Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic writes about Charlie, with some useful information.
A subsidiary myth has grown up around Charlie Hebdo: that anti-Jewish hostility in its pages was forbidden. This false belief is offered as proof of the magazine’s “Islamophobic” tendencies (about the term “Islamophobia,” please read my interview with the prime minister of France, Manuel Valls).
This myth arose in part because of a controversy concerning the cartoonist known as Siné, who was fired from the magazine in 2008 after implying that the son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy would “go a long way in life” after converting to Judaism. Critics of Charlie Hebdo point to this incident as proof thatCharlie Hebdo maintained a double standard when it came to Muslims: “Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column,” Garry Trudeau stated in his now-infamous anti-free-speech speech at the George Polk Awards ceremony in April. “Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.”
I will put aside for now Trudeau’s dark insinuation about Jewish power—one that he embedded in a discussion concerning an extended terrorist siege that ended with the slaughter of four Jews of North African origin at a kosher supermarket—an example of Paris-style “Jewish privilege,” I suppose you could say.
Siné, of course, was not ridiculing a Jewish idea. Instead, he was deploying an anti-Jewish canard—that Jews maintain a protective cabal designed to advance each other’s interests—against an individual, living person. His comment was not a theological critique, but a libelous accusation. Siné was asked by the magazine’s editor to apologize to Sarkozy’s son, but he refused and was fired. (Siné, by the way, has described himself as a Jew-hater. “Yes, I am anti-Semitic and I am not scared to admit it,” he once said. “I want all Jews to live in fear, unless they are pro-Palestinian. Let them die.”)
Now there’s an example of speech that I would not like to see get an award from PEN. That right there – “I want all Jews to live in fear.” That’s a horrific thing to say.
Another myth: Charlie Hebdo is interested in advancing a “narrative” of “white privilege,” and therefore specializes in ridiculing powerless people.
The novelist Francine Prose, one of the writers protesting the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo, wrote recently that, “The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders—white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists—is one that feeds neatly into the cultural prejudices that have allowed our government to make so many disastrous mistakes in the Middle East.”
Prose’s coldness toward the victims of violence matches Trudeau’s. The 12 people killed at Charlie Hebdo were not extras in a George W. Bush-scripted imperialist narrative. They were human beings who were murdered because they offended the beliefs of theocratic fascists. It is not a narrative calumny to assert that white Europeans were killed by Muslim extremists at Charlie Hebdo’s offices on January 7. It is a sad fact. (It is also a sad fact that one of the Charlie Hebdo editorial staffers killed that day was a French citizen of Algerian extraction named Mustapha Ourrad. But I suppose acknowledging this fact would interfere with Francine Prose’s own narrative of majoritarian perfidy.)
And her own right-on-ness.
The power dynamic between the jihadists Said and Cherif Kouachi and the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo was quite unequal, but it did not tilt in the direction Trudeau believes it tilted. It was not the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who murdered the Kouachi brothers. Trudeau, and the critics of the PEN American Center and Charlie Hebdo, might not realize that they are captive of another, related myth: that terrorism is a weapon of the marginalized and the weak. Terrorism is most definitely not a weapon of the weak; it is a weapon used against the weak. The cartoonists and writers at Charlie Hebdo never stood a chance against their killers.
It could be both. Terrorists do sometimes fight on the side of “the weak.” But when they have body armor and big guns and their targets have neither, yes, they definitely have armor and gun privilege.
One more myth concerns the way in which the Left understands Islamism. No fundamentalist interpretation of any religion deserves the protection and sympathy of progressives. Islamists—adherents of a politicized, radical strain of Islam—are misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-enlightenment, and possess no tolerance at all for members of religious groups whose beliefs conflict with their own. These are traits one traditionally associates with the far-right, but some on the left are happy to support Islamists—even Islamist terror groups—simply because they stand in opposition to the West. (Judith Butler, the Berkeley comparative-literature professor, famously described Hamas and Hezbollah as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left.”)
And there’s George Galloway. I hope he’s losing right now. The polls close in an hour and a half; I hope he loses.
In her anti-Charlie Hebdo op-ed, Francine Prose wrote, “Our job, in presenting an award, is to honor writers and journalists who are saying things that need to be said, who are working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live. That is important work that requires perseverance and courage. And this is not quite the same as drawing crude caricatures and mocking religion.”
I hope that someone, someday, will explain to Francine Prose the work of Voltaire and Spinoza. I also hope that Garry Trudeau will one day understand that it is an act of bravery to write in opposition to religious fundamentalism in the face of fatal violence. And I’m glad that the PEN American Center has not capitulated under pressure.
I actually hope both of them learn better right now. I like the work of both of them, and have for a long time, and I would like to see them redeem themselves.