January 18, 2015

Are We Really Charlie Hebdo?

Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, publishes cartoons that are so inflammatory that most American news outlets won't show them. Wouldn't even think about showing them. Would be fined if they did show them.

Even the relatively modest cover of the post-attack edition, which showed the prophet Muhammad with a tear on his cheek, holding a sign noting 'Je Suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) and the headline above saying 'All is Forgiven', was not shown by many media outlets; reporters held the magazine, rolled up so that we could see the bright green background of the cover and know that it was the one we had seen published on social media, but that was it. 

from Time.com
Shortly after the attack in Paris, Time magazine published a few of the covers, including the one pictured to the right, described as follows:
In this cover, the newspaper called itself an irresponsible newspaper, and likening itself to a Neanderthal, claiming that the invention of humor is the process of adding fuel to the fire.
Frankly, that's how many have viewed the whole situation, as being all about adding fuel to the fire. Many Muslims are deeply offended by some of the cartoons, because they believe the prophet should not be depicted in human form at all, much less (for example) on his knees, genital exposed with a gold star on his anus, beneath a headline proclaiming 'A star is born'.

Christians would be just as mightily offended had Jesus been portrayed in that manner, or if they had seen the cover depicting the Holy Trinity engaged in anal sex, or if, similar to the one about the Koran, there had been a cartoon stating that said the Bible was 'shit'.

Most people, regardless of their faith or personal beliefs, would be offended, and I dare say hesitant to rally and march in support of a magazine that published these cartoons. We are, after all, the country that fined CBS for showing a 'wardrobe malfunction'; we are the country that didn't allow the 'seven dirty words' to be broadcast (but has no problem with lingering, loving shots of two of them, tits and ass, on cheerleaders, fashion models or sitcom stars).

We are the country that has determined that money is speech; how comfortable that seems, compared to even the mildest of Hebdo covers.

Tom Toles, a political cartoonist at the Washington Post, noted in an interview with Buffalo's WIVB that he wouldn't have drawn the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, that he has his own standards.  He also noted, rightly, that freedom of the press includes both the right to publish, and not publish, certain material.

And he pointed out that
If someone is telling you, you can't do something or you are at risk if you do, it often makes you more determined to stay with it than to turn around and run away. 
Toles is right: often it does make you more determined. More determined to offend, in the case of Charlie Hebdo. And more determined, for many of us, to thank our lucky stars that we are not forced to defend this particular kind of speech in our own back yard.