Are you Charlie Hebdo? Are you Charlie Hebdo? And what about you? Are you Charlie too?
What about your Wednesday morning monologist? Am I Charlie?
There’s been a lot of sanctimonious shite shed about what we in the pampered-puss West consider sacred “freedoms.” Freedom of speech, freedom of the Press: the words roll off the tongue as easily as the lies of the well-funded political party fops who will soon be clamouring for your attention and your votes once our federal election campaign begins in earnest.
I share the rest of the world’s horror and grief, however, over the recent murders in France as producers of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” were targeted for a final silencing.
As a pacifist, I deplore lethal violence aimed at anyone; and as a writer, I deplore any forces that would limit my ability to present the world as I see it through the platform of print. What happened in Paris last week is a tragedy of the highest order.
But in the rush to condemn the murderers and self-identify with Charlie Hebdo we may be missing something in the way of perspective; and, I daresay, I wonder if there may be a massive irony that is lost on many of us as we spout off unmediated musings about the sanctity of the freedoms we hold so dear.
Charlie Hebdo is a weekly magazine that purports to be a vehicle that engages in satire to expose the hypocrisy of its targets.
Satire can be a wonderful device to illuminate the dark corners and the misdeeds of those who choose to occupy the limelight, usually the rich and powerful of the celebrity, business and political classes. From Punch Magazine to The Colbert Report in the Anglo-American tradition, satire has been an effective way to pop the bubbles of self-importance of the elites.
In our country too (traditionally squeamish and polite, bourgeois to the core, and loathe to offend anyone), we have had a satirical tradition. In literature, humourist Stephen Leacock mocked the folks in “Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town,” exposing the hypocrisy of the fictional denizens of “Mariposa.” Leacock had a sharp eye for the ironies that abounded in Mariposa, but you could tell that he also loved the fictional folks whom he held up as a mirror for his readers’ edification.
Fast-forward to the Eighties and many of us will fondly remember “Frank Magazine.” Frank, like Charlie Hebdo, had a harder edge to its satire, and its readers (myself included) usually loved the way it could stray into territory that others in the mainstream media wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Disgraced former senator Mike Duffy, at the time a reporter on Parliament Hill for CTV, came under especial scrutiny by Frank as a “big fat liar.” He was routinely called “Mike Puffy,” a reference to the man’s over-inflated ego and his penchant for feeding at the trough even back then.
But “The Puffster” would ultimately signal the demise of Frank as he launched an expensive law suit against the rag. His claim was that, as a result of Frank’s scurrilous exposure, he was overlooked as a candidate suitable to receive The Order Of Canada. Ultimately the burden to defend its freedoms crippled Frank, and we, as regular readers, were the losers.
Needless to say, if you’re a journalist or an editor of anything at all that is consumed by the public-at-large, you need to be pretty nuanced and circumspect before you publish satire aimed at knocking the stuffing out of your targets.
Frankly, in the case of Charlie Hebdo, its producers may have crossed the definitive line of satire and into the sands of yellow journalism and Islamophobia-perpetuating muck-raking. Its depiction of Islam was characteristically puerile and hateful. It certainly did not add to the debate focussing upon the grievances of France’s massive Muslim population, and it probably abetted French nationalist elements in fomenting further hate directed at Muslim French citizens.
We need to remember a few things about France’s colonial history. At the end of the Algerian War of Independence in 1969, it is estimated that nearly a million Algerians were killed. We also need to recognize that France has not been able successfully to integrate its Algerian, predominantly Muslim, citizens in the wake of that war.
These days, France’s larger cities are encircled by a periphery of dilapidated suburbs, occupied by the disenfranchised Muslims who continue to suffer grievously the effects of massive unemployment, systemic racism, and the inability to have their suffering heard by the rest.
France’s inability to accommodate the Muslims in their midst has resulted in their targeting by the forces of law and the carceral industry, and today we note that about 70% of France’s prison populations are French Muslims. It’s a sorry state of affairs to say the least.
And if you can imagine for a moment what it must be like to be a twenty-something Muslim man who is unable to find work to feed his family, a man who is routinely targeted by the police and proverbially spit upon by your less darkly-complected co-citizens, you might be able to sense the building rage that this guy night feel if (as Chris Hedges has reminded us) even your dearly-held religion is shat upon by your minders.
True satire doesn’t spread hate. It doesn’t encourage the debasement and targeting for further punishment of its targets. Instead, satire should be used to move the debate forward, not backwards; it should reveal the things that are commonly under-reported or overlooked entirely. And to my jaded eye, the cartoons that resulted in such tragic deaths (not justifiable in any way, shape, or form) did the opposite of what satire intends.
On a final note, I am appalled that an historic number of world leaders appeared to be marching arm-in-arm in Paris in so-called “solidarity” with Charlie Hebdo. Under the auspices of giving symbolic credence to the sacred freedoms of speech and the Press these world “leaders” exposed their own utter hypocrisy. Not a single one among them represent countries that have given honour to the ideal of freedom of the Press. Virtually every one of these folks represent forces that have attempted or succeeded in silencing the brave journalists that have dared to produce stories that undermined their aims.
And as we all know, Truth is the first casualty in all wars, and especially in the ever-present war that these leaders insist on continuing in perpetuity.
So. Am I Charlie Hebdo? Not on your life.
— Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com