The French have a long-standing tradition of provocative satire. The term “Esprit Frondeur” (loosely translated as “Rebel Spirit”) came into parlance long before the French revolution. From this came slingshot wit – the belief that one could challenge those in power (in most cases the king) through insightful humour and sarcasm.
Having viewed the caricatures of the prophet in Charlie Hebdo, I was surprised by the mean spirit and borderline racist tone of the drawings. I tend not to get outraged by pencil scribbles but I empathise with the millions around the world who were.
This wasn’t intelligent satire. This wasn’t an attempt to call to task those in power. It was a clumsy, cruel and deliberate attempt to offend. The past few years have seen French Muslims (largely working-class immigrants) stripped of certain freedoms – freedom to wear what they want and freedom to march in solidarity with the Palestinians. Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet were just another arrow through the heart of those they should be seeking to defend i.e. the defenseless. Taking pot-shots at those without a voice is not brave. It’s bullying.
The argument that Charlie Hebdo lampoons everything doesn’t make it okay. It comes across as a thoughtless, twisted form of Nihilism. Ultimately, if you ridicule everything then you stand for nothing.
Like most right-minded folk, I was angered and upset by the senseless slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo journalists. Nobody deserves to lose their life over a few badly drawn scribbles.
Needless to say I’m not with the terrorists. But I’m not sure I’m with Charlie either.