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(What) might we learn from R Crumb and from Charlie Hebdo?

January 8, 2015

May I just start this post by expressing my deep sadness at the senseless killing of Stéphane Charbonnier, Cabu, Tignous, Wolinski, Bernard Maris, the two yet to be identified police officers trying to protect them, and the five other individuals murdered and still not identified publicly by the French authorities investigating the tragedy? My thoughts and prayers are for their grieving families, and for their nation, and for our world. And please know that my sentiments here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my other co-bloggers here at BLT, each of whom I respect very much.

I posted some time ago asking, “(What) might we learn from Adolf Hitler and from Otto Weininger?” Laura Ziesel had been asking about learning from St. Augustine and Martin Luther, which was also prompting my additional questions again about learning from R. Crumb and Aristotle. To be fair to my cobloggers and everybody else, although these questions of mine are mine, I am always interested in What are your questions? And so I’d asked.

At another blog, getting at Aristotle’s mindset and method behind his gynophobia and misogyny, I had asked Bible bloggers excited about cartoonist R. Crumb’s sexist and racist illustration of the first of the Five Books of Moses whether they were okay with the illustrator’s legacy of hatred of women, and his anti-Semitic and anti-black racisms. These questions produced a series of posts:

Where does fear and hatred begin in the mind of a young man, like Hitler, and how is it spread?

How is this rhetoric in Germany expressing hatred of Jews different from this rhetoric in France expressing hatred of Muslims in the extreme?

Carolyn Wyatt for the BBC has let all of us in the world know this:

In rational, post-Enlightenment Europe, religion has long since been relegated to a safe space, with Judaism and Christianity the safe targets of satire in secular western societies.

Not so Islam. The battle within Islam itself between Sunni and Shia, so evident in the wars of the Middle East, and the fight between extremist interpretations of Islam such as those of Islamic State and Muslims who wish to practice their religion in peace, is now being played out on the streets of Europe with potentially devastating consequences for social cohesion….

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, some five million or 7.5% of the population, compared with Germany’s four million or 5% of the population, and the UK’s three million, also 5% of the population.

And so I think we all will want to ask questions as I go lumping Charlie Hebdo in with R. Crumb and all my questions. Didn’t the Holocaust happen in “post-Enlightenment Europe,” this “safe space”? Can Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with their respective middles and extremes and fundamentalisms be lumped together as needing safe spaces? Can Charlie Hebdo and R. Crumb and Rabbis, Priests, and Imams and heads of state, women and men, express themselves safely and peacefully? When wars and terror really are not okay for anybody anytime, then when are wars of words and terrible images that betray fears and hatreds okay?

Is what a former contributor to Charlie Hebdo writes something we might learn from? These are my questions? What are yours?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2015 10:58 am

    I think you are right to search for the right questions. I hope others chime in. Certainly some questions have occurred to me but I cannot form them yet in a font.

    As to what does not apply, I am wary of the ‘safe space’ and relegation words. The spirit of a human is neither safe nor able to be isolated from these nihilistic or fatalistic frames. The lust to power, to be God, over others is too strong. So how do we begin and continue to nurture the delegation of power from one generation to another?

  2. Stephanie permalink
    January 8, 2015 12:57 pm

    Thank you for your post and the opportunity to comment. These are my thoughts this morning even as I feel great sadness for the world and all involved in this event.

    My thoughts are informed by Peacemaker Ministries slippery slope. I think the question is do we want peace and do we want to be peacemakers and do the hard work involved?

    Peacemaking responses: overlook, reconciliation, negotiation, arbitration, accountability

    Escape responses: denial, flight, suicide

    Attack responses: assault (verbal – gossip, slander, name calling, ? satire, damage financially and professionally) (physical – force, intimidation, violence, terror), litigation, murder

    I have always had some difficulty with satire. If satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize what one person/group views as another
    person/group’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics, religion and other topical issues and is synonymous with mockery, derision, scorn, caricature, etc. then it could often be seen as an attack response, a verbal assault.

    People tend to use attack responses when they are more interested in controlling others and in getting their own way than in preserving or establishing a respectful, tolerant (the true definition implies a disagreement) relationship and peace.

    Do we want peace? Are enough of us willing to do the hard work of breaking the cycle of verbal and physical assault, litigation and murder? I am hoping.

  3. January 8, 2015 6:37 pm

    Bob, Thank you for your comment and confession that you cannot yet form the questions you have.

    Stephanie, Your thoughts are very much appreciated, and your questions, as you express your sadness and your hope.

    I do hope everybody who has taken time to read my post will click on my link (at the end) to the post by Olivier Cyran here. In particular, I am drawn to what Cyran writes about Islam in Indonesia (where coincidentally I had to the good fortune to live for four years) and then to his insistence two paragraphs later that his former colleagues of Charlie Hebdo need to see Muslims who do not deserve the racist cartoons:

    Vous avez raison, arabe et musulman, ce n’est pas la même chose. Mais vous savez quoi ? Musulman et musulman, ce n’est pas pareil non plus. Sachez qu’il y en a de toutes sortes, riches ou pauvres, petits ou grands, sympathiques ou revêches, généreux ou rapiats, désireux d’un monde meilleur, réactionnaires ou même, oui, intégristes. Or, dans Charlie Hebdo, rien ne ressemble davantage à un musulman qu’un autre musulman. Toujours représenté sous les traits d’un faible d’esprit, d’un fanatique, d’un terroriste, d’un assisté. La musulmane ? Toujours une pauvre cloche réductible à son foulard, et qui n’a d’autre fonction sociale que d’émoustiller la libido de vos humoristes.

    And I hope readers won’t just stop there.

    And there is, today, this article from Jacques Hyzagi of Charlie Hebdo, who understandably incensed, nonetheless, spews sexism and racism and slaps at (our) American ignorances about France. Here’s the link to his essay “Islamist Cunts” and here’s an excerpt:

    Being a Muslim or a Jew in France is equal to being black in the United States. You are not second-class but you are. In this sense, Charlie Hebdo, where I worked under its founder Professor Choron years ago, is very French. It is impossible for an American to imagine such a publication here. Mad Magazine was to Charlie Hebdo what Taylor Swift is to Robert Crumb. Spy Magazine could have been Charlie Hebdo if only Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson had had interests other than star fucking. Imagine a Time magazine cover with a drawing of President Obama with his dick out… well Charlie Hebdo did it with the socialist President Francois Hollande after his proclivities to betray every single one of his campaign promises and to govern as a philandering Milton Friedman were revealed.

    And then I hope readers will listen to Art Speigelman saying:

    the Jyllands-Posten-a newspaper with a history of anti-immigrant bias-seemed somewhat disingenuous when it wrapped itself in the mantle of free speech to invite cartoonists to throw pies at the face of Muhammad last September [2005].

    Speigelman (who produced Maus and Metamaus, the latter reviewed by my co-blogger Theophrastus here and the former noted as one of the top books on the Holocaust by him here) has said even more today. Here Speigelman is speaking with Tariq Ramadan about Charlie Hebdo. Their conversation is worth our listening to.

  4. January 9, 2015 12:01 am

    Thanks for starting this conversation, Kurk. I have been struck by a few comments people have made on twitter, although I can’t find them now so I can’t credit them:

    – in response to the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign, @Ahboujahjah tweeted, “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JeSuisAhmed.”

    Read more about Ahmed Merabet.

    – Many people have commented that satire punches up, not down. @saladinahmed said it most succinctly: “In an unequal world, satire that ‘mocks everyone equally’ ends up serving the powerful.”

    – @DwayneDavidPaul pointed out that “It’s possible to decry the murders of 12 people in France without writing hagiography of an islamophobic satirist.”

    I feel that too often, we are presented with false dichotomies: if we don’t support absolute unfettered freedom of speech, then we must support the terrorists. I remember this after 9/11, too: anyone who tried to suggest that, you know, maybe, US foreign policy had been pretty shitty in some respects, was immediately shouted down as supporting the terrorists. In actuality, they were just trying to analyze the situation, see whether there was anything we might have done to provoke anger and retaliation. Doing that kind of analysis, and considering whether and how to change our actions so as not to give such provocation, is not equivalent to saying “the terrorists were justified.” There’s a huge difference between “I can see why they were angry” and “They clearly had every right to blow up buildings and kill people because they were angry.”

    I am also very frustrated by calls to denounce the terrorist attacks. Really? Seriously? People need for other people to denounce terrorism? This doesn’t go without saying?

  5. January 9, 2015 11:18 am

    It is curious to me that I read Je suis Ahmed as Jesu is Ahmed.

  6. January 12, 2015 1:32 pm

    My question is: how can we prevent events like this attack without intolerable infringments on our freedom?

    If there were a wild animal wandering through the city killing people, we would take action to prevent that. We would kill it, or trap and relocate it, or make better fences to protect people — we would take action to protect ourselves.

    But in the case of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it is other people doing the killing and we don’t know who they are until they attack. Or maybe we do. At least one of the attackers was known to the intelligence services from a previous prison sentence. Maybe we need to treat low-grade terrorist-like infractions with the severity that we treat low-grade drug infractions in the US.

    I don’t know the answer. I prefer not to have the government listening to all my phone calls and reading all my email. The people who would be hired to do that job would be as corruptible as anybody else, and the system would become a shortcut to our very own KGB / Stasi / Gestapo.

    But I also prefer not to die because some nut-job doesn’t like what I said about his religion. If we accept the philosophy of these attackers, then *I* am perfectly entitled to go kill *him* because I am insulted by the things *he* says.

    It’s a hard question to answer.

  7. January 12, 2015 1:56 pm

    In response to the question:

    How is this rhetoric in Germany expressing hatred of Jews different from this rhetoric in France expressing hatred of Muslims in the extreme?

    I think I see a clear answer: The Nazi propaganda is hate against Jews for what they are. The Charlie Hebdo cover is satire against radical Muslims for what they DO.

    The covers says “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”. This is a satire of the propensity of radical Islamists to impose punishments that we consider insanely severe, including whippings, such as the guy in Saudi Arabia who is being punished with 1000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment for “insulting Islam”.

    ( http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30744693 )

    A person born of Jewish parents will always be a Jew in the eyes of the Nazis. The Saudi government has a choice of whether to torture people that say things that it doesn’t like. ISIS has the choice of whether to kill foreign journalists or not. The Taliban has the choice of whether to kill people who cooperate with the Afghan government or not.

    Does that not make them fair game for satire?

  8. January 12, 2015 2:13 pm

    In response to gaudetetheology:

    “I am also very frustrated by calls to denounce the terrorist attacks. Really? Seriously? People need for other people to denounce terrorism?”

    It would appear that we do. There are obviously people who have not carried out a terrorist attack but might do so in the future. These people are hearing respected religious leaders (from their own faction) praise the attacks and encourage more similar attacks. We need for the fence-sitters to see the opposing message. If there is only one message being spoken, they may well assume there is only one message to hear.

    Obviously, it is not enough for *me* to denounce terrorism. By the Koran’s definition, I am an infidel, and therefore an enemy. But if they hear the denunciation from one of their own leaders, perhaps it will have some effect.

  9. January 12, 2015 3:21 pm

    Thanks, Victoria (aka gaudetetheology). Good questions.

    And, Bob, you crack me up. Have you seen this – “Another woman walked through the crowd waving a placard with the words ‘Je suis Musulman, je suis Charlie‘ – ‘I am Muslim, I am Charlie’ written on it.” – ?

    A Dying Atheist, Good questions. I would guess that the intention of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons that Charlie Hebdo reproduced and continues with is to provoke a response. Some say the French paper was just looking for ways to boost sluggish sales. A perhaps unintended consequence of publishing the offensive satires is to do what Nazi anti-Semitic cartoons did: a group of people.gets disparaged.


    I appreciate what Salman Rushdie has emphasized recently:

    I said earlier this week that there’d been a deadly mutation in the middle of Islam. This is not a random mutation… This has been a mutation that a lot of work has been put into. Governments, from the Sunni side the Saudi government, on the Shia side the Iranian government, have been putting fortunes of money into making sure that extremist mullahs are preaching in mosques around the world, and in building and developing schools in which a whole generation is being educated in extremism—and trying to prevent other forms of education. I want to express my grief for our fallen comrades. These are people who died doing what we do—being rude about people. But, in a way, we’re the sideshow. This is a project to seize power within the Islamic world. And whether it’s the Taliban, or ISIS, or Boko Haram, or al-Shabaab, or any of these groups, what they’re trying to do is to create a mindset which allows them to conquer the world of Islam.

    And I also appreciate that Rachel Ufer stressed this:

    We deeply regret this incident and want to apologize to Malala Yousafzai and her family.

    If the intention, or the unintended consequence, is to inflict on a group or an individual conditions of life calculated to bring about destruction in whole or in part,

    then there is a problem.

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