Tag Archives: Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo Are Not Mocking Aylan Kurdi

I really do not want to become the “what were Charlie Hebdo thinking?” blogger when outrage emerges on social media about one of their cartoons. I will always be Je Suis Charlie because no one should be murdered for drawing a cartoon. This general convention of how civil society in a free country should work, bears no reflection on how you may view the said cartoon. It is a nonsense asking if you are still against the killing of cartoonists for drawing a cartoon, when asked “are you still Je Suis Charlie?” Yet nonsense, like misunderstanding, is everywhere.

It helps though to appreciate the style of satire being portrayed. Outrage is best informed, rather than a demonstration you do not understand something. So let me set the scene for the first of two cartoons by Charlie Hebdo that have everyone racing to condemn them.

Too many in Europe say we are full. This is increasingly including mainstream politicians. The refugees rather than fleeing ISIS, and the squalor where they may have first taken refuge, are after the good life in the west. That is the perceived goal as seen by the anti-immigration brigade against refugees fleeing war and oppression.

It is that attitude which Charlie Hebdo are lampooning here:

When Aylan’s dead body washed up on the Turkish shore, the photograph shook the world. The caption reads “so close to his goal” with the advert for fast food aimed at children offering a 2 for 1 offer. The cartoon is ridiculing both the idea a child is selfishly trying to achieve a “goal”, as it is the commercialisation of childhood which cheapens life, like smugglers on an unseaworthy vessel do. Children all over the world are human beings first, second, and third. There is also quite possibly a back story too regarding McDonald’s, as in France recently their staff were told not to give food to “tramps.”

The other cartoon shows a Christian boasting he can walk on water (as Christ “did”) but look Muslim children cannot. It is mocking the supposed superiority Christian racists use in their self-proclaimed righteousness over Muslims. Let us be clear – Charlie Hebdo is against all religious hatred on this score. Let alone the racism of the far right.

By all means decide using Aylan to make these points is distasteful. As I am sure you did the photograph of him which caused political leaders to do PR face saving exercises across Europe. Maybe we can all forget that our elected representatives were not doing enough to help alleviate the refugee crisis. That we, the electorate they answer to, were sending the message that we rather they did not do too much.

A photograph can change views. Cartoons can also provoke a reaction. Your response should be anger at the attitudes that Charlie Hebdo is mocking here. Instead though, cartoons challenging the vile reasoning of too many xenophobic morons have caused outrage.

That outrage is better served at our failure to fight fascism and tyranny, and failing to welcome refugees before a photograph of a dead child washed up on a beach. We cannot bring him back, and I can appreciate many seeing the cartoons with misleading captions, as a betrayal of his memory.

You can still find the cartoons distasteful. But at least understand what they are critiquing.

More can be read on Sunny Hundal’s facebook post.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Interview With Charlie Hebdo’s Robert McLiam Wilson

Friday night I had an email exchange with Robert McLiam Wilson, an Irishman that has found himself working at Charlie Hebdo. We discussed satire, writers objecting to PEN America giving on May 5th the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, and how social discourse copes with terrorism and political correctness.
Before we get into food fights at PEN America giving an award to the magazine, and where people seem determined to draw the line for cartoonists and kill satire if not satirists themselves – what were you doing that you ended up working at Charlie Hebdo?

I’m not quite sure. It’s pretty typical of Charlie how haphazardly it came about. The very fine French writer, Marie Darrieussecq suggested it to me. And I naturally said yes without hesitating. I had written a piece (in Libération – shorter English version) in the Big Issue after January’s attack which is perhaps what made Marie think of me.

I don’t think anyone at Charlie Hebdo really has a clue who I am. I think I send my stuff in and they go “Shit, is it that Irish bloke again? Christ, what’s he on about this time?”. They’re nice about it. But a little bewildered.

Your article in The New Statesman sums up the frustration that free speech when denied by the assassin must be defended [still]. There really should be no “but” in that situation. That does not seem to stop people that have no idea commenting on a French publication tackling racism and the far right. The goal posts move if you explain one cartoon. How do we get passed that, without losing our own sanity?

Personally, I think that this is how you get past it. This is the incredibly moving and extraordinary moment when Mme Christiane Taubira gave a eulogy at the funeral of Tignous, one of the the murdered cartoonists. I really sincerely believe that this is the silver bullet. The Charlie Hebdo cartoon which portrayed this brilliant and daunting woman as a monkey was the big, BIG problem in the English-speaking world. It is a shocking and repellent image. It is meant to be so. Because what it is lampooning with horrible viciousness is a far right campaign against this black, female Minister of Justice. A campain of such gross, infantile ugliness that I simply refuse to repeat it any way. Suffice to say, it involved bananas! A thing of toe-curling shamefulness.


Charlie mocked this vileness by trying to show how nauseating it was, how infantile and pathetic. If the Charlie cartoon is a racist disgrace, then why is the subject of that image speaking at the funeral of a Charlie contributor???


I have never met Mme Taubira nor spoken to her. It would be interesting to hear her views. Perhaps, I would be surprised by them myself. But clearly, this victim of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘racism’ did not think they were racist. To be honest, I think it is, if not racist, certainly incredibly presumptuous to think that this educated, powerful woman needs the protection of a bunch of hapless novelists.

If I could have one wish, it is that the boycotting writers would watch this. Even without French, is not her emotion absolutely evident? I don;t think these writer are wicked or stupid people. I think they are ill-informed and extremely sure of themselves. I have always felt that this is a pretty poor combination.

I am desperate for the discourse to become more civil, more measured. And perhaps more respectful of the facts. The abuse heaped upon the PEN boycotters has been personal and vicious (I am not speaking of Salman Rusdie, who can do no wrong in my book…almost).

I beseech them to inform themselves more fully, more humbly. I don’t challenge them to do so. That’s a bellicose idiom and there are no enemies here. I entreat Joyce Carol Oates, whom I admire, to look again at her assumptions. I beg Teju Cole, the unfortunate begetter of much of the Taubira cartoon misinformation, to listen to what she says. I would ask Rick Moody if he thinks I must be racist because I write for Charlie Hebdo.


We should all be talking about the grotesque loss of life almost every week amongst desperate people sailing across the Mediterranean toward countries that do not want them.


That’s a moral issue worth getting all riled up.

I remember mentioning [Mme Taubira] and the cartoon when countering Mehdi Hasan’s New Statesman article  – I hope people watch that video you link to. The emotion needs no translation.

Hopefully people will try to learn about Charlie Hebdo and its place in French political culture, and why SOS Racisme has been vocal in it’s support.
[Here is a translation of the President of SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, comments:]
Will satire ever dare to be the same again? Luz will no longer draw Mohammed. Editors at an event today, Free House in DC, mention not being a symbol but making people think and love  It feels like the writers do not see satire and cartoons as a way to think about the world. The terrorists found the cartoons too funny, the writers staying away say they are not funny because it is about religion.

Well, writers don’t like anyone but writers. And they don’t like most of them generally. We tend either not to understand cartoonists, photographers, painters or performances artists or to simply dismiss them. I have some sympathy. Me, I hate musicians. What a bunch of bastards! No excuse for musicians.

Seriously, there’s a limit to how much or how accurately you can comment if you don’t speak the language. I made this point in the New Statesman and some people (very few) actually riposted, ‘duh, what an arsehole! Has he never heard of Google Translate?!’. Clearly, I can’t do much to help people who think that way. But I would seriously suggest that everyone should be more humble before making breathtakingly confident comment about texts in a language they can’t read. And there is generally text – even in cartoons (except when it is clipped off, Teju).

But who knows? Maybe SOS Racisme is wrong. Fuck, maybe is SOS Racisme is racist too! Wow, wouldn’t that be something? I may give serious thought to boycotting those supremacist motherfuckers.

The latest twitter storm showed once again the limits to people using Google translate without finding out the context in the google search box.

Martin Rowson gave a moving – and colourful – acceptance speech on behalf of Charlie Hebdo when they won Secularist of The Year. Hosted by the National Secular Society. Declaration – I had a fabulous three course meal during. He mentioned that the most offensive thing anyone could do was kill another person. I despair that people cannot see the difference between mocking a religious figure as an ordinary human being and something that dehumanises a group of people. Religion is a powerful thing, and all power is accountable to people, not least artists and writers.

I see that Queen’s University Belfast is finally going to host a conference on Charlie Hebdo. Do you think people can be persuaded to be open minded?

I come from Belfast where you learn early in life that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a top lad and a great writer but that he didn’t know much about ordinance. The guys who come to your door with the 9-MM or the AK47 disprove le contrat sociale pretty thoroughly. Those guys are the custodians of your rights. They decide what’s going to happen to you. And the hardware is not a promising sign.

I think this is all about displaced emotion. About the death of politics. In my view, political correctness was one of the most spectacularly successful political movements of the 20th century. Within a generation, it civilised public discourse to a remarkable degree. Not perfect, but absolutely fucking astonishing compared with even as recently as the 1970s.

Identity politics or cultural relativism is something else. For me, there’s only one kind of politics, class politics. And class politics when waged successfully and sincerely will encompass race, gender, sexuality, disability, everything. Because class politics is not about the white working class. It’s about all disadvantaged classes. And sees them as one class.

Queens University did something difficult and classy. They changed their minds. They admitted the mistake. I am now not interested in the reasons. And I hope people don’t sneer or crow now about pressure from outside forcing it or anything like that. And I don’t care about investigations to the Nth degree into the truth of the original decision.

They showed some class. Now, it’s our turn. Well done, Queens. Debate is never a bad idea.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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PEN Awards Charlie Hebdo – Free Speech Is Cheap To Those Boycotting The Gala

“I believe in free speech but” – I have written about this before regarding Charlie Hebdo. Let me see if we can get to the but of the problem regarding some novelists wanting to stay away from a Gala hosted by PEN America, which “promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations.”

Author Francine Prose makes clear she respects Charlie Hebdo staff’s courage, taking bullets in the head and surviving staff publishing still. But, the byline reads: “The award is for writers and journalists who tell us the truth about the world in which we live, not drawing rude caricatures and mocking religion.”

Rude caricatures and mocking religion is telling the truth to the highest power imaginable – a deity. God if seen so high, cannot be made so low by the pen of mere mortals. The arrogance of taking offense on behalf of a supreme deity and his Prophet – though for Peter Carey its “the cultural arrogance of the French nation” which needs taking on. He is doing this by not having dinner at the New York Gala. Skipping a meal – that will teach the French.

Prose states “how difficult people find it to think with any clarity on these issues.” Having stated this previously:

… I believe that Charlie Hebdo has every right to publish whatever they wish.

But that is not the same as feeling that Charlie Hebdo deserves an award. As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award. The bestowing of an award suggests to me a certain respect and admiration for the work that has been done, and for the value of that work and though I admire the courage with which Charlie Hebdo has insisted on its right to provoke and challenge the doctrinaire, I don’t feel that their work has the importance – the necessity – that would deserve such an honor.

Nazis? Not only lacking character but losing the plot ..

A place of work is firebombed in 2011 for containing cartoonists inside that mock religion, and continue working despite the threats. Then gunmen massacre twelve people at the same office in 2015 in an attempt to close down the publication, but the surviving staff rally to keep it going in defiance of religious extremists and in memory of those with bullets in their heads. Maybe, just maybe, an organisation that champions “unhindered transmission of thought” may want to honour their courage.

As PEN point out on their blog:

The rising prevalence of various efforts to delimit speech and narrow the bounds of any permitted speech concern us; we defend free speech above its contents. We do not believe that any of us must endorse the content of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to affirm the importance of the medium of satire, or to applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats. There is courage in refusing the very idea of forbidden statements, an urgent brilliance in saying what you have been told not to say in order to make it sayable.

Francine Prose admires their courage (in case you had forgotten), while she stays away from an event which will need heightened security because people still want to kill Charlie Hebdo staff. She has the audacity to say people are not thinking clearly about the issue. When the shit hits the fan after the bullets fly, there will always be those that want to duck and cover to separate themselves from those targeted for doing what they do – express their opinions. They will call this a form of principle, while those on the frontline fall at the feet of their killers for the free speech others speak of so cheaply.

The arrogance of those staying away is breathtaking. PEN exists to speak out for writers who are persecuted and threatened. As Salman Rushdie said, he hopes no one ever goes after the writers staying away. Still, it is easier to piss on dead cartoonists than to stand up to ISIS who crucify and behead Christians.

Just ask Charlie Hebdo about that. The staff still alive that is. As for the dead, the least you might want to do is have a Gala dinner in the memory of those that died speaking truth to the assassins that did not approve of it.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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No Charlie Hebdo Did Not Publish That Mediterranean Drowning Cartoon

[NB if you were after Charlie Hebdo cartoons regarding Aylan Kurdi click here]

The cartoon of drowning immigrants (above) is by Ali Dilem, published by Liberte in Algeria. He has recently joined the staff of Charlie Hebdo – but they have not published this particular cartoon. That has not stopped many people on Twitter sharing the image as if they did.

[Edit: to explain: “regroupement familial” is the title of the French immigration policy for non-EU residents in France being joined by other family members from abroad. This requires 18 month initial stay (12 if Algerian) before they can come, income status etc. You can read about the policy in a English google translation here. The cartoon above is saying that the policy is contributing to deaths in the mediterranean by families desperate to be reunited.]

Charlie Hebdo did however have this front cover (below):

“A Titanic each week” is the headline – about 1,500 died following the collision with an iceberg in April 1912. The warning is without action many more will die each week trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, equivalent to one of the most shocking of maritime disasters.

The National Front’s response to refugees from a war zone seeking safety at huge risk – is to have a deterrent policy (see their “Drama in the Mediterranean: a deterrent to immigration policy“) to prevent fleeing across a treacherous sea in overcrowded unseaworthy vessels. The joke here is the deterrent policy may as well be Celine Dion singing ([“Shut up!”]) for all the good it will do, let alone patrol boats to send them back. The satire is on her and also the National Front policy on immigration. She is singing the title song to the blockbuster film “Titanic”, which ties in with the headline.

Fleeing a war zone like Libya or Syria, we are not dealing with immigrants, but refugees. Maybe it makes it easier for people like Le Pen and Katie Hopkins to imagine them as illegal immigrants or like “cockroaches” or “norivirus.” Maybe cartoons for some are not the best way to point out that families are being united over time in the cemetery that is the ocean floor, or to poke fun at anti-immigration parties with scorn and derision.

Rather than the outrage directed at Charlie Hebdo for a cartoon they did not publish, or misunderstanding the one they did,  how much better to use our anger at such deaths at the EU that has not done enough to prevent the humanitarian disaster that has befallen Libya and Syria. Let alone the cutback in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, as a “deterrent” for people facing far worse than a perilous journey on the cruel and deep blue sea. It was predictable the deaths at sea would increase.

Let us talk about the racism which is killing people – our EU government’s response to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and the people killing one another in the actual conflicts causing the refugee crisis. Oh wait, someone drew cartoons which offended you. How dreadful – but at the last count the people killed by them were the cartoonists.

Please consider signing this petition to the EU Commission President. But do lobby your government too, which in the UK you can via this petition.

[Read my Huffington Post article Charlie Hebdo and PEN: When Free Speech Is Cheaper Than A Gala Dinner For Some]

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*Conversation I had with a french follower on twitter did not contradict my assertion in French it was Le Pen. Happy to correct if I am wrong. [Edit: Originally post said “The woman in front is Le Pen*, leader of The National Front (FN).” It seems it is Celine Dion and so have removed that line. Also changed singing Le pen to Celine Dion.]


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Blogger Washikur Rahman Murdered In Bangladesh

Bangladeshi blogger Washikur Rahman was not just killed. His head was cut wide open in several places. The madrassa students accused of murdering him were sending a message. That a brain thinking thoughts against theocracy, denouncing the use of politics to enforce Islam on others, would not be tolerated. They literally tried with meat cleavers to get at Rahman’s mind. To cut away the thoughts he held.

This was not just murder. This was butchery to silence a mind that was against the use of political power to enforce religion on others. Secularism cannot be tolerated by extremists because it defends all citizens to have the religious views they wish.

Some get very offended when their ideas are denounced. When those they love are belittled. To show off how important, some ideas get called religion, and those they love become the most beloved of God. Some popes say insulting their idea is like insulting their mother, so expect a punch. To love the prophet beyond your own children, beyond your own self, is the exaltation of the koran.

The madrassa students declared their love by killing an infidel. They are extremists. The moderate political islamists just want the state to hang atheists. You will recall how they rioted while demanding atheists could be hanged, while some bloggers were held for blasphemy, a few years back

Two students from a local madrassa took meat cleavers into their own hands to show how offended they were that anyone could think differently from them. It follows a few weeks from the brutal murder of blogger Avijit Roy. The fundamentalists are making it very clear.

A free inquiring mind will be hacked to pieces.

I would like to think the world would stand with the atheist bloggers of Bangladesh. We know that is not the case. Charlie Hebdo showed that, with articles denouncing how offensive, racist and bigoted they were. People that could not be bothered to learn the satirical lampooning nature of the magazine, or its left wing progressive and anti colonial stance, did not care they were pissing on the bloodied dead in their ignorance.

At the National Secular Society awards ceremony this Saturday gone in London, Charlie Hebdo won Secularist of The Year. No one from the magazine could be present because of the astronomical fees that security would entail. Even the nominations were kept a lid on. The fear in the world is having its impact.

Martin Rowson – the cartoonist who led a campaign for caricaturing Erdogan due to his attempts to imprison illustrators that insulted him – received the award on their behalf. He made a very offensive speech, one that Hitchens would have been proud of, in defence of free speech and the right of anyone to feel insulted.

For as he said, the greatest offence of all is the taking of another human life. The first person killed at Charlie Hebdo was the building maintenance guy. No one is safe from the rage of fundamentalists.

At the ceremony a very affable person approached me when I first arrived. That is as much of a description as I am prepared to give, because of the known lethal sensitivities in this world. They are the illustrator of the Jesus and Mo cartoon strip. One day I hope it will be safe for them to be personally recognised for their talented satirising and lampooning of religious pomposity.

When Rowson on stage mentioned their attendance, the biggest roar and cheer was heard of the night. The risks faced were brought home when the President of National Secular Society explained the prize money for Charlie Hebdo was going to a benefit fund helping the families of the dead.

It is not enough for us to mourn and be outraged for those killed. We have to be passionate supporting the rights of people to speak out against religion, against privileged Gods, clerics and leaders anywhere in the world. There is no limit to where an inquiring mind may go, and no offense that can demand it does not go there.

I find it very offensive seeing a man with his head cleaved into. I hope you do not need to see the photo I have to feel the same way. You better believe this feels personal. People I know are threatened, people I have spoken to have been shot at, people who think the same as me have had meat cleavers embedded in their skull.

I am not ok with this happening in the world. I am fed up with having to be told murderous passions must mean we should never give our opinions. That it is too dangerous to say this, draw that, or republish this. That theocracy is what others want over there, when the people saying they do not want it that live over there are being hacked to death. That this is too offensive to see the light of day.

I have restored the Scarlet B on twitter for this week. It is a small gesture. If enough of us show we will speak out against fundamentalists, we can show that some of us will promote a free inquiring mind against murderers that would deny our right to think freely.

A free thinking mind, is the idea to love. You celebrate it with discussion, inquiry, debate, argument, humor, art. Not only are people prepared to kill to stop this, even more are prepared to limit the celebration of what makes us truly human. It is the requirement that we die inside, so other’s views are not challenged.

That is why the argument must go on.


My thanks to the National Secular Society for hosting the event, and to all participants that made the event very welcoming.

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