is defeat for an anarchist and a free mind. Charlie were free minded anarchists.

    Finally, another answer is to see that CHarlie were not killed for drawing the prophet. They were killed for claiming in the clearest and most effective fashion that terrorists are the contrary of Islam. They freed the Prophet from captivity, where He was kept by terrorists. But thanks to the killings, and to the media, a billion muslims accross the world now believe that Charlie were anti-Islam, and terrorsits fight for Muslims. No, dear, no. Charlie fought for everyone’s freedom, including Muslims in France and elsewhere, while terrorists abuse Islam, Muslims and the Prophet, to create power for themselves.

    Charlie were killed for creating a space where all of France’s diversity could meet, understand each other and laugh together. A space where the stupidity of relegio-nazis, who claim to exterminate those who do not bow, were mocked for what characterizes them most: their STUPIDITY. “Terrorists? Them stupid cunts…” And have no doubt that most French Muslims loved their Charlie too. You see, what extremists fear most, is to see happy Muslims in a Western country, because it would reduce their discourse to ashes.

    So by committing the mistake of defaming Charlie through a petition, you undermined some of the most intelligent and noble people that Europe’s press had known in 50 years. And you undermined all the tolerant, intelligent, and humanist principles for which they stood.
    By writing this paper, you started fixing your mistake, and we won’t blame you for making this mistake. But please now go even further: Charlie need to be praised and publicized not for their drawings, but for the remarkably intelligent philosophy of tolerance and equality that they practiced. Even when they were tough on religions, even if they would call god ‘your imaginary friend’, even if they placed US neo-conservatives on the same rubbish intellectual level as salafists, even is they would have called you birdnames for signing this petition.
    In a word even if you don’t agree with them, you must fight with all your energy to make sure the killings don’t occur again, or to make sure nobody dares to explain or justify those killings. You owe it to Charlie and the French, because Charlie died not for their papers, not for hatred, not against Islam. They died for intelligence and humaneness. The only principles that ever transpired from their naughty drawings.

  49. Frenchy Charlie says

    ANd now, why did I mistake Jennifer with Ophelia… Sorry Jennifer, the above message was addressed to you.

  50. says

    (Note: the English word “cunt” is a lot harsher [especially in the US] than the French word “con” which is more like the English “jerk.” Keep that in mind when reading Frenchy Charlie’s comment.)

  51. Robert McLiam Wilson says

    Ophelia, You are right to warn generously about Frenchy Charlie’s overly literal translation of ‘con’. All such words are nightmarishly difficult to translate. The register of the same word can vary wildly depending on context. Might I amiably suggest that ‘jerks’ is a touch mild and that ‘assholes’ might be an even better solution.
    I write for Charlie Hebdo. I am their only English speaking contributor. This whole episode has been painful and deeply dismaying. Thus, J Cody Epstein’s retraction is to be warmly welcomed. And I feel it is futile and unhelpful to see it as mealy mouthed or conditional. Apologising sincerely is just about the hardest thing there is. I felt she did it with some grace.
    As for those who insist on their wrong-headed view on the Taubira cartoon, there are two things to say. Firstly, Christiane Taubira is an almost terrifyingly impressive and daunting women. She’s a real warrior. She definitely does not need ANYONE’s protection.
    And secondly, we have passed the point, I fear, where information and explanation can achieve much. There is no longer much excuse for being uninformed on this. If you continue to slander the living and the dead at Charlie Hebdo (that almost TEDIOUSLY anti-racist publication), then it is perhaps not because you are ignorant of the truth but rather because the truth is inconvenient to you.
    Truth’s like that sometimes.
    I was very encouraged by what you wrote and the general tenor of the literate and rounded comments. I hate to say something so…mean-spirited. But I can’t help noticing that all the funny people are on only one side of this particular garden fence.

  52. Robert McLiam Wilson says

    No, Ophelia, It’s for me to thank you. You spotted my missing word (the shame!) and slipped it in.
    Copy-editing…that’s old-school.

  53. M E Foley says

    @4 Right, because a typo negates her entire argument. (This is beginning to be called an ‘ad homonym’ attack, because people so often point to the wrong use of there/their or your/you’re to imply that the writer knows nothing about anything.)

  54. says

    So fascinating to read the French perspectives. Thank you from an Australian who has also been following this.

    I continue to be bemused by people who don’t seem able to grok the use-mention distinction. I mean, duh, OF COURSE Taubira as a monkey is a racist image. That’s the whole point; the cartoon is calling out the racism. And Taubira understands this, but clearly these white Americans know so much more about racism, and must endlessly whitesplain it to her & us…

  55. says

    Alethea Kuiper-Belt@75:

    That’s the whole point; the cartoon is calling out the racism. And Taubira understands this, but clearly these white Americans know so much more about racism, and must endlessly whitesplain it to her & us…

    One (slight) observation about this. I don’t think that the people objecting to what they see as harmful racism in the CH cartoon think that they know more about racism, per se. I think it is more that in the USA we are hyperaware of how our country has been torn, almost from the very beginning, by conflicts and issues of race. As a result, well meaning people will see anything that they consider to be “racist” and condemn it out of hand, as well as condemning anyone else who doesn’t automatically do the same. We saw that in action last night with WMDKitty becoming absolutely enraged at those of us who did not instantly agree with her mistaken assessment.

    But obviously the context really does matter. Given the subject matter, I’m not certain how CH could have as effectively satirized Front National without using that image. It was that racist group’s to begin with, and using it again in a satirical cartoon reminds us of that. Was it wrong to do that? I don’t think so. It still made me uncomfortable. However, I understand the point, and I approve of it.

    Ophelia was repeatedly condemned as being a “hypocrite” for supporting CH while condemning the photoshops of the SlymePit, but that’s not fair. The CH cartoon is clearly satire, and very powerful satire at that: it stirs up awful emotions in a lot of us, and forces us to think things that we’d rather not. The SlymePit photoshops (which, if you’re not familiar with them, consist largely of putting Ophelia’s face on various disgusting images) are not satire. They don’t lampoon any belief that Ophelia holds, or actions she’s taken. They exist solely and completely to offend and infuriate, merely because the people there don’t like her.

    Urf. Apologies: I guess my observation wasn’t so slight, after all.

  56. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    MrFancyPants, a quibble about your insightful comment:

    As a result, well meaning people will see anything that they consider to be “racist” and condemn it out of hand, as well as condemning anyone else who doesn’t automatically do the same.

    To what degree is obdurate purblindness consistent with being well-meaning?

  57. Debating Issues says

    There is a difference between self-mockery and mocking another. One can mock one’s own culture/religion as much as one wants if the cultural context permits. But in provocatively mocking the most sensitive aspects of another culture, Charlie Hebdo was cunningly descending to the criminal!
    1. It was apparent that it was sensitive for a huge world population not just a small French minority.
    2. Not drawing an image was not something that was a moral Human Rights issue. There was no real burning imperative here. As if one was being silenced in expressing oneself.
    3. The grotesque pleasure of Offending and profaning someone’s Sacred was all the motivation which CH has to show for itself.
    And when this is done cross-culturally it tends to be more than just bad taste, It becomes cultural antagonism. Inexplicable Cultural Offense, with so many implications reeking of denigration, contempt, snobbery and political malice.
    For CH and PEN to take a Holier than Thou attitude is so ironical when it is they who should be under the scanner for gross offensiveness at the very least.

  58. PatrickG says

    @ Debating Issues:

    Lot of very ugly words here: “descending to the criminal”, “grotesque pleasure of offending”, “profaning someone’s Sacred”, “cultural antagonism”, “cultural offense”. And of course, “they who should be under the scanner for gross offensiveness at the very least.”

    It’s not like there’s no room for criticism, as you may have seen if you read the comment thread above. But damn, it is really hard to avoid the impression that you think shooting CH journalists was justified in some way.

  59. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Yes. It does seem reasonable that “Debating Issues” thinks murder a fitting conclusion.

    What a horror-show you are.

  60. says

    It’s a terrible comment, from a first-time commenter. I figure it’s worth seeing what people are willing to say (though not put their names to).

  61. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Not to mention terrible writing. Which is inevitable when you think gravitas comes from capitalization rather than content.

  62. PatrickG says

    (though not put their names to).

    And even when anonymous, they’re still afraid to come out and say what they really mean. Though this person was just a wee bit more transparent than perhaps they intended, I think.

  63. Frenchy Charlie says

    Debating Issues – Obviously your not debating any issues, you’re merely stating that you legitimate violence in the name of your own superior belief… And your are revealing that your own nature is to cower when you’re threatened.

    But mostly, you are just being a cowardly lier. In your point 1, you lie by implying that a huge part of the world had any part in Charlie’s work. 60.000 buyers and a few dozen thousand more readers in France had a part in it, and the paper wasn’t even sold in muslim countries. Therefore you are implying that one’s religion allows one to come and dictate his law on my land. No, not one’s religion, only your own ideology. Because what you are really trying to do is still Islam from Muslims to serve yourself.

    In your point 2, you imply that they made a drawing to provoke. That is an ugly lie. They published caricatures from a danish paper whose political views they did not share, only because this paper had been threaten. There is a pressing and burning issue when journalists are threaten. Charlie published their drawings only to show support, which the rest of the Euorpean press didn’t have enough guts to do. And finally Cabu made one drawing following fresh threats of death made to Charlie and the Danish paper two years later. So they only reacted to the threat of violence, they did not provoke anyone, and you are a lier.

    In your point 3 finally, you imply two more lies: the point was not to offend, it was to oppose a totalitarian ideology, according to which you could forcefully impose your own religion on me. But what is yours ins not mine, and if you don’t keep it this way, your descendants might regret it for a thousand years. Plus, your offended feelings are your own problem. Deal with them, see a shrink, wank a bit, help your fu..ing self…

    My point is not even to argue, but to tell you what your ideology has created in my country and others. The only real issue here, is whether pork meat on my barbecue, in my yard, allows you to shoot me cause you don’t like the smell. And as much as French people want to keep leaving with French Muslims of all colours, here’s what their feelings towards you are: try to shoot me if you’re too weak to do otherwise, but don’t miss. Or I’ll get back at you, and at anyone who supports your crime. And you will meet your god… Cause as Charlie said, all is forgiven. But only once.

    Keep it going. Anyway, that’s all you can ever put up…

  64. Lady Mondegreen says

    The grotesque pleasure of Offending and profaning someone’s Sacred was all the motivation which CH has to show for itself.

    “Sacred” is a concept that deserves to be mocked in itself.

    But in fact Charlie Hebdo’s motivation is not to take pleasure in offending. It is to mock authoritarians. Authoritarians who murder people, black, brown, and white, Muslim and non-Muslim, who resist their authority.

  65. Debating Issues says

    The murderers and authoritarians are not under discussion here. Murder is murder. Not just revolting but Incomparably Evil. So dont go about wildly presumptively concluding issues – about legitimatng violence. Here. I am just debating issue of CH and PEN and the deep wrong doing they have done.
    When someone has deliberately calculatedly poured fuel onto fire, it should be noted as such. That is all i have done.
    In todays highly connected world, CH cant feign that they didnt realise it would become a global issue.
    If they want they can and should raise the issue of female genitalia mutilation. Raise it for all its worth! In a manner not ensure escalated temperatures. But in a manner that it gets through to the other side despite the mutual hostilities which have been aroused.
    But what does it cost you to be sensitive to someone’s need to not have a picture drawn. Nothing. What could be behind the inability to be sensitive on a trivial non-issue? And then wrap a overblown moral robe to cover-up this creepy insensitivity by misrepresenting it as a freedom of press issue. Everything is kosher in cross-cultural chutzpah?

  66. John Morales says

    Debating Issues @88:

    The murderers and authoritarians are not under discussion here. Murder is murder. Not just revolting but Incomparably Evil. So dont go about wildly presumptively concluding issues – about legitimatng violence. Here. I am just debating issue of CH and PEN and the deep wrong doing they have done.

    No; having already read the rest of what you’ve written, what you actually do is to claim CH’s staff were responsible for the murders due to their lack of cowardice in the face of intimidation.

    When someone has deliberately calculatedly poured fuel onto fire, it should be noted as such.

    Like so.

    In todays highly connected world, CH cant feign that they didnt realise it would become a global issue.

    There was nothing global about the murders, but you’re already washed your hands of that, haven’t you?

    If they want they can and should raise the issue of female genitalia mutilation. Raise it for all its worth! In a manner not ensure escalated temperatures. But in a manner that it gets through to the other side despite the mutual hostilities which have been aroused.

    What does your personal opinion of what CH should be about and in what manner it should go about it have to do with anything?

    (Your counsel of compliance in the face of intimidation reveals more about you than about the situation)

    But what does it cost you to be sensitive to someone’s need to not have a picture drawn. Nothing. What could be behind the inability to be sensitive on a trivial non-issue? And then wrap a overblown moral robe to cover-up this creepy insensitivity by misrepresenting it as a freedom of press issue. Everything is kosher in cross-cultural chutzpah?

    I give your opinions about sensitivity the regard they merit, given your odious bullshit.

  67. Debating Issues says

    Unnecessarily lobbing grenades across cultural divides and then rushing to occupy the moral high ground. We in the West had not drawn such pictures for 1400 years. That had not implied till this day that somehow an essential Human Right of ours to mock, offend and be abusive had been under threat all this while.
    Despicable but smart. You are welcome to go on defending the indefensible. :)

  68. Debating Issues says

    Ophelia, Josh, PatrickG
    Why support the unnecessary lobbing of grenades across cultural divides and then the clever rush to occupy the moral high ground. We in the West had not drawn such pictures for 1400 years. It is not as if somehow an essential Human Right of ours to mock, offend and be abusive had been under threat all this while.
    We think our shallow clevernesses are so smart as to go undetected.
    You are welcome to go on defending the indefensible. :)

  69. Frenchy Charlie says

    @ Debating Issues.

    What you are suggesting is not to be sympathetic to someone’s will about a picture. Your plan would imply that someone’s belief in holiness should overcome someone fundamental rights not to believe in holiness… And you don’t even seem capable to understand the underlying violence of this mental process, and the entire negation of non-muslims or atheists to have a mind, a life, a territory, and rights of their own.
    Again, your discourse is full of hypocritical and dishonest implications, but you act like you don;t notice, and like you just want to be friendly. Your not friendly, nor moderate. You are exactly the reflection of the authoritarians you mention.

    Moreover, no muslim ever has been force by Charlie Hebdo to look at any drawing. Those who saw the drawing did so only after some archaic and violent tribe leaders from Yemen decided to organize murder in France. Again, you lie to pose as a victim. Fundamentally, Charlie have fought for EVERYONE EVERYWHERE to enjoy the right to lead their lives as they wish. Including salafists, including in France, Pakistan, Yemen, or Syria. You cry about a drawing, but what kind of discourse do salafists teach about people who read Charlie? Are they being respectful. No, they promise the flames of hell. And Charlie says: “so what. Fair enough.”

    Again, the only real issue is: your are justifying violence. For a drawing. For an ideology. For so called ‘victims’ who were never addressed by any drawing or discourse, and who decided authoritatively to interfere with deadly violence.

    Work on your smile as long as you want. You see your discourse as logical, or even merely acceptable. But it is totalitarian, emotional, archaic, and most of miserable.

    I don’t expect you to get it, anyway…

  70. John Morales says

    [meta]

    You’re pointlessly repeating yourself, and you’re certainly not debating.

    Your claim that CH was “unnecessary lobbing of grenades across cultural divides” is utter bullshit, though less malevolent than your claim they do that on the basis of some “essential Human Right of ours to mock, offend and be abusive”.

    (I note your interestingly jaundiced view of the concept of free speech, BTW)

  71. Debating Issues says

    Ofcourse anyone who doesnt believe in holiness of Islam should be free to not believe it. (just as i dont believe)
    But we were all free to not believe Islamic holiness even before CH.
    So it as not as if CH has boldly expanded any grand freedom of ours in this regard.
    What they have broadened so gallantly is the freedom to abuse. Exercise of a freedom to harass by maligning and deriding a harmless drawing convention. What great fun to see masses of ordinary apolitical Muslims get offended and squirm in pain. Or kind of tonic. :)

  72. Debating Issues says

    Ofcourse anyone who doesnt believe in holiness of Islam should be free to not believe it. (just as i dont believe)
    But we were all free to not believe Islamic holiness even before CH.
    So it as not as if CH has boldly expanded any grand freedom of ours in this regard.
    What they have broadened so gallantly is the freedom to abuse. Exercise of a freedom to harass by maligning and deriding a harmless drawing convention. What great fun to see masses of ordinary apolitical Muslims get offended and squirm in pain.
    Just the kind of tonic we thrive on, eh. :)

  73. Debating Issues says

    You dont expect me to get it…
    But what horror that more and more people are now seeing through the cunning game. Clever offensive attacks of CH masquerading as noble freedom of expression. And when it is challenged as a fraudster, a sharp U-turn to run around as the aggrieved party In further levels of defense, the system ropes in PEN to kosherize its attacks.
    Brilliant but we are running on pretty thin ground by now, i say. :)

  74. French Charlie says

    Your claim that they abused anyone is the heart of your lies. Again, the only people who ever cried about being abused are those who want to kill anyone who is not a muslim. The rest is bollocks.

    As for Charlie not extending our rights… well, here’s a quote from a great French theater author, who greatly participated to the French revolution: “The right to Freedom of Speech wears out only only when you don’t use it”.

    Not publishing a drawing under threat is giving up your rights, and everybody else’s rights . Claiming the threat can be justified is being an authoritarian, or a coward and a hypocrite, or simply a manipulator. Make your choice, there isn’t any other way to explain your position.

    And by the way, I am not noble in any way. I just don’t get fooled too easily. Read everything again, you might see that all I did was reformulate everyone of your own statements, as to call your discourse for what it really is.

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