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Charlie Hedbo: Free Speech or Mindless Opportunism


Charlie Hebdo editor getting press coverage

by Ilisha

The otherwise obscure French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hedbo, is making headlines again, and the most recent controversy seems to have the press divided on the politics of free speech and provocation.

Last fall, the paper’s offices were firebombed in what was widely assumed to be retaliation for an upcoming issue “guest edited” by Muhammed, with a provocative cartoon on the cover and the caption, “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” There was no proof Muslims were actually the perpetrators, and to date, no one has claimed responsibility, and there have been no arrests.

The perpetrators could have been Muslims, or people who wanted Muslims to appear guilty of the crime, or as Luz, the cartoonist who drew the cover cartoon, said:

 Let’s be cautious. There’s every reason to believe it’s the work of fundamentalists but it could just as well be the work of two drunks.

Casting caution aside, the media continued to report the story as if Muslims were known to be the culprits, and this irresponsible reporting was by no means confined to the looniverse. Sadly, most of of the global media joined in recklessly indicting Muslims. Even Gawker, a paper with articles that are often sympathetic to Muslims, carried the misleading  and presumptuous headline, “The Islamists Are Going After Fake Newspapers Now.

The firebombing seemed to embolden Charlie Hedbo’s editors. A few days later, the paper  published an even more provocative cover, portraying a similar cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, this time engaged in a sloppy kiss with another man. Fortunately, this provocation failed to provoke, and the story fell from the headlines.

Now that protests have erupted around the world in response to an amateurish anti-Muslim film posted on Youtube, Charlie Hedbo has seized the opportunity to add fuel to the fire with another round of provocative cartoons. Facing criticism, the paper defended the cartoons, citing free speech.

Indeed, the cartoon is protected and legitimate free speech, even if it is a deliberate provocation.

However, that doesn’t mean the decision to publish the cartoons is above criticism, or that anyone who objects is somehow curtailing the paper’s free speech rights.  In fact, criticism and counter arguments are also an important part of free speech rights. Peaceful protests are also a perfectly legitimate response–as long as they remain peaceful.

Even among staunch free speech advocates who defend the paper’s right to publish the cartoon, there is some question of what constitutes good judgement, especially under present circumstances.  The Guardian is conducting a poll, asking the question:

UK Guardian: Are Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the prophet Muhammad a necessary stand for free speech or a pointless provocation?

At the time of this writing, more than two thirds say the cartoons constitute free speech, and less than a third say it is a provocation. The question itself seems a bit misleading, however, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Publishing the cartoons is arguably both legitimate and protected free speech, and also a provocation, though not necessarily “pointless.” The obvious point seems to be drawing worldwide attention, once again, to an otherwise unremarkable French satirical newspaper.

The debate over the boundaries of free speech will rage on, but as Garibaldi said in his article following the firebombing of Charlie Hedbo offices last fall:

You have the cartoonish hook-nosed-goofy-smirking-Ayrab-Mooslim with some weird looking turban on his head.

Charlie Hebdo knew what it was doing, they wished to provoke, they created a buzz and got world-wide media attention for their magazine which had little following outside of France.

A proper response by those offended or upset would have been to peacefully protest, or to satirize the Charlie Hebdo publication, or to do as most have done and simply ignore it.

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  • DrM

    loony lolo,

    It’s not bigotry to expose the filthy degenerate French mentality for what it is. Yes, incest is legal in France. You tried to side step that with some snarky incomplete reference to marriage amongst various degrees in parts of the Muslim world.
    Don’t be an apologist for unhygienic frogs, save yourself from the embarrassment.

  • Lolo

    “What a shock, coming from the same degenerate French society where incest is legal. This is not “free speech” but another desperate provocation by losers trying to cash in on hate and racism.
    Instead of renovating various French embassies, Muslims should initiate a cultural and economic boycott of these regressive French bastards. North Africa is the ideal place to start, with the removal the French language from school curriculum. Time for De-francification.”

    I’m surprised such bigotry is not being challenged on a site that makes it its mission to supposedly counteract bigotry. I also find it ironic that a muslim would criticize a society for allowing incest, with all the cou

  • Bob

    I have seen both the tasteless pictures of the Pope in German’s Titanic magazine, depicting his urinary incontinence on the front cover and bowel incontinence on the other. And I have seen the Charlie Hebdo cover — which actually covers some new ground by depicting ugly racial stereotypes of both Jew and an Arab one one side, and some juvenile pornography on the other.

    If these are “exercises in defending free speech,” as even the liberal media defend them, then the societies that speak this way don’t really have all that much to say — beyond bashing others.

    But bashing is really the point. England, Germany, France — most of the West, and a colonial West at that — still thinks in terms of a “Leitkultur” — of a normative culture that everyone should be hammered into. Marine LePen doesn’t want either headscarves on Muslim women or yarmulkes on Jewish men. The American “melting pot” doesn’t want its WASP “gold” devalued by copper, aluminum, or zinc. As one can see from the Tea Party, English, White, and Christian [newsflash: newly updated to “Judeo-Christian” so that the racists can shed their previously antisemitic reputations] is what the nation “should” be. Screw all those other people.

    So let’s not miss the point: putting minorities in fear and on the defensive, and preserving the Leitkultur, if just for a little while longer, is what it’s all about.

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