Tag Archives: Secularism

Conversation: The Assassin’s Veto: Blasphemy & Charlie Hebdo, by Myra MacDonald

Source: War on the Rocks

The murder of Asad Shah, a Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow, and the perverse reaction to a Charlie Hebdo editorial show us how warped our senses have become.

When an editorial dismisses as “xenophobes” those who blame terrorism on immigration, and is then taken as conclusive proof of racism, you know something has gone terribly wrong. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose offices were attacked last year by gunmen offended by its cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, has once again been denounced for “Islamophobia” and racism. The alleged offense came in an editorial that challenged the role of religion in society, and that is assumed by its critics to say that all Muslims are complicit in terrorism. Nowhere in the French original by the cartoonist Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, nor in its rather more awkward English translation, does it say that. Rather, it is an anguished defense of French secularism, tinged by bitterness in a man who was shot in the shoulder while watching his colleagues die. Far from attacking all Muslims — an assertion that assumes all Muslims are the same — it takes aim at the growing power of religious conservativism. It calls out society’s failure to question this for fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.” It blames our silence for creating an atmosphere of fear without which terrorism cannot succeed. That silence has left the field open to the far right and produced a fractured, anxious society more inclined to react emotionally than rationally to acts of terrorism. Unwittingly proving the point made in the editorial, Charlie Hebdo’s critics have loudly condemned it for “Islamophobia” and racism, silencing the issues it raised with a willful or ignorant distortion of what it said. It is a grotesque parody that could be ignored if the stakes were not so high.

Go back to the January 2015 attacks in Paris by Islamist gunmen in which 12 people died at the Charlie Hebdo offices and another five were killed in related shootings. The Charlie Hebdo staff were not killed for racism. They were murdered for the assumed crime of blasphemy. Before the attacks, Charlie Hebdo was a niche magazine catering to a certain section of the French left, lampooning the government and the far right, mocking all sources of power including religion, and championing the cause of anti-racism. Of course, those with deeply held religious views would have found some of their cartoons offensive. But they had the choice not to see them. To read Charlie Hebdo, you had to go out of your way to buy the magazine. The cartoons were not plastered on billboards across Paris. Nor, as sometimes erroneously assumed, was the publication popular with the anti-immigrant right. On the contrary, the right is one of its main targets. That critics, especially in the English-speaking world, have so conclusively convicted Charlie Hebdofor racism (in doing so, heaping ire on journalists who are already facing death threats) tells you little about the magazine itself. It does, however, tell you much about the insidious of power of the very notion of blasphemy. Rather than confront the fact that the Charlie Hebdo staff were massacred for blasphemy, the magazine has been tried and convicted for a different crime — that of racism. Such is the transformation of their role as victims of a crime to victimizers, that the latest denunciation in Vice Magazine said they had become “smug satirists” who, among others, are “terrorizing” Muslims across Europe. (Muslims are rightly worried about an increase in anti-Muslim bigotry; but the arrow directed at Charlie Hebdo is shot from a different bow.)

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