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Satire, Islamophobia and Freedom of Speech, or Not?

The French state wants all religious practises of Muslims to be in private out of the public’s view. According to the French framework of 'laicité' religious code of conduct must not infringe the public area, but a lot of things that supposed to be private to Muslims are rapidly becoming  part of political-racist public debates as well as filing magazine covers.

Are we Confused?

Are the caricatures published by Charlie Hebdo good examples of political satire or not?

Are they Islamophobic or not?

What does freedom of speech really mean?  

Following the Paris attack, the debate on various questions, such as the ones above will most likely continue for months to come.

The conclusion whether the Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures are Islamophobic or not shouldn’t be reached based on a narrow debate on aesthetics, the language used in these,  or an artistic review of these caricatures. The question of Islamophobia – as a political issue – cannot be answered in isolation by just looking at the caricatures without taking into account the social and political context these were published in. Unless we have a wider understanding of the issues, a picture may tell us millions stories, some true but some also just lies.

Charlie Hebdo

The 60000 selling Charlie Hebdo is not published in a Muslim country with a majority Muslim population, run by Muslim leaders with Muslim laws and Muslim social life. Thus, its ‘satirical’ take on Islam isn’t targeting or addressing or influencing or making laugh the dominant Muslim population in a Muslim country. Effectively, where it is published and sold, it is certainly not targeting, addressing or even mildly criticizing a Muslim government and Muslim rulers who are holding the legislative, political and executive power. Therefore the magazine was not running any domestic political-legal risks of being targeted by members of the dominant population group or by the state machine, i.e. the police, laws and the courts of the county.

Unfortunately, with the brutal attack last week, the risk of being targeted by 'externally' motivated forces was materialised in the most horrible way

Political bravery of the artists

As we witnessed in many parts of the world, in numerous examples, the political bravery of artists, writers and journalist is a priceless gift for all of humanity and this bravery goes a long way in challenging and exposing oppressive regimes, brutality of governments, discrimination and human rights abuses by the powers in charge. We have seen numerous examples of such bravery in military-dictatorial regimes, during military conflicts or war times, or during political turmoil at different times in different parts of the world. Sometimes that bravery did not only show the world what was happening but also popularised the resistance against any wrongdoing of the powerful.

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In the old Nazi-Germany, a satirical cartoon about Jews would not have been cool, but one picturing a stupid brain-dead Nazi commander? Wow, that would have been brilliant but seriously risky and therefore really brave.

In Putin’s Russia, it is very easy and it requires absolutely no bravery to mock the gays and lesbians. But what about artistic satirical criticism of Putin regime? Well, that would come with a serious risk of a harsh jail sentence.

In the UK a caricature picturing the Roma people as thieves would be easy to publish and requires no political bravery other than having to face the criticism of some anti-racist circles. But how about, on a day when multiple bodies of death soldiers arrive from Afghanistan, publishing a caricature that shows the British soldiers as brutal murderers, pillaging towns and villages? Now, that would be a cause for national uproar and it will come with a serious risk of losing the job and a full on attack by the entire establishment.

In Turkey, publishing a cartoon that shows the Armenians as murderers would be no matter for any worry or courage. But, how about a caricature picturing the Turkish soldiers in the same way? Again, I think one would think that twice and in the end probably decide not to publish...

Minority Christmas in some Muslim countries

Only a short while ago, as we were enjoying Christmas celebrations in Europe, there were some minority groups in some countries who had to - yet again - defend their right to do the same, because Christmas celebrations were mocked by some of the radical extensions of dominant political powers in these countries.

In countries where the huge majority of the population are Muslims, it is not a glory of artistic or journalistic bravery to publish cartoons to trash the Christmas or Easter celebrations of the minority Christian population. It is also not cool or progressive at all to target - with satire or otherwise - any Christian minority group just because some powerful Christian western leaders are bombing Muslims and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Mocking Santa or Jesus is simply not cool.

France and Muslims

The environment in which Charlie Hebdo published various caricatures was (and still is) very hostile to Muslims. This hostility had shown itself in political, legal and practical platforms. The rising racist far right of Le Pen’s National Front and the ever sharpening tone of its anti-migrant, anti-Muslim statements is an ongoing worry for both the migrants and every other progressive, decent people in France.

France is one of the leading countries in Europe to make some of the Muslim dress code a political and legal issue. A law that was enacted a few years ago bans Muslim women from wearing the burqa or the veil in public places. There is a fine if women break this law, in other words, if they dress according to their choices and cultural/religious identity. Various political figures, including the prime minister and some institutions in France have constantly targeted Muslim.

Over the years, the rising unemployment and the ongoing effects of cuts and austerity made it further difficult for Muslims to be seen as just normal citizens. Sarkozy who was at the front in Paris march was the political architect of 'suspicion against Muslims in France'. Politically, Muslims, as migrants and as a religious section of the society, are the main scapegoats along with other minority groups.

The streets and public places of France aren’t always friendly either. Only a few months ago a woman wearing a full-face Islamic veil was told to leave a Paris opera house after members of the cast refused to perform if she remained in the audience. Since then the Opera Bastille issued a memo to set out ‘anti-burqa’ rules.

You go to opera, you are guilty of not dressing correctly; you don't go to opera, you are accused of not integrating into the French culture.

Muslims in France somehow can't win against the French establishment. Their only hope are the good people of France, from all backgrounds, calling for unity of people but not uniting under the National Front or the ‘official national unity’ of Sarkozy, Hollande and Le Pen.

Muslims in France

The Muslim population of France is estimated to be around 5 million. An estimated 200,000 of these Muslims are French converts to Islam. According to the various reports and the estimates of the French government, only 1 in 3 Muslims in France identify themselves as practising Muslims. The number of women wearing the veil is estimated to be between 400 and 2000. These numbers represent a percentage of between 0.000625 and 0.00325 of the entire French population. But they have a law in France to address this major (!?) and widespread (!?) issue.

The bulk of Muslims practice their religion in the French framework of ‘laicité’ which regulates the religious code of conduct.

Several studies reveal that France seems to be, among the Western countries, the one where Muslims integrate the best and feel the most for their country. French Muslims also have the most positive opinions about their fellow citizens of different faiths.

In Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region where French Muslims tend to be better off and more religious, the vast majority rejects violence and say they are loyal to France, according to studies by Euro-Islam, a comparative research network on Islam and Muslims in the West (sponsored by GSRL Paris/CNRS France and Harvard University).

In 2010, a study entitled ‘Are French Muslims Discriminated Against in Their Own Country?’ found that "Muslims sending out resumes in hopes of a job interview had 2.5 times less chance than Christians" with similar credentials "of a positive response to their applications".

Formal as well as informal Muslim organizations help the new French citizens to integrate. There are no Islam-based political parties, but a number of cultural organizations. Their most frequent activities are homework help and language classes in Arabic, but ping pong, Muslim discussion groups etc. are also common. However, most important associations active in assisting with the immigration process are secular.

France has many generations of Muslim immigrants and a significant percentage of the Muslim youth are born and raised in France.

This is the picture of a country where the Muslims are a minority group that have no ‘religious’ problems in fitting into social-political-economic life in France. The 5 million Muslims come from various religious and cultural attitudes and backgrounds, and they are NOT a homogeneous, single bloc of people with the same world views and the same of levels religious practices. The situation is most evidently the opposite. There are different religious-cultural practises and different social-economic groups among the Muslims in France.

Despite all positive aspect and examples, the Muslim minority groups have been discriminated against. On top of this discrimination, these Muslims are citizens of a powerful country which has a brutal colonial past and is involved in ongoing imperialist-military interventions in various Muslim countries. All of this put them unnecessarily into the focus of all sorts of progressive-racist debates.

Charlie Hebdo readers

The caricatures of Charlie Hebdo are - most of the time - not  targeting ISIS, or Al-Qaeda or any leadership of any reactionary jihadist group. No, the ‘satire’ is all about the ‘Muslims’...

They are not on sale on the streets of Afghanistan as a satirical magazine mocking the Taliban...

They don’t offer a hand of friendship or solidarity to the women of Afghanistan...

The caricatures don’t make the Iraqi Muslims smile...

Millions of people in Yemen, Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. have probably never heard of the name ‘Charlie Hebdo’. There is no message for the hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world.

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It is published in France in French; 60000 are sold on the streets of the country for the consumption and laughter of majority white, 'real' French people at the expense of a potentially hurting minority group called the ‘Muslim-Migrant-French’...

The ‘Muslim-Migrant-French’; a minority people who constantly see the Muslims being bombed to pieces in other countries and at the same time have to deal with the so called satire on Islam. Muslims are a community (of many communities) that lives under constant suspicion of the establishment...

Conclusions

No, Charlie Hebdo is not a magazine of satire but a magazine that has published Islamophobic stuff...

Charlie Hebdo was not ‘brave’ or politically progressive in publishing these cartoons...

It would have been good if we could all get together and laugh at some cartoons that mocked the war makers, poverty makers, austerity makers, rather than a specific group of people put in a box according to their religion...

It would have been brilliant if all people could get the jokes...

It would have been a national joy, if being French meant to laugh together at all sorts of nonsense sectarian forces but also to cry at the killings of innocent people by French and western bullets in faraway countries...

Charlie Hebdo and the innocent people did not deserve to be the victims of the most brutal terror attack in Paris. We must full heartedly and repeatedly condemn and reject this attack. But the magazine does not deserve to be labelled as ‘the golden example’ of journalistic bravery, or the champion of defender of freedom of speech...

Charlie Hebdo is not hero. It is a victim of a brutal terrorist attack... Let’s not see the world as heroes and villains; this is not a Hollywood movie...

We don't have to be in support of a magazine that publishes Islamophobic and racist cartoons, to out rightly condemn this attack. We can condemn the attack while at the same time we unconditionally reject Islamophobia and call for unity against racism...

Our solidarity with the victims of the attack should be an attempt for a greater understanding of the wider situation. This solidarity should also be an exposure of hypocrisies and lies of our rulers for whose actions the ordinary people of the world pay a huge price.

I am Charlie and I am not Charlie...

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English
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