I had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before Wednesday 7 January 2015.

Now Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, seven other employees at the satirical magazine, and twelve other French citizens are dead.

Charlie HebdoThere is no doubt that Charlie Hebdo was rude, brutal, and at times disgusting. I understand the magazine’s desire to shock and awaken people out of complacency. But I am not sure I understand the culture of a magazine that feels the need to go to such grotesque lengths to make its point.

The world is justifiably horrified that cartoonists should be slaughtered simply for drawing pictures even when the pictures are irreverent and deeply offensive.

Is there a point at which political cartooning and social satire slip over into inappropriate hate literature? Did Charlie Hebdo cross a line?

Clearly there is no line that justifies the actions that took place in Paris last Wednesday. Any person who is not directly encouraging hatred and violence should be free to express themselves in whatever way they feel is appropriate to make their point.

So, how should the objects of Charlie Hebdo’s derision respond when they find themselves depicted in the pages of the magazine?

Hugh Schofield at BBC points out that in its early years one of Charlie Hebdo’s

main targets – apart from the police – was the Catholic Church. I’ve seen defecating popes, nuns in sex orgies; nuns in sex orgies defecating on popes.


Schofield goes on to suggest that

at some point the Church quite sensibly gave up complaining.

This is a helpful and wise observation. Having listened honestly to one’s critics, the best response to persistent criticism that is perceived to be inappropriate is simply to ignore it.

But, not everyone seems to be able to come to the place to which the Roman Catholic Church came in relationship to the criticisms leveled against it by Charlie Hebdo. And Schofield is less helpful when he suggests that,

if there is one thing that everyone in the West frets about, it’s Islam; it’s Islamism; it’s our countries’ relationship with Islam; and it’s our fear of what the future holds in a world where Islam – once our neighbour, once our enemy, is now part of us.

Cabu and the others knew this, and their reaction was to say: well if you’re part of us, then think like us, be like us. Understand that there is a difference between mockery and persecution; that words and pictures are only just that; and that part of the deal is that we rise above offence – yes even when its towards our religion.

This sounds like the kind of cultural imperialism that Charlie Hebdo would probably have lampooned with merciless attack – “if you’re part of us, then think like us, be like us.”

The attackers at Charlie Hebdo were French citizens.

Is the kind of conformity for which Mr. Schofield seems to be calling really what is required to be part of French society? How much cultural orthodoxy is demanded in order to fit into the dominant culture of the country one has adopted? There is certainly an irony in any call for allegiance to certain societal norms in response to an attack on a magazine which made its reputation by attacking the values of many respectable groups in French society, including the church and the police force.

The horrific attack on Charilie Hebdo last Wednesday is tragic and inexcusable. However, it does indicate that refusing to listen carefully and communicate sensitively with a portion of any population in one’s country is never a solution.

Pew Research estimates that 7.5% of the population of France is Muslim. No doubt the majority of the 4.7 million Muslims living in France are peaceful law-abiding citizens. Unquestionably the killers at Charlie Hebdo did not speak for the majority of Muslims. But there is a portion of the Muslim world who obviously feel deeply disenfranchised and alienated from the dominant culture.

It is unlikely that the best strategy for dealing with those who feel themselves excluded from the mainstream of society is to assert simply that they need to “think like us, be like us.” The tragedy of Charlie Hebdo needs to motivate all of us to ask deep questions in response to the inarticulate scream of terrorist bullets.

How do  we demonstrate respect to people with whom we may disagree?

How can a society embrace groups who hold values that differ from the majority?

How do we preserve freedom within the bounds of maintaining safety for all?


McLean’s columnist Martin Patriquin points out that in France Muslims

account for about 60 per cent of its prison population. Many of Paris’s infamous banlieues are petri dishes of relative poverty and exclusion. French politicians, eager to curry to the public’s favour, have been far too quick in appealing to its baser fears; Nicolas Sarkozy’s outright burqua ban is but one example of this.



thank you Jennifer for this thoughtful link: http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks


easy to sympathize with how he feels, but not sure this is the kind of measured, balanced, wisdom response that is likely to establish lasting peace:

Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared Saturday that France was at war with radical Islam after the harrowing sieges that had led to the deaths of three gunmen and four hostages the day before, and as the authorities mounted a frantic hunt for a suspected accomplice.

“It is a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity,” Mr. Valls said during a speech in Évry, south of Paris.