He was sued more than once for his anti-colonialist cartoons during the Algerian War. Now, the roles are reversed. French cartoonist Maurice Sinet, popularly known as Siné, is suing the French “leftist” magazine Charlie Hebdo for defamation against those who accused him of being anti-Semitic.
Siné was fired from Charlie Hebdo a week after publishing a satirical cartoon he drew about Jean Sarkozy in July, the son of President Nicolas Sarkozy. The President’s son had just announced he was getting engaged to one of the wealthiest young women in France, Jessica Sebaoun-Darty — an heiress to a family who owns Darty electrical good stores. Darty is Jewish, so rumors went flying that Jean Sarkozy intended to convert to Judaism before the marriage.
In the cartoon, Siné wrote about the young Sarkozy’s engagement and his recent appearance in court for running his scooter into the back of a car, then driving away without giving his name.
“Jean Sarkozy, worthy son of his father and already a UMP councillor, emerged almost to applause after his court case for not stopping after an accident on his scooter. The prosecutor even asked for him to be cleared. You have to remember that the plaintiff was an Arab,” Siné wrote.
But that is not what got 79-year-old Siné fired from the magazine that he has been working with for the last 20 years. At the end of the cartoon Siné writes that Jean Sarkozy would “go far in life.”
Two days later, Claude Askolovitch, a French-Jewish radio host denounced the article as anti-Semitic. The claim is that Siné is propagating the stereotype by associating the Jew with success and power, and so began the deluge where France was in a fury of polemical debate over a satirical cartoon.
Under the spotlight, Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Phillipe Val, ordered Siné to sign a letter of apology, but Siné refused. saying he would rather “cut his own balls off.” By July 15, Val announced Siné’s dismissal from the magazine. Days later, Siné announced he would sue for defamation. After all, this is a man who for 20 years drew contentious cartoons for the psuedo-anarchist magazine.
Ironically, Charlie Hebdo is the same magazine famous for its 2006 stunt of reprinting the Danish “Muhammad” cartoons. People flocked to newstands to buy the magazine. Sales were up by 50 per cent. Val even signed a petition (published in the same edition) warning against Islamic totalitarianism. He even got Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji to sign the petition, two well-known tokens*.
On August 4, Roger Cohen wrote a column in the New York Times ludicrously comparing the Siné Affair to the Dreyfus Affair, calling Siné’s cartoon “hate speech.” Clearly, Cohen’s feeble attempts to criticize Siné as a product of modern anti-Semitism, is part of an ongoing polemical charade of blackmail and incitement against anyone who dares to criticize Israel. And because Siné is known for his anti-Zionist views, that alone is enough to call him an anti-Semite.
Here’s the question that we are all asking: when is satire deemed offensive or malicious? When the New Yorker published a cartoon on the magazine’s cover depicting Obama as a Muslim, the cartoonist was praised, not fired. The banner of free speech was held high, while the New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, tried to convince everyone that the intent of publishing the cartoon was to “satirize misconceptions.”
* Irshad Manji is a Canadian-Pakistani who goes on tour around the States speaking about how horrible Muslims are. She gets funded by the American Jewish Committee. Ayaan Hirsi Ali assumes a public role of equating anything Islamic with fascism. Both have been used as "tokens" by the neo-cons and the NYT. They write books with titles like "infidel."
SOUSAN HAMMAD is an intern at The Nation, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org