The thing is, Charlie Hebdo uses the guise of free speech and “the right to offend” as a way to cloak its blatant xenophobia. Its use of art to perpetuate racist stereotypes and knowingly further the marginalization of Muslim people in France is reminiscent of anti-Semitic cartoons in the early 20th century. That’s not modern or liberated by any means. That’s straight up backwards.
Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist back in 2008 for an anti-Semitic cartoon, yet staunchly defends its right to flaunt equivalent intolerance towards Muslims. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave us all a laugh when he joined France’s free speech rally and defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish Islamophobic cartoons. Yet, when a German publication accidentally published an anti-Semitic equivalent of Charlie Hebdo’s new Islamophobic cover, the Israeli embassy immediately contacted them to take it down and issue an apology. The word “racism” apparently has a different meaning if it’s applied to Muslims.
The extreme tension against French Muslims is both social as well as institutional. While Muslims make up around 8% of France’s population, they currently make up 60% of inmates in France’s prison system. Basically, France imprisons Muslims at a more disproportionate rate than the U.S. imprisons Black Americans. Now that’s saying something.
France was the first European country to restrict Muslim women’s religiously obligated veils. It continued its tradition of being a pioneer by also becoming the first country in the world to ban pro-Palestine rallies. Charlie Hebdo puts salt in the wound of an already ostracized and persecuted minority.
Absolutely nothing justifies a shooting or the deaths of innocent people. Ahmed Merabet, the French Muslim policeman who died in the shooting to protect Charlie Hebdo in spite of their racism, is a testament to that. But let’s not kid ourselves that France is about self-expression, or that Charlie Hebdo is the white knight of that principled stance.
So, here’s our cartoon about Charlie Hebdo. Political cartoons and satire are heralded in society because they’re supposed to challenge power, hierarchy, and the status quo. Charlie Hebdo and the #JeSuisCharlie movement are motivated by a dangerous passion to preserve them.
Illustration by Sam Romero