Nick Cohen

Charlie Hebdo: the truths that ought to be self-evident but still aren’t

Charlie Hebdo: the truths that ought to be self-evident but still aren’t
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Religious murderers gunned down European freedom in Paris today. Tonight everyone is defiant. I am just back from a 'Je suis Charlie' vigil in Trafalgar Square, and the solidarity was good to see. I fear it won’t last. I may be wrong. Perhaps tomorrow’s papers and news programmes will prove their commitment to freedom by republishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

But I doubt they will even have the courage to admit that they are too scared to show them. Instead we will have insidious articles, which condemn freedom of speech as a provocation and make weasel excuses for murder without having the guts to admit it.

Tony Barber, Europe editor of the Financial Times was first out of the blocks:

'Charlie Hebdo is a bastion of the French tradition of hard-hitting satire. It has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling Muslims.'

The writer forgot to add that Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling everyone. It is a satirical magazine in a free country: that is what it does.

'Two years ago the magazine published a 65-page strip cartoon book portraying the Prophet’s life. And this week it gave special coverage to Soumission (“Submission”), a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, the idiosyncratic author, which depicts France in the grip of an Islamic regime led by a Muslim president.'

Notice the unconscious stereotyping as the charge sheet lengthens. Liberal Muslims I know would not dream of murdering cartoonists for offending 'the Prophet'. Many of them are writing tonight denouncing the crime. All of them know that Charlie Hebdo’s enemies are their enemies too. Yet to the Financial Times, they are equally offended by a small French magazine, and equally supportive of assassination.

Oblivious to his own prejudices he continues

'This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims.'

Does the Financial Times have subeditors? Did no one spot that, having begun by saying that it does not want to condone murder, the Financial Times moved in two sentences to saying that Charlie Hebdo’s satirists have provoked their own deaths. Apparently, they 'purport' to believe in freedom of speech – the hypocrites. If only they had had the 'common sense' not to 'provoke' clerical fascism, then clerical fascists would not have come for them.

As there is much, much more in this vein coming, I offer you 10 truths that ought to be self-evident.

  • A religion is not a race. Sometimes, not always, it is a system of violent beliefs that claims the right to subjugate others – most notably its 'own' coerced adherents.
  • Undoubtedly there are white racists and Hindu nationalists who treat religion as a race and hate Muslims because they are Muslims. Their existence ought to present no problem to principled people, who should fight, criticise and satirise them with the same force and for the same reasons they fight religious obscurantism.
  • Criticism of religion – including bawdy irreverent criticism— is a defence against oppressive power.
  • In our time, the most oppressive religious movements are variants on radical Islam. That may change. You only have to look at Hindu fundamentalism in India or anti-Muslim Buddhist fundamentalism in Burma to see how. But for the present we must fight the enemies in front of us. What other choice do we have?
  • It is not 'Islamophobic' to satirise radical Islamists and their beliefs – the main targets of radical Islamists include other Muslims as well as Christians, Jews, Yazidis and secularists.
  • Even if in your confused liberal mind you think that it is, no one has the right to stop satire or criticism because they are offended.
  • No one has the right to kill those who offend them.
  • If they claim that right, they are the most deserving targets of satire and criticism imaginable.
  • And if you do not then satirise and criticise them because you are frightened of ending up like Charlie Hebdo’s dead journalists, or of taking a whipping in a PC backlash, how can you in conscience satirise left or right wing politicians you despise, or the evangelical Christians, Jewish fundamentalists, Catholic reactionaries, Russian orthodox Putinists you deplore?
  • Are you not saying, if only when you are by yourself and think no one is listening: 'I will only take on targets that won’t kill me, but steer clear of those who just might?'
  • PS Financial Times journalists have contacted me to point out that the comment piece on Charlie Hebdo represented the view of the Financial Times' Europe Editor, not the all of the editors at the Financial Times. I have changed my post to make that clear. One cannot be too careful these days, after all.