I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, and other thoughts

There is much sanctimonious twaddle being written about the Charlie Hebdo attacks yesterday. I want to make three points here that hopefully don’t fall into that category.

Firstly: it is terrible that these journalists and the police officers were murdered. I hope the perpetrators are caught and put on trial.

We should not, however, confuse the journalists with the journal. I have on occasion read some of the content of Charlie Hebdo, and although that doesn’t qualify me to comment on it in detail, I have read enough to know that I am sceptical about whether it represents “good journalism” – much of what it seems to me to portray is simple old-fashioned prejudice, and in relation to the Middle East and Islam, this was based on racist and Orientalist stereotypes.

I believe it was Finley Peter Dunne, writing a century ago, who said that “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Whilst I categorically condemn attacks on any journalist, I want to ask of Charlie Hebdo: who was being comforted by its journalism, and who was being afflicted? Prejudice, racism, Orientalism – these are not, to my mind, indicators that the magazine was getting the comforting and afflicting right.

Such a view does not detract from an intrinsic belief in the freedom of speech. Even if a publication espouses vile and repulsive views, that does not mean it should be banned.  I think it is our task in society, however, not to buy and support such publications and keep them afloat: the continued sales success of the Daily Mail and The Sun makes me despair of our society at times (I’d rather they went bankrupt because nobody bought (into) their sexism, racism, homophobia…).  So Charlie Hebdo can be as offensive as it likes, and whilst I will defend its right to be offensive and for its journalists to write and draw whatever they like, I will not support and identify myself with a journal that bases its success on simply exploiting prejudices.

I am not Charlie Hebdo: none of this Je suis Charlie stuff for me.

Secondly: it is terrible that these journalists and the police officers were murdered. I hope the perpetrators are caught and put on trial.

Whether that can be a fair trial is another matter after the French President François Hollande immediately described the event as a “terrorist” act, rather than a “criminal” one. He is doing the same as those mad old warriors Bush and Blair, who preferred to use the pejorative language of “terrorism” rather than the more accurate but less politically useful language of “crime” – and doing so served their purposes well.

It is depressing that Hollande appears to be doing the same.  Would he have used that language had the gunmen been from some far-right movement, for example?  Or basically any non-Muslim group?  I would welcome corrections to this statement if appropriate, but: I don’t recall Hollande or anyone else using the word “terrorism” in relation to supporters of the Jewish Defence League trying to murder an anti-Zionist journalist in 2012.  Our language needs to be much more careful, even in, or especially in, times of great stress.  However, we can only be sensitive to language if we are used to using it correctly in the first place, and the great tide of Islamophobia in France and the rest of Europe that our politicians have done so little to counter mitigates against that.  We need actively to address such prejudices, or we will struggle to articulate what we should be doing in times of adversity such as these.

Thirdly: it is terrible that these journalists and the police officers were murdered. I hope the perpetrators are caught and put on trial.

Equally, all those who have carried out drone attacks in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in many other places should be brought to trial for the murder of the countless innocents who happened to be nearby when someone was being targeted for extra-judicial assassination (itself, of course, illegal). The stories of those murdered by invading armies – our armies – need to be told and justice needs to be done and seen to be done (for example, where the hell is the Chilcot Report?!). Yesterday the West was (rightly) grieving and marching and protesting about the deaths of the Parisian journalists, and yet at least 37 people were murdered in a suicide attack in Yemen (see here and here) – where are the thousands of Westerners grieving, marching and protesting for them?  Last night, commentator Habiba Hamid noted (apologies for the Daily Mail link…):

We in the West export war, either by invading and attacking other countries, or quite literally by exporting huge quantities of arms so that people can kill each other whilst our arms industry gets rich. Occasionally, just occasionally, some of the consequences of this horrific immorality reaches back to our shores and it’s our police officers and our journalists who are murdered, rather than police officers and journalists in countries that are (supposedly) far away like Yemen. My heart is heavy for the murdered Parisians, but equally for those that we, one way or another, have caused to die through our foreign policies, even though they don’t live in a pretty European capital; Lindsey German is worth reading in this regard.

Everything is connected – denying this and doing nothing about it means we will never stop things like yesterday’s Charlie Hebdo shooting, the 2005 London transport attack, the 2004 Madrid train bombing, the 2001 Washington and New York attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the…

UPDATE 9.1.15, evening: please note that I am closing comments on this blog posting.  I have tried to engage with as many perspectives as possible in the last two days, but I cannot devote yet more time to comments now.  Thank you for reading this, and I hope you find the comments below of interest.

Update 10.1.15, evening: this discussion, chaired by Cathy Newman, with Martin Rowson and Will Self, is from last night’s Channel 4 News, and is well worth watching on this issue; neither of them endear themselves to those who argue for Je suis Charlie.


54 thoughts on “I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, and other thoughts

  1. I really appreciate this post. I would stand in solidarity with people whom others are trying to bully or silence to prevent from expressing whatever the hell they want, but also I have seen some of the Charlie Hebdo covers and IMO some of it is way over the line, definitely to the point of being gratuitously offensive. I take it you are from the UK, and I don’t know how things are there, but I think that most Americans don’t really realize the extent of anti-Islam sentiment in France. (I received some glimpses of it in cultural conversations during many years of French classes, but I honestly don’t know whether or not it’s worse in France than in America. I do know that you’d have a hell of a time trying to prohibit religious dress in America, and this has been done to Muslims in France.) We can’t look at what C.H. is publishing without examining the cultural context. However, I also am seeing Christian/Catholic and Jewish figures on C.H. covers, so it makes me wonder if they don’t treat all religious figures the same. (I never heard of them before yesterday, so I don’t know whether or not they insult Mohammed more often than others.)

    I also would like to know where the outrage is at the thousands killed in the Middle East by America and its allies. 12 Westerners die for lambasting Mohammed and it’s OMG FREEDOM OF EXPRESSIONNNN! meanwhile I don’t see a whole lot of articles demanding explanations for the 100K+ civilians killed in the Iraq War, or the dozens of innocents who are murdered in oopsie-daisies! by drones before they finally manage to (illegally) kill their target. Personally I don’t see how my government can hope to improve anti-American sentiment in the region since we’ve been blowing it up for the past 12 years and show no signs of stopping, because “war on terror” and because $$$. Surely the lives of each of the thousands upon thousands of Middle Easterners that have been killed by Western militaries are each as valuable as the lives of each of those killed in the C.H. attack–but most Americans don’t seem to think of that, and I would guess it’s the same in Europe. I get what you’re saying about how “terrorism” is a loaded word, and surely it is used to justify all sorts of evil, but I would classify this as an act of terrorism. However, I also want it to be acknowledged as terrorism when whites or non-Muslims commit violent acts intended to intimidate. IMO the problem is not that this act is being termed terrorism (though we should be on guard against abuses relating to this), but that attacks aren’t called terrorism when a white person does it, unless that white person is Muslim (ex. Boston Marathon bombing).

    I do disagree with your last paragraph. I think that the evil being perpetrated against majority Muslim countries by Western governments is largely to blame for anti-Western sentiment–it certainly encourages it. But I think that the blame for this attack lies squarely with the religious fanaticism that seeks to control what others say about a religion. They didn’t just attack a national symbol in a nation that definitely has a problem with Islamophobia; they attacked a magazine that had repeatedly, unabashedly committed blasphemy. As countries in the West continue to do violence towards innocents in the Middle East, they make the diatribe of religious fanaticism more alluring, because we make ourselves into an enemy that can easily become a scapegoat for other things. But it seems to me that this attack wasn’t about revenge for evil done by France or other militaries. It was getting vengeance for the Prophet, who shall not be disrespected, on penalty of death. I think these two themes are related, but I see them as separate. Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Also, sorry for the novel. Keep writing the hard truths!


    • Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      Regarding your first point: Islamophobia is on the rise across Europe, as it is in USA, but, of course, it manifests itself differently in different contexts. It therefore needs to be countered in different ways, depending on the context you are in. And yes, CH does appear to have offended all equally, but the basis of such offence appears to me to have been largely based on prejudice, as I said.

      Regarding the second point you make: yes, I can sort of agree that we should call all such attacks ‘terrorist’ but beyond parity, I’m not sure what would be gained by doing so. I think differentiating between criminal acts is helpful, I’m not convinced that calling them ‘terrorist’ is necessarily so, other than for political purposes. The political purposes become more important when one act is regarded as ‘terrorist’ and the other is not, of course. See, in this regard, Juan Cole’s comment (and his satirical take on this).

      Your third point is where we disagree most, as you’ll have gathered from our Twitter conversation. This is not about ‘religion’ but about political actions, especially ones taken by our governments. Some links for you: Juan Cole (again!) offers an English summary of a Le Monde piece, Ramzy Baroud explains why Islam is so often blamed in these contexts (‘While much violence happens across the world in the name of Christianity, Judaism, even Buddhism in Burma and Sri Lanka, rarely do entire collectives get stigmatised by the media. Yet, all Muslims are held directly or otherwise accountable by many, even if a criminal who happened to be a Muslim went out on a violent rampage. Yes, he may still be designated as a “lone wolf”, but one can be almost certain that Muslims and Islam somehow become relevant to the media debate afterwards.’), and Channel 4 News (a pretty good liberal UK news programme) discusses what radicalised the presumed perpetrators. So whilst the attackers chose this building and shouted that they were avenging insults to Islam and the Prophet, where did that come from? As far as we can tell, that sense of grievance came from Abu Ghraib etc., and the cartoons provided an avenue to articulate that. (And I would go further and argue that we can safely assume that more people will be offended by murder and torture than by a cartoon!) This does not mean that Islam is irrelevant – another blog posting I wrote elsewhere at the end of last year argues we do have to take that kind of thing seriously – but we have to also understand the motivations of the attackers (that’s different, of course, from seeking to justify anything). If the Channel 4 piece, that interviewed one of the suspects, is right, then an ideological framework that led to engaging against Western forces in the Middle East, and as Cole puts it: ‘Without Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is not at all clear that Sharif Kouachi would have gotten involved in fundamentalist vigilanteism. And if he hadn’t, he would not have gone on to be a point man in murdering out the staff of Charlie Hebdo along with two policemen.’

      See, I can write just as much as you! 🙂 Thanks again for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve read this sorry excuse of an article, and not just as a French citizen but also as someone who understand the intricate humor and third degree tone of a publication like Charlie Hebdo, I have to speak up.

        In French, we would tell you: tu es complètement à cote de la plaque. In short, you utterly fail to understand what Charlie Hebdo is about, what it tries to achieve and how. And that’s OK, it’s not a paper meant for foreigners, it’s not something someone who hasn’t grown up culturally French can easily understand.

        This though, also means you are not qualified to comment objectively about any of the things in your “check me out I’m anticonfirmist” halfassed, besides the point, flew over my head but I’m speaking out anyway, ridiculous excuse for an opinioniated blog post (calling it an article as I did above would imply you have some grasp on the subject matter, you do not, I take it back).

        You are not Charlie Hebdo indeed, because you don’t know what Charlie Hebdo is.

        Liked by 5 people

        • tu te trompes, les crimes des fanatiques musulmans ne peuvent pas excuser les crimes des occidentaux dans l histoire humaine, tu te souviens du million et dfemi des algeriens tues par les forces militaires francaises dans la la guerre d independance de l algerie , tu te souviens des crimes et terrorisme commis par les francais de droite de vichy, les collaborateurs et fascistes contre les francais republicains et independants et de gauche pendant la deuxiemme guerre mondiale, il ne faut pas etre francais ou un imbecile pour comprendre qu en france4 et en en europe les sentments de racisme et xenofobie et les souvenirs imperialistes et neocolonialistes sont a la hausse, quelle liberte peut exister la bas si on peut se moquer d un arabe ou de le symbole d un tiers de l humanite et on peut pas critiquer avec d arguments les actions terroristes d israel et des juifs sionistes ou de loa france meme qui aq detruit un gouvernement seculariste et progresiste en lybie pour instaler le caos et les interets des entreprises francaises et americaines et bien sur avec l apui d exctremistes musulmans de droite , conservateurs , hipocrites, les peuples comme la france on tue et fait plus des degats et des millions de morts et on vole les richesses de la mere terre , ont fait la traite des negres par example ou ont lance 2 bombes atomiques sur 2 cites avec civiles, dans l amerique latine ont se souvient des guerres de religion entre protestants et catholiques , la chasse aux sorcieres, las pursuite des heretiques, les guerres des monarchies, le moyen age , napoleon a fait tuer un million d hommes a la gloire de france et de lui meme, les guerres revolutionaires , revolution francaise, anglaise, avec quel droit les europeens parlent d humanite, liberte d expression, egalite si il y a un siecle ils produisent une guerre mondiale cruelle et irrationelle , il y 60 añs ils avaient un criminel totalitaire et des mouvements comme le fascisme et le nazisme et en plus ils ont construit l imaginaire raciste d un gobineau, un stuart chamberlain, un oswald spengler, nietzsche , un hitler , il y a peine 60 ans ils ont produit une catastrophe avec 60 million de morts dans le monde et le dernier grand genocide de la sanglante histoire humaine, bien sur l extremisme et terrorisme d isis et al caeda doit etre detruitr mais qui a produit al caeda, la guerre d afganisthan , l invasion illegale et inmorale d irak avec un million et demi d irakiens morts, l invasion de palestine par les juifs occidents , les memes gens qui meprisaient les juifs dans les 30s et 40s du 20 emme siecle et les dessinaient avec ses grossses nez semitiques dans les journaux de cette epoque dessinent et meprisent les arabes semitiques d aujourdhui avec ses grosses nez semitiques dans les journaux , bien sur onj n a pas droit a tuer des personnes par choses politiques , religieuses et economiques, la democratie et les valeurs fondamentaux d occident doivent nous gouverner mais reelment existe un occident ou plusieurs occidents historiques differents et en guerre perpetuelle entre eux et avec les autres civilizations que ne sont pas aussi monolhitiques comme le croit le populace , ce n est pas la meme france celle que defendait ler droit de louis 14 a persecuter les calvinistes ou la france que defendait la monarchie de louis 16 ou encore louis 18 ou charles 10 que la france que defendait la revolution, ce n est pas la meme chose un girondin qu un montagnard ou un jacobin , l esprit des bonapartistes ce n est pas le meme que celui des partisans de philippe d orleans , quand on parle avec le coeur et pas la raison on peut se tromper, las haine conduit et justifie la haine, les actions de ces criminels qui ont fait cette masacre vont peut etre justifier les actions et les crimes des extremistes du cote adversaire, c esta dire les imbeciles du front nationales, du mouvement nationalsocialiste francais, de tous ceux qui revent avec l imperialisme et le colonialisme , mais dans ici , dans l amerique latine on se souvient du vietnam, laos, cambodge, algerie , l imperialisme du 19 et 20 siecle, il y a peine 60 ans les arabes n etaient pas libres et souverains dans ses propes terres, bien sur tous les hommes ont un cote humain et un cote noir , dark side , les musulmans ont fait aussi des crimes horribles dans leur histoire mais tous les peuples et civilizations ont fait des coses mauvaises et des choses utiles, bonnes , pregressifs pour l avenir de l humanite, la france est une de cettes nations qui ont fait des choses mauvaises et des grandes choses positives mais les musulmans et les arabes aussi, dans leur temps ils etaient une des grandes civilizations de l histoire , qui parle par le bombardement des cites arabes comme bagdad ou bengazy ou tripoli par des aviations occidentales et la france comprise, qui parle par la destruction de la bibliotheque det du musee national d archaelogie d irak par les trupes d occupation americaines, gringas or yankees , c est en irak , a sumer , a babilonie dans la civilization d ancient monde naquit , a part de la chine et l inde bien sur , mais qui a le droit de parler des meilleiurs hommes vis a vis d autres hommes, le fait c est que les francais d aujourdhui sont des raciste extremistes de meme que beaucoup d arabes et musulmans son extremistes fannatiques religieux , conservateurs .


            • WTF …. who is the longwinded guy qui rale en Français… sans paragraph et sans fin? TLDR, and then you come back with your terse ambiguous comment that applies to which of the previous ones exactly? Talk about obfuscation.

              I do think that unless you have been an avid reader of Private Eye, Charlie Hebdo and Le Canard Enchainé, then you are not really fit to frame the CH as you do. It is certainly not similar to the Mail or the Sun or all of that tosh.

              A commenter in the Guardian pointed out this morning : “The taboo on the depiction of the prophet is more about not encouraging idolatry than anything else: it shouldn’t really be a matter of concern to the faithful whether unbeleivers draw him or not, no-one’s going to start worshipping a Charlie Hebdo cartoon.”

              Liked by 1 person

              • I realise it appears as if I was comparing the Mail and the Sun to CH, but I was not really intending to do so: I was simply listing publications here in the UK, my own context, that I think rely on prejudice for their world-view.
                I am a long-standing reader of Private Eye (not every issue, but pretty regularly, over many years), and yes, CH is perhaps comparable to that in certain regards. As I said in my blog, I occasionally read CH, but would not describe myself as an avid reader, not least since I did not like the way they approached so many issues!


  2. I really really need to correct you on one thing and it is that whatever pictures you might be looking at, they are not the only ones. French medias make a point of showing that French Muslims are just as much victims as any other French citizens and they are just as mobilized. We are desperately trying to form a unity here in France against extremism, and only referring to pictures that show the Caucasian type is wrong. We are genuinely all mobilized.
    Also, I think you are mistaken on what Jesuischarlie means at least here in France. It does not mean we agree or support anything the newspaper published (though they do receive a lot of support on it because their cartoonists is more than their writing journalists were mostly appreciated and agreed with all around because they did make fun of every religion, event, country, with no respect for anything, which satire does need.) What I mean to point out is that Jesuischarlie is a response to the ‘we killed Charlie hebdo’ shout by one of the killers. It is to say that NO you did not kill anything, you killed people who will become idols, symbolism of a freedom of speech that will only get stronger. Jesuischarlie is not an ode to the newspaper here, it is a scream of unity for the right to have an opinion and to express it without being exposed to a certain death. Charb had been followed around by 2 policemen for 8 years until yesterday. He knew his life was threatened even if he was not conscious of any immediate danger. He kept drawing and making fun of everything just as he always did and he is the epitome of freedom of speech. I just, I found your article interesting don’t get me wrong and I do agree with some of it BUT some of it just is not what is happening here amongst French citizens.

    English is obviously not my first language and being at a manifestation I am writing this from my phone so I apologize for any mistake.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Many thanks for taking the time to reply, especially whilst on the move, using your mobile telephone! It is much appreciated.

      I am sorry if I portrayed the demonstrations wrongly, but that is maybe something to do with the press. Although the link that Hamid provided in her tweet was to a racist newspaper here that might deliberately choose pictures like that, I have looked at other papers that have been publishing photos, and many show just ‘white faces’ – it is, of course, important that the unity is shown, and since publishing my blog, I have seen some interesting comments arguing exactly that, such as this: http://www.juancole.com/2015/01/sharpening-contradictions-satirists.html

      Regarding your second point: I was trying to differentiate between the journal and the journalists, and whilst I was aware of the origin of the ‘Je suis Charlie’ line, I wanted to clarify that from what I have seen of CH, it was not something I wanted to support. I should perhaps have made that point more clearly. Of course, I defend 100% the right of journalists to write what they like, and I was not questioning that, but I was questioning the journal. I don’t think it is satire to simply offend everyone regardless, without purpose, especially if the offence comes from prejudices and racism etc.

      Thanks again for your comments.


      • Ok I am on my phone and I had written a really damn long answer but it just got deleted. I am deeply sorry. I did not realize you actually thought Charlie Hebdo was ACTUALLY a magazine based on racist and islamophobic and discriminating ideologies. I am going to break it to you but you are SO DEEPLY WRONG ABOUT THAT. I get it, we all get it here, France is an old country and racism is frequent over here -albeit not in all objectivity more than in any other country considering the actual conjecture-. I also get that Charb and Cabu were the ones whose cartoons were the most crude amongst most French satirical cartoonist. I get that being a foreigner you see these drawings and think ‘oh god this black woman is represented with a monkey’s body HOW RACIST’ but we have gone through this day seeing more and more people wrongly taking this way which let me tell you is a damn ignorant’s way. I would expect someone who is planning on writing and article to look for more information and context. CH were known to criticize and denounce every injustice and event they considered horrendous. They made fun of us French the most, and not in the nicest way. They openly criticized Catholicism just as much as Islam or Jewish religion if not even more since the events of 2013 and the ‘manifs pour tous’. CH were not racist and they may have a lot I do not agree with, their integrity on this point is not something to be argued about. They are against any and all form of blind religious obscurantism, be it catholic, Islamic or else.
        I do get that looking for information on contexts of most cartoons is like hitting a wall of incomprehension because most website you will get across will be in french. Try and learn french or try and get information from french people or people who are cultivated about what happened in france along the past few years. I am getting tired of rewriting the message I already wrote before so I am just going to link you to this and hope you will read it until the end.


        God I cannot believe I didn’t write you this message in the first place and not the one above. Je suis Charlie, and there should not be any question about who is and who is not right now. We should all be, not because we agree with all of Charlie Hebdo’s usual content -which not a lot of people know about anyway- but because we DO agree on the fact that they were killed for denunciating extremism, by extremists. I believed you said you made some research for this article but I really don’t see where you picked up your information here.

        Again, sorry for any misspellings, still on my phone and a lot more sensitive and angry than I was earlier which I hope doesn’t make me any less clear here.


        • As I said in my blog, I have read occasional issues of CH. I’m aware of the mockery of French people and institutions in CH, but I still regard so much of what they published as part of a wider racist and Orientalist history (despite the link you included, for which, thank you). I think we will need to agree to disagree on this.


  3. Thank you for writing this article, Michael. Post-CH attacks, it has been interesting to see how the event is being framed (again!) as ‘terrorists attacking the Western-ideal of freedom of speech’. This does not provide any clarity to neither the attacks nor the motivations behind them. The same goes for branding them, unequivocally, as acts of ‘terrorism’. In the current milieu, this ‘automatically’ points to or being used as a synonym for Islam. What you have done, rather well, is to draw a distinction between the journalists and the journal itself. This provides a good response to those who claim that any valid analysis of this attack (such as yours, Juan Cole and others) means supporting the attackers.

    As for the first comment- it becomes difficult here to distinguish between the political/religious identities of both the attackers and the Western governments, I think. We cannot deny the attackers’ if they claim to be muslims. That identity marker, however, comes into focus in relation to the actions of the West in these countries, which are strongly politically motivated including framing this attack as a ‘terrorist’ act. To argue that the West places itself in a position to be a scapegoat excuses some of the morally reprehensive actions of these governments. As I understand it, your argument here is not ‘I told you so’; rather it is being aware that these events, attacks, incidents are not disconnected from each other. Causality can be established, albeit in a not so straight forward way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment.
      Indeed, all actions have consequences, but that doesn’t absolve anyone of responsibility for their actions, nor are the reactions necessary – they are contingent on a whole variety of circumstances.
      The vast majority of European Muslims do not go and fight in Iraq and Syria – whilst some do. The vast majority of European Jews do not go and fight in Israel against Gaza – whilst some do. Neither of these reactions are necessary, they are decisions people have taken for certain reasons.
      If we continue to ignore the fact that our militaries committing atrocities motivates other people against us, then things like the CH attack will continue to happen…


      • Hi there,
        Thanks for your article/ point of view.
        strangely enough, I never really get involve in discussions on blogs or social media but I thought I’d like to point out a couple of things that you might find relevant (or not)
        First of all, I’m a French guy who lives in the UK, and I usually try to stir away from mass emotional movement that tend to make us loose all rational and analytical thoughts.
        And yet after hesitating for a minute, I’ve put the “Je suis Charlie” sign on my Facebook page.
        It seemed very important to me.
        I totally admit that I feel very emotional about it all and that my judgement is flawed, but that’s okay, because it’s not really about judgement time for me right now.
        For a lot of left leaning thinking people in France, Charlie is an institution, one that I totally disagreed with over the last few years on certain points but one that I grew up with.
        Cabu, Wolinski are old guys that weren’t all about politics and provocation, they were poets, libertaires, story tellers with great sense of humor. I remember reading their cartoon stories from a very young age and they helped me (as well as other things obviously) to forge a political, moral, or critical conscience.
        Charlie was born in the 60’s in a super conservative country, and their stance on war, colonialism, religions, sexism was a massive breath of fresh air that already attracted them a lot of troubles.
        I’m not gonna go in great depth as what the paper was but you need to know that you would have found in Charlie articles with the exact view point as your second and third part of your comment, it was a pluralist newspaper with debates within its own journalists on various subjects.
        They had a go at everyone out there, all religions, warmongers, and all the bastards that make a profit out of people’s misery.
        Their editorial line was always refreshing because so different from the mainstream medias. Articles were written by real journalists, not just a bunch of guys who just want to provoke for the sake of it.
        I didn’t like it all, and often disagreed with some of it, but I felt like I was treated as an intellignet person who could make my own mind up.
        And yes a few years back, they went a way that made me stop reading it, their editorialist at the time forgot what the paper was about and took it a way that I didn’t like, but it wasn’t islamophobic, no way, some of the guys in there were liberals, humanist, bon vivant and preaching tolerance above all.
        They were also involved with many activist movement, helping the poor, the homeless, anti racism charities, animal right and so on. Do goodies putting money were their hearts were…
        On a personal level, a lot of people feel the same as I do, like we’ve lost someone close, figures that were totally part in the way we shaped our culture.
        And yes, in a context of a pretty racist France.
        They were essential.
        So, yes you’d be right to think that I’m too emotionally involved to discern anything, and that fact actually surprised me as I’m not usually swept by mass commemorations.
        And yet, I found out yesterday when a mate called me and told me, and before i heard or saw anything about it, I felt in shock, a part of me had crumbled, I can’t explained why.
        I realised afterwards that I wasn’t the only one.
        And it felt good to knoew that in troubled times like these, the French society that pisses me off so much usually for being so backward was getting out of its apathy, and decided to get out and show their respect.
        It wasn’t the death of a Royal ior a pop star, it was a act of defiance, of unity, we all share the same culture of peace and tolerance, and we also want to remember people and what they meant to us.
        And yes, the whole time I was thinking that in syria, Irak, Afgahnistan, Mali and so on, innocent people die every minutes.
        The reason why I think about this misery and I feel outraged by it, and it makes me want to readalternative views such as yours and other that I can find, I owe it to Charlie and its people.
        So yeah man, I’m sad, I’m gutted but I’m hopeful and glad that there’s people like you and millions of other out there to inform us and make us think, and yes I am Charlie.
        sorry if it all came outlike a massive bllaaarrggg, but there you go.
        Take care,

        Liked by 3 people

        • Seb, thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m very moved by what you have written.
          As I tried to suggest in the article, I don’t know CH well, but have read some of it in recent years. I’ve read several times since yesterday that it changed a few years ago, as you say here. I think that is what makes me wary of associating with the journal, though I want to identify with the absolute right of the journalists to write and draw whatever they like.
          Thanks again, your thoughts here are much appreciated.


  4. Hi Michael Marten!

    I admire you fluency with words and very well written article. However, if you don’t know CH well, as you say yourself in the article and in several of your answers to the coments, how can you dare comment so strongly on what has happened? Your whole article is based on what you assume or you think it is/ happened, but you have no real clue. So I might aswell comment about the fucking Aliens in Mars that I think are becoming very strongly antimuslim.
    As a French citizen I feel quite insulted and that you don’t even understand what JesuisCharlie means.
    Come to France my friend, come live here a couple of years, get to understand our culture, what Charlie Hebdo’s philosophy and humor is about and then, rewrite your article.

    And about the growing wave on “antimuslim” you are talking about, yes, no wonder this is happening. I have been molested 3 times in the last year (2014) and the 3 times it was related to Arab people. I live close to an Arab quartier, so I pass byoften there. They insulted me twice for wearing dresses and not covering my head. A third time I was shouted at in arabic when passing by at night coming back from a concert. It is very scary how they look at me and talk between them. The only unpleasant incidents I had in the streets of Paris was with muslims. I don’t have to cover my head nor be critized in my own country about how I dress. So yes, I would prefer that these people, if they want to keep their traditions or impose it to others (like supresing the liberty of expression CH!!), they are very welcome to stay in their countries. I am forced to cover my head if I go to Iran. so help me God if I’m going to accept to be verbally attacked in my own country because of muslims beliefs.
    My daughter’s teacher covers her head. 98% of the parents don’t want tolerate this. But the school has been threatened by muslims that they will do terrible things if they fire her or force her to teach with uncovered hair. What???? Do you find this normal? So because of all this fear, yes, I find it totally normal if people don’t want to have muslims around. I DO AGREE probably the big majority of muslims are not fanatics, but some people (ME INCLUDED!) are really scared. I haven’t been shouted nor insulted at by a christian or a jew. 3 times in 1 year, it was muslims. Could you please try to understand??


    ps: By the way, my husband is right now in Mali fighting some other muslim extremists, helping a LOT of Malian people againts the insurgent groups, so I think I have a little better picture of what “military atrocities” means in real life, not what you see in the papers. He was also 9 months in Afghanistan. Keeping Afghan women and children safe from the Talibans, giving medicines and water. So please be VERY careful what you say about our militaries, since the only input you have is the media. With how many soldiers have you spoken? Have you been in Afghanistan? Or any other place as a soldier? Have you seen in person what’s happening over there? Again, feeling insulted, very much.


    • Hi Sarah Blot, thank you for taking the time to comment.
      I am sorry that you feel insulted by what I have written – I was not intending to insult anyone.
      I clearly said that I had occasionally read CH: I have done so in relation to my academic work, which is focussed on Europeans and the Middle East. France is not my main area of research (UK and Germany are), but I am aware of wider European trends, and as I said, I certainly do know what #JesuisCharlie means and where it comes from; I was reinterpreting that in the context of what I was writing here.
      I am sorry to hear about your personal experiences, but French overseas policy has hardly been a positive influence in relationships between France and the Middle East etc., and it is therefore no surprise that this will have repercussions in France itself. If, as seems to be the case, the suspects have an Algerian connection, then we only need to look France’s long and bloody history with North Africa and especially Algeria to see evidence of this. The segregation of les banlieues and the 2005 riots further harm good relations, and this is before we come to the use of terms such as “bougnoles” as the backdrop to motivations. None of this is to excuse the CH murders, but I do want to try and understand them, and that means understanding that these motivational factors can make it relatively easy for al Qaida and others to recruit supporters (as the news clip I referred to in a previous comment showed). Of course, when you speak of ‘their countries’ it is the case that ‘their countries’ will often be France (or UK, or Germany), as many young Muslim people now speak European languages better than any Arabic dialect, having grown up here etc.
      For what it’s worth, I am actually acutely aware of the engagement of military forces in various parts of the world: members of my immediate family have been in the army, I have friends in the military, and I have lived and worked in the Middle East, as well as spent a lot of time in my academic work over the last 25 years researching these kinds of issues.
      Again, I’m sorry you were insulted, and I wish for the safe return of your husband from Mali.


    • Being able to wear want you want is just as integral to freedom as being able to say what you want. If a woman chooses to cover her hair, why shouldn’t she? She has just as much a right to as you do to wear your dress.

      I’ve never understood why people don’t get that.


  5. If you are so keen to see the perpetrators caight and pu ton trial why are you putting the piblicaiton on trial?

    Many people find the regimes of today ‘vile and repulsivee’ and if there’s ever been a place where challenges to all you’d like to consider normal and tidy it’s Paris. There are plenty of heavily offensive, satirical graphic magazines in the world – and for the purposes of your being able to post this blog even – you should thank whatever god you don’t believe in that they make them.

    To think that the vapid mainstream press is going to do anything other than over-simplify this story and reduce it to a soundbite is naive and the mark of an amateur. To take up the challenge, no matter how offensive or disgusting, to appreciate the existence of it, from the Dadaists to Charlie Hebdo (for a small range) is literary sophistication.

    I, for one, was with the peace, love and let’s discuss crowd up to this point. Hollande was correct: it was terrorism. It wasn ISLAMIC RADICAL TERRORISM. There is nothing so vile to me as all these religions and institutions claiming ‘peace’ but acting otherwise. From Catholic priests (and British Royals apparently) abducting and abusing young boys, to Jihads, to Christian fundamentalists rewriting history – Charlie Hebdo didn;t even come close to accurately depicting the rotten, bottom-feeding level of these hallowed agora.

    Those 40,000 year old cave paintings in the south of France are not typescript. Graphics are as part of the human condition as vocal sounds. Just because you clearly don’t ‘like’ CHarlie Hebdo, I don;t ‘like’ it, but this does not negate its validity.


    • I’m sorry, but I’m not completely sure what your point is. I’m not putting CH on trial, I am merely saying that whilst I support the right of journalists to write and draw whatever they want, I don’t feel any great appreciation for the way in which CH pursued its aims.
      It is noteworthy that many of the governments and journals arguing for free speech today, vociferously oppose it in other contexts. For example, the comedian Frankie Boyle tweeted about this today, and the Israeli government, who murdered the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali in 1987, was today praising free speech! Of course, I don’t expect the press and governments to pursue this, and that is why I appreciate the journalists at CH who dared to break the taboos. My question was: to what end did they do that as a journal?


      • Michael: it is so interesting to read — well, ok, skim — all of these replies, which are strikingly different from what I’m reading in my own facebook stream. Seek out Alex Shams’s post that begins with “it’s so difficult to have conversations with people who can’t realize that while you’re forced to mourn their tragedies, they’ve never had to mourn yours.” Very powerful.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Ellen,
          Likewise – but perhaps both of us move in circles that reflect differently on these things? It’s why I write a blog…
          I am shamelessly copying Alex Shams’ post here, because I think it so worth sharing widely. Thanks for the pointer.
          Alex Shams:

          It’s so difficult to have conversations with people who can’t realize that while you’re forced to mourn their tragedies, they’ve never had to mourn yours. The hubris of people demanding you be silent and shut up when someone who looks like them or thinks like them gets killed, but who have never realized that you watched them be silent every time someone who looks like you or thinks like you died.
          If I don’t post an apology, I’m an “apologist” for terrorism?
          And where the hell are all of your apologies?
          How does it feel to live such a privileged life, where your tragedies are the world’s tragedies? Knowing that whatever happens in your country or to people who look like you, the whole world will know, the whole world SHOULD know, the whole world must mourn and respect your tragedy, the whole world must recognize, the whole world should cower in fear trying to predict what the reaction will be, what new policies your government will impose on the rest of the world, or on the hungry trying to reach its shores, or on the “others” within, or, or, or…
          That your sadness and your mourning must be felt by us all; that even those who merely dare to question if it is right to make martyrs out of the imperfect should be silenced, for this is “our tragedy,” these are “our dead,” this is an “attack on all of us,” don’t you see?
          There will be no mockery. There will be no cartoons suggesting those slaughtered in cold blood “had it coming” or blaming “corrupt leaders they voted for” for the corpses of the innocents scattered in the street. There will be no callous news hosts who don’t realize how much it makes you want to throw up when they ask you: “Do mothers in your country even value their children’s lives? Don’t they dance in the streets when their kids die? Why don’t black men just get jobs? What about black-on-black crime? Couldn’t she have just stayed in her own country?”
          You will never have to endure friends and acquaintances and strangers and randoms in your “Other” folder asking you why those children in Gaza “didn’t just run away?,” mocking a decade of killing in Iraq that all began with a US invasion that everyone’s already forgotten about by calling it an “ancient sectarian rivalry,” acquaintances at parties making rape jokes about the number of African-American men behind bars, people you barely know messaging you to tell you that “it was their fault anyways” and that it’s not the right time to say things like…
          “Next it will be you,” they say. “But don’t you see?” I respond, “it already was me.”
          Isn’t there a context to this? What about all those wars I’ve been mentioning for years? All those facebook posts of young black men killed by white police, all the short articles about Afghan wedding parties bombed by drones? The years of discrimination and racism that became so ordinary it was no longer newsworthy enough to write about? The time I tried to tell you and you told me I was being “sensitive” or “exaggerating”?
          How does it feel to know that the one time in recent history a Muslim sets a bomb off in Paris or Madrid or London, it’s perfectly normal to expect to hear people say ‪#‎KillAllMuslims‬, or to randomly tell you that “Islam is the root of all of our problems” and “Muslims can’t integrate” and “There’s no reason for them to be mad, this is about their religion, don’t make excuses”?
          And every time Israel bombed the shit out of Gaza and killed more people than have ever died in Paris in the last 7 decades and I said Zionism was fucked up? I was crazy. And every time the US or France or the UK or someone else invaded a majority-Muslim country and set the whole place on fire and I said “invading people makes them hate you”? You said “oops.” And every time a black man got arrested or killed or beaten up and joined the millions in jail and I said “white supremacy is fucked”? You said “racial harmony takes time.”
          Fuck that, and fuck you.
          Think about how you feel right now. And try to feel like that again next time the victim doesn’t look like you, and next time the victim doesn’t think like you. Cause I am damn tired of trying to justify why every word coming out of your mouth sounds like such a tired, sorry, racist cliche.
          And I am tired of you expecting me to mourn your dead when you never gave a shit about mourning mine.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. I am only a house-mother but condem what happened in Paris and my thoughts and prayer are for 14 innocent victims their wounded ones and their relatives and friends. Our society is democratic, so if you don’t like what you read ignore it. Everybody is free to say or write on a subject. For 90% I agree what you are writing but why is IS killing their muslim-brothers and sisters? This is disgusting and I feel very sorry who lost a family-member(s) in that horrific way. My sincere thoughts are with them. What about the 100 schoolkids murdered in Pakistan? Did we hold a gathering for them? The world is not nice at the moment but we have to live with it. If people migrate to a different country they are taking in the laws and rules what is in that country and tradition can you keep in your own place be it in house or hall and thats everyone’s responsibility.


    • The rise of IS is intimately linked to the western invasion of Iraq. And Muslims often attack other Muslims, just as Christians attack other Christians, for example. That is not to excuse it, but it is not exceptional.
      As people travel and migrate and have children in new locations, societies will change – ideally they will do that of their own choice and then the change has a good chance to be positive, but it will happen whether they want it or not.


  7. I didn’t manage to read further than the first paragraph…. You express yourself, give your views on a lengthy blog of opinion, on somthing I don’t think you have any knowledge of: you classified Charlie Hebdo as racist, full of prejudices, etc… You said you have read it a few times. Be honest: once, twice? Did you actually understood anything of your read?
    Charlie Hebdo was fighting intolerance and any form of fanatism and extremism. They were fighting islamic fanatics sure (hence the Mohammed drawing saying “it’s difficult to be loved by idiots”, aimed not at muslims in general, but fanatics, the same kind of people who murdered these cartoonists), but also Jewish, Catholic, etc. fanatics.
    They were also fighting extreme right, anti-muslim movements, in short they were defending tolerance and humanity against fanatics and “idiots”.
    A bit of research, read of what these cartoonists have done, inside and outside of Charlie Hebdo, will show you that.
    It was a newapaper with tendency towards left-wing and ecologists ideas. In the UK, the party closest to it would be the Green Party I think.
    Sure cartoon drawings can be offensive. Nude and sex drawings can be offensive to some chilfren, Mohammed drawing will be offensive to some Muslims, drawings of homosexual couples will be offensive to anti-gay people, but does mean they shouldn’t be drawn?
    In such case give up cartoons, and even humour.
    So please, check what you are writting about first. Classisifying Charlie as racist and full of prejudice is plain wrong and makes me very angry. The people who died were fighting for the opposite, that’s why there were killed. I hope you realise this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have now managed to read the rest of your blog entry, and I agree with most of it.
    But please, please, don’t classify Charlie Hebdo as racist. If there are people who don’t deserve this name, that’s them. They were fighting for the same things you seem to fight for, except they were using drawings, satyre and caricatures. Please, give them justice and at least acknowledge this.


  9. Nice article Michael.
    I am a Pakistani Muslim & honestly speaking, we have suffered the most at the hands of these fanatics. I agree that there should be freedom of speech & I feel really sorry for the families of the poor victims. Who knows better than us what loosing an innocent life in the face of these barbaric thinkers feels like? We loose our beloveds every other day! We seriously feel dead, senseless whenever we come to know of any new act of terrorism.
    All I want to say on this is that we need unity. Unity against these barbarians. I have seen few of those cartoons & I can relate how offended these people must be. But this is not the only reason behind their attack. They want to alienate us Muslims from the rest of the world. Then this is fact that USA, Israel & their allies are some how or the other supporting them. Be it cartoon controversy or the killing of small children is Gaza, they are funding terrorism financially & by providing weapons. They condemn ISIS on one end & provide them support on the other hand. These jihadists from Afghanistan were fed by US in anti-Soviet war. Now that their tamed animals are attacking them, they are bad?
    We MUST have an unbiased approach towards our fellow human beings. Either they are children from Gaza, Peshawar or the West, these are our children. Innocent victims from any part of the World are Innocent for all others. When we have such an unbiased approach towards one another, only then can we expect some betterment in future. Otherwise slowly & gradually, more & more Nations would feel dead like we do. And I really hope this doesn’t happen…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting, Syeda Ali.
      Yes, your country has suffered greatly in this context.
      I agree that a key purpose of this attack was undoubtedly to foster further division, and so it is imperative that the French government do not fall into that trap. I very much hope that they will follow the model of Norway from the 2011 attacks, when the Prime Minister said that what was needed to counter this was “more democracy, more openness, but not naivety”, rather than attacks on Muslims. And we in the West need to do much more to prevent our governments from their drone attacks on Pakistan and elsewhere…
      Please do also look for the Alex Shams text in my reply to Ellen Fleischmann here. I think you might like it.


  10. i think you missed the meaning of ‘Je Suis Charlie’, Lesley. Je Suis Charlie was a simple expression of solidarity with writers, journalists, poets, campaigners and cartoonists who articulate our thoughts and reflect them back to us. Those thoughts can take us to some strange, tasteless places, but iif we self-censor for fear of repercussions from criminal gangs using religion in the most cynical way, then we empower them. It was a clear, effective statement that could be transmitted across the world and allow anyone anywhere to gain from collective strength in the face of this horrific intimidation. THe specifics of the Charlie Hebdo magazine were neither here nor there in that context. Je Suis Charlie worked brilliantly yesterday and I hope people continue to draw strength and solidarity from it.


      • The journalists were the journal : Cabu, Charb, Tignous, they were the spirit of the Charlie Hebdo. They’d gather everyday at 10am and discuss different topics before drawing their satirical cartoons.


  11. Pingback: I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, and other thoughts | Gnstr's blog

  12. Urgh, yet another cool liberal navel gazing apologist “hey, it’s all our fault really” article. Seriously ? Sitting here in Northern Ireland, tell me again how we only call violent Muslim extremists terrorists ? Is your field of view really so narrow and your memory really so short ? Is your grasp of post war European history so lacking that you do not recall any other groups being called terrorists ? And please, tell me what terrible things Kenya, Nigeria and Somalia have done that has brought about the horrific and violent actions of jihadists ? We in Europe need to stop blaming ourselves and instead ask what has happened to and within Islam that has seen the growth of this abhorrent manifestation of that religion. Ask this, and ask the Islamic clerics and scholars what it is that they intend to do about it.


    • In the present context, I’d maintain my usage of ‘terrorist’ here was correct, in a wider context of contemporary Islamophobia. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t used elsewhere in other conflicts.
      As I said in the blog, everything is connected. Colonial domination over many parts of the world (remember the wonderful British and the Mau Mau in Kenya, mineral exploitation in Nigeria initiated under – oh, British – colonial control, and Somalia, left by the British and Italians and run by warlords, that Islamists tried to overthrow?) has long-standing effects, and if we pretend history does not matter in such circumstances, we will never successfully address the roots of violence. There is nothing inherently Islamic about any of the reactions to the events that have arisen – these are common reactions of oppressed people in all kinds of circumstances. I’m not saying “it’s all our fault really” but I am saying we need to acknowledge our complicity in these matters.


    • I am also from Northern Ireland and would argue that we are, in some ways, an example of what Michael is talking about. It was the British media who labelled the IRA, the PIRA, UVF and so on as terrorists. Each group had their own phrasing – paramilitaries, freedom fighters, soldiers and so on. Why did the British media do this – at the behest (probably diktat) of the British government, who lets be very clear created many of the problems that Northern Ireland had for so long and are only slowly emerging from now. Acknowledging the role of the British government in their colonial or imperial actions in Northern Ireland in no way detracts from, nor removes the responsibility for their own actions of those paramilitary groups. Refusing to acknowledge it by allowing an uncritiqued use of the phrase ‘terrorist’ serves to whitewash over the culpability of the Government. That is what Michael is arguing – that the cause of such horrendous acts is never a simple cartoon, but it is built up many over years and through various actions by other countries, and by aspects of Islam’s infrastructure itself. He is pointing to, or asking for a wider analysis than we are currently seeing – surely if we have learned anything from the experiences of Northern Ireland, it is the value of just such a thing. Two final interesting points emerge here – first being that the phrase “religious terrorist” did not appear until post 9/11, and second that it is only since the emergence of that phrase that there have been public calls for others within a so called ‘community’ that the “terrorist” apparently belongs to have been asked to publicly condemn their actions and demonstrate that they do hold the same views. We were never asked or expected to do so, nor has any other group until we get to Islam -what are really asking from them, and them alone? Are we really asking them to prove that they are us?

      Liked by 1 person

    • No, I absolutely did not say that. I said three times, very clearly, that I condemn the attacks. Nothing can justify murder.
      I have seen the article you link to (I read it soon after it came out, I think), and I could equally point you to many that disagree. You might want to have a look at the writing of Abdullahi An-Naim, who understands ‘religion’ in a more nuanced and contextualised way than Bidar does here.


  13. Dude, I had a long-ass answered all ready for you. But in the end, I’ll summarize it with one question:

    What is your fucking point?

    Throughout your pseudo-intellectual, nutter bullshit, you successfully shove almost every leftist-101 buzzword: Irak, drones, islamophobia, racism, far-right, oil companies… You’re just missing out on “Israel” and “zionism”, but I see that your commenters did it for ya.
    As if all this was, in any fucking way, related to what happened in Paris two days ago. As if Cabu, Wolinski and their colleagues launched the war in Irak, or supported Israel (hint: they didn’t, and they didn’t).

    What they did though, is oppose religious madness of every kind. The same religious madness that you and your buddies, obsessed by your fight against the evil capitalist/zionist pigdogs, if not support, share common interests with. The ennemy of my ennemy is my ally, right?

    And I mean, seriously. Whenever I end up on one of those lame-ass blogs, it’s always the same shit. No matter what you’re writing about, it always comes down to “Dubbya this, Israel that”. You’re as pathetically laughable as your far-right opponents, except they say “Muslims that, jews this”

    You aren’t Charlie. Don’t worry though: none will regret you. You don’t have a tenth of the talent or the insight of these murdered innocents. While they brought something original, and – yes – offensive, you’re just random-left/brown-blogger #258.

    There’s one difference between you and Charlie Hebdo. Charlie Hebdo did not compromise. They could make fun of both Dubbya and muslim nutjobs. While you, in your zeal to fight the former, conveniently brush the laters under the carpet.


    • And for the sake of discussion, let me turn around your question:

      Where are all those european muslims, so eager to take to the street and burn down cars whenever someone in Israel sneezes over a Palestinian, today? Why do I only see a handful of them in the silent and peaceful marches that took place?

      Couldn’t we expect that those people, having been offered everything France, despite all her flaws, has to offer – healthcare, education, protection, freedom – would feel as much empathy for their countrymates, for their neighbors, as they do for people who live thousands of kilometers away, and with whom they have no relation whatsoever other than following the same (pardon my french: stupid) religion? Is that too much to ask?

      As long as muslims will feel muslim before feeling french/german/english, racism will keep growing.


    • Seeking to understand someone’s actions is not the same as justifying their actions.
      Condemning the murder of journalists does not mean I automatically support their journal.


  14. While its obvious that recent disastrous Western interventions in the Middle East have added to the rise of ‘Islamic’ attacks in the West, the fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the fire bombing and attacks on translators of ‘The Satanic Verses’ suggest that there is a strong strain of Muslim thought that doesn’t support what Western liberals would characterise as free speech. The Rushdie fatwa pre-dated the ongoing disasters wrought by the US-UK in Iraq and Afghanistan. My point is that the attack on CH is hardly a first.
    As a left-wing atheist in Scotland, I’d say its getting harder to find common ground, to integrate and be tolerant of a religion which can find (a few extreme) adherents to machine gun 130 Pakistani Muslim children, that kidnaps girls from schools in Nigeria and kills journalists and aid workers in Syria. I understand this is not ‘Islam’ and we should condemn the act rather than the religion, but let’s be honest, it’s getting harder, much harder.


    • Yes, it is getting harder. We need to do what we can to try and make it easier, but we haven’t been doing a good job of that recently (actually, since the colonial era!). A start would be some empathy with the victims of our foreign policy – whilst individuals may have that, our governments seem remarkably untouched by it. You might like this text from Alex Shams in an earlier comment, if you haven’t seen it already.


  15. You know, I would be just as unenthusiastic about seeing hard-line Protestants or anti-abortionist, anti-gay Catholics given prominence in public life as I am about certain strains of Islam.
    But it is surely unarguable that currently, Islamic states are less compatible with free speech and equal rights? On that basis, as tolerant as I try to be, I’m going to struggle.

    The head of State in a Muslim republic – Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini – issued a death sentence on a novelist in 1989. And, today, Saudi Arabia flogged a liberal blogger for ‘insulting Islam.’

    You think that if we (and our governments) show “some empathy with the victims of our foreign policy” that the theological position of some strains of Islam would change? Really?


    • But I think you are asking the wrong question. I think the question is: are these things happening because these states describe themselves as Islamic? What about apartheid South Africa that murdered and repressed opponents and claimed it was based on Christian values? In 1987 Israel, describing itself as Jewish, had the cartoonist Naji al-Ali murdered. And Britain, claiming to be a sort-of-secular-but-still-sort-of-Christian state had three Irish opponents murdered in 1988 in Gibralter. Let’s not forget the USA engaging in torture! And today Britain imprisons asylum seekers incl. children in shocking conditions. And so on…
      I am not equating all of these with horrific things like the flogging of Raif Badawi (and yes, I did participate in the Amnesty action against this), but if we do not seek to understand and recognise our own culpabilities and try to put ourselves in the place of others and see that we are not that different, then building meaningful relationships really will get harder and harder.


      • I’m not a historian, but I suggest the ‘struggle’ between Islam and nominally Christian states predates ‘modern’ colonialism by several centuries. I have no desire to be ahistorical in trying to understand the state of the world, but how far back should we go to contextualise this?

        Your examples are a bit obvious and, although important, I don’t think they help shed much light on this specific case. On one hand we lefty-liberals (me) can all oppose appalling US-UK policies in the Middle East, we can support Palestine, but are we really comfortable with Hamas?

        You think I’m asking the wrong question? Ah, let be more clear: My question is to ask if there is something about Islam that is, at some level, incompatible with widely-held Western ideas about freedom of expression, of speech, dress, sexuality and gender equality? Which, given the global reaction, the CH attack has brought to the surface.


        • Well, if that’s your question, I still don’t think it’s the right one! 🙂
          Which Islam are you talking about? That of the policeman, Ahmed Merabet? Of the brothers who carried out the murders? Of (since you’re also Scottish) Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh or Humza Yousaf? Of Muhammad Mursi? Of Sayeeda Warsi? Of the shopkeeper down the road? Of the millions of Muslims in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Shia Iran, Shia-majority Bahrain, or the Sunni countries in the Middle East, with Muslims belonging to different schools of thought?
          The point is that there is no one ‘thing’ called Islam – there are many Islams, in the same way that there are many Christianities, many secularisms etc. etc. If you want to read more about this, have a look at a project I’m involved in on these questions (and maybe this blog posting I recently wrote there might be of interest to you).
          So if that is your question, my answer has to be ‘no’, not least because it doesn’t address the variety of experiences and interpretations of 1 billion+ Muslims. (Of course, none of the attributes you list couldn’t also be said of other traditions, for example…)

          Liked by 1 person

  16. Michael, I sincerely admire you for taking the courage to write your post as well as for taking so much time and energy to carefully reply to everyone sharing here their grievances (which are also appreciated).

    In your original post you point to the intricate complexities underlying current events, and bravely problematise it all by bringing up the cultural and historical contexts within which they are situated. I think the postcolonial undertone of your article represents for many a confusing and troubling twist that may seem to be merely attempting to make everything just more complex for the sake of it, and in so doing, fails to offer what we are so used to have: the simplistic picture which would help us make some sense of the events, or the unproblematised stance which would ‘feel good’ to embrace. You just problematise and offer no clear-cut solutions. And I think it’s wonderful.

    Perhaps we are just too used to seeing the world through the grand narratives of European History and Enlightenment and we really don’t know how to position ourselves when the picture gets so complex. Language, power, identities, race, histories, religion? We need time. I want to believe that we will eventually start to understand it. I push myself to believe it.

    I just wanted to sincerely thank you for taking the time to explain it all so calmly, because I personally struggle to find the energy to do it myself; an energy I respect, appreciate and admire in you. Please keep doing it, it is refreshing to read someone just bringing more questions and no answers.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Micheal, I have read your entry and your comments again, and I find it actually makes less and less sense to me.
    So yes you are right, there are a number underlying problems that gave rise to the current situation, and many are caused by the West. However, in your very intelligent “I can see the context and the big picture that everybody else doesn’t see” talk, why didn’t you talk about water supply shortage, energy crisis, the “peak of everything” issue, the increase of inequalities around the world, corruption, power and political fight among the Arabic countries, and among the rest of the world, ultra-liberalism, etc…
    I sincerely believe all these issues are rooted with the problems we face at the moment.

    But I think you missed a major point about this “Je suis Charlie” thing. The cartoonists killed were provocative, that’s for sure. However, the believed in mankind, and had generous views about the world. What they tried to achieve with their satires, was to fight for tolerance and freedom, against any intolerant figures. They were major figures in France, in particularly in the left-wing circles, with post May-1968 ideas. They were providing laughter and humours, as weapons against idiots and intolerance. They showed all the wrongs things in the world, but in a way that would make you smile, and keep hope and the idea to fight intolerance. They offered the energy to still enjoy life in a very sad world.
    They were far from the racists and intolerants you describe. That’s really where I have a problem with what your wrote, and I really think you should inform yourself a bit more on what these people have done. A bit of help (in French, sorry, but you can apparently read it fluently):

    In short you try to give your educated view, but I don’t think you know what you are talking when you talk about Charlie. I think you totally missed the point of how people react now – we aren’t discussing causes of what these killers have done. We know some of them and you forgot many, many of them in your enlightened list. We discuss what these cartoonist represented. And I don’t think you are in position to give a judgement, I believe if you were informing yourself more about them, you would revise your thought.
    And please don’t invoke the fallacious ” I talk about the journal not the journalists” argument. Journals are made of journalists, and who can’t dissociate them. That’s particularly true for a small structure like Charlie.

    Looking forward to have a productive exchange of views with you.


    • I have at no point suggested that “I can see the context and the big picture that everybody else doesn’t see” – that might be your interpretation, but is not what I have sought to suggest at any point. I would have thought the reason I didn’t mention all the issues you list here is pretty obvious: this is a blog posting, not a book! Of course there are a multitude of issues arising here, but I chose to focus on a few key ones for a short blog. If you want to read my longer works, see my (somewhat out of date) publications list!
      Thank you for the links (my French is far from fluent – I didn’t say that, either! – but I can read enough for my work). I found the piece on Wolinski particularly moving. I appreciate that you feel strongly about this, but if I look at these images in a context of European caricatures of Others over a long period, I see tropes and patterns that are repeated again and again, based on certain kinds of racist and Orientalist stereotypes. These form a European imagery that creates an image of the Oriental in order to position the Occident in opposition to, and more importantly, as superior to the Orient. Edward Said articulated this in his famous book (English, French), Orientalism (very brief summary here); this video might be of interest to you on this topic.
      As for the differentiation between the journal and the journalists: of course, a small publication in particular is defined by the people that produce content for it, and I was not disputing that. But my differentiation is not, I think, a fallacious one. I defend the right of the journalists to produce what they like, but I do feel under no obligation to identify with the journal, nor to justify its existence. This blog posting might be of interest to you in this regard.


Comments are closed.