These rather sadly solipsistic defenses of Charlie Hebdo’s racism and vulgar Islamophobia have recently spread around the internet like mildew in an old cotton tent left damp before being put away for the season. About the only thing of value I can glean from them is a better understanding of Franco-American relations. One inward-looking, self-regarding “exceptional” nation face to face with its far more powerful identical twin is bound to create neurosis, and apparently it has.
It’s telling that in his potted history of “French” satire Remi leaps from medieval court buffoons entertaining kings and their courts, to Aristophanes having a go at Socrates, before finally coming to Moliere and La Fontaine who “mocked the powerful”, which mockery is the usual justification for the importance of satire in democratic societies, at least outside France.
A final backward glance at satirists lampooning Marie Antoinette and leading starving Parisians to the barricades ends this edifying tour of a grand “French” tradition before we make the great leap into the present. And what do we find there? A television program featuring puppets which is “nothing short of a cultural institution” in France.
Satirical “cultural institutions” are waved like flags in these nationalist cries de coeurs. Charlie itself is also one, apparently.
Presumably they take their place along with other consumer products in the pantheon of contemporary French culture and I think it is touching, this kind of fierce customer loyalty. I mean, I enjoyed watching Spitting Image back in the day, too. Funny, really funny. I don’t recall there being any satire on “nig-nogs” or “sambo” on that show, though.
Muslims in France are a relatively weak, maligned and discriminated against minority. Just because France refuses to recognize ethnicity doesn’t mean it disappears or doesn’t exist and it certainly doesn’t mean that the scurrilous depictions of Muslims in Charlie are not precisely “racist” in the sense laid out by the UN Charter.
Defending Charlie Hebdo’s repeated and constant attacks on Islam and Muslims by referring to court jesters, Aristophanes and bad ol’ Marie Antoinette is beyond pathetic. Mocking Islam and Muslims in today’s racist France is not performing the traditional role of satire mocking the powerful; it is playing the high school bully, entertaining one’s peers by savaging those perceived as weaker and somehow less than yourselves.
And “free speech”? Don’t make me laugh. Even suggesting that freedom of expression is really at issue here is beyond satire, regardless of what “cultural institution” is invoked. I suggest that the French citizens proudly displaying their myopia and narcissism in these spirited “defenses” pull the tent out of storage and let in a little air and light. Look at the world around you, read the UN Charter, check out reruns of Spittng Image.
That mildew has really started to reek.