A brilliant piece by Leigh Phillips from last week on clueless accusations that Charlie Hebdo is racist and homophobic, accusations obviously emanating from the left (the right seldom bothers accusing people of racism, much less homophobia).
In the 48 hours after the Paris massacre, much of the anglophone activist and academic left were quick to sneer at public displays of solidarity with the murdered cartoonists and journalists of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and criticized the vigils, demonstrations and editorial cartoons from other artists as siding with racists.
Of course the killing of journalists is a bad thing, so the argument goes, but come on, Charlie Hebdo is “a racist publication.” So what do you expect? is the implicit, victim-blaming conclusion.
The millions of people, atheist, Christian, Jew and Muslim — including trade unionists bearing the drapeaux rouges of the communist CGT union and activists from far-left groups such as the Parti de Gauche and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste — who spontaneously filled the streets of towns and villages across France in solidarity with the slain journalists and in defence against this manifest attack on freedom of speech, or who changed their social media avatars to a black square with the words Je suis Charlie were, in the words of prominent British socialist commentator Richard Seymour writing in Jacobin magazine and on his own blog, “platitudinous,” “mawkish and narcissistic” and engaging in a “blackmail that forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.”
I don’t think Richard Seymour qualifies as prominent. He is well known to people who keep track of this kind of absurdity, yes, but not to many other people.
Elsewhere many leftists such as Jon Wilson writing on LabourList have declared “Je ne suis pas Charlie” and that this is about Islamophobia and war.
Evincing that same confusion between Islam and Islamism that I mentioned on a previous post, to the outrage of a few. Well, two, maybe.
The last few days have been a humiliation for the anglophone left, showcasing to the world how poor our ability to translate is these days, as so many people have posted cartoons on social media that they found trawling Google Images as evidence ofCharlie Hebdo’s “obvious racism,” only to be told by French speakers how, when translated and put into context, these cartoons actually are explicitly anti-racist or mocking of racists and fascists.
Then he goes through them: the Christiane Taubira one, the Boko Haram one, the “l’amour plus fort que la haine” one. On the last, he says:
In this context, the cartoon can only be seen as expressly anti-homophobic, giving a big, wet, cheeky kiss to the likely homophobic Islamists who had tried to kill them. (One friend told me after I explained the context behind this cartoon that it was still problematic because “at a time when Muslims in Western countries are the target of Islamophobic prejudice, we should be sensitive to their religious sensibilities. A cartoon of two men kissing is offensive to them.” To my mind, if there’s anything homophobic going on here, it’s the idea that gays should hide themselves so as not to offend those who maintain a hatred of homosexuals.)
Also note the assumption that all Muslims share the homophobic “sensibilities.” Well guess what: they don’t. There really are progressive liberal Muslims, and they really do need our support, so why side with people who despise them?