FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The French Left in a Minefield

London.

Here we go again. Less than a year after provoking a similar controversy, Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly, has published cartoons “mocking” the prophet Muhammad. Last November, following the publication of an issue subtitled “Charia Hebdo”, the weekly’s offices were firebombed, its website hacked and its staff targeted with death threats. This time around, the French government has decided to temporarily close embassies and schools in 20 countries as a “precautionary measure”.

Since Voltaire and notably since the establishment of a secular republic in 1905, France has regarded religions as systems of belief which can be freely criticised and ridiculed. The entrenched tradition of mocking religions and clerical institutions explains the success of long-living publications such as Le Canard Enchaîné (a satirical founded in 1915) and Charlie Hebdo (founded in 1969).

Charlie Hebdo was launched by a group of “non-conformists” who had previously run a monthly called Hara Kiri (whose subtitle read: “dumb and nasty”). It originally featured cartoons, reports, polemics and jokes. It was profoundly irreverent and had a strong left-wing anarchist leaning. Long before the advent of political correctness, Charlie Hebdo also had a bawdy inclination: the magazine liked to feature naked women and what would be regarded today as sexist jokes.

In November 1970, following the death of Charles de Gaulle in his home town of Colombey, Charlie Hebdo produced the nastiest and allegedly one of the most hilarious front covers in the history of the French press. Spoofing the popular media that lamented the loss of a “great statesman”, the weekly’s headline laconically read: “Tragic ball at Colombey, one dead”. This was too much for the Gaullist interior minister, who banned the publication.

Charlie Hebdo had then the wittiest and funniest team of writers and cartoonists. They had no taboos and they relentlessly targeted pompous and reactionary people. They particularly liked to torment the rich, the famous, clergymen, the military and politicians. In the climate of class struggles in 1970s France, Charlie Hebdo offered a generation of youngsters (who often nicked the magazine from newsagents) a memorable take on current affairs.

In 1981, “Charlie” – as it is nicknamed – ceased publication, owing to falling readership. When it was relaunched in 1992, the world had dramatically changed. Few of the historic crew were still present. Philippe Val, the new director, was a stand-up comedian who made a name for himself by singing and telling jokes in front of left-wing audiences in the 1980s.

Val changed the style of the publication. He did not hesitate to sack staff members who opposed his views and was often described as “dictatorial”. Under his leadership, Charlie Hebdo’s editorial stance became muddled. Val was involved in high-profile disputes with what he called “unreconstructed leftists”.

Philippe Val was a staunch supporter of the 2004 law banning the headscarf in state schools and “Charlie” became more anti-Islamic than anti-clerical. In 2009, Val was appointed director of France Inter, a public radio station, by Nicolas Sarkozy. The young anarchist comedian and the rebellious spirit of Charlie Hebdo officially died that day.

Since Val’s departure, Charlie Hebdo has tried to recapture a sense of irreverence that seemed lost. The new director, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, wants to move on and reposition the weekly’s editorial line firmly on the left. It is doubtful that he can manage to restore the publication’s past glory.

Of course people should be entitled to mock Islam and any other religion. However, in the current climate of racial and religious prejudice against Muslims in Europe, how can these cartoons be helpful? Charlie Hebdo is unwittingly serving the cause of the rag-time army of Islam haters.

Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European politics at University College London (UK). He can be reached at: p.marliere@ucl.ac.uk

 

More articles by:

Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European Politics at University College London (UK). Twitter: @PhMarliere

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 25, 2019
Marc Levy
All My Vexes Are in Texas
Jim Kavanagh
Avoiding Assange
Michael D. Yates
The Road Beckons
Julian Vigo
Notre Dame Shows the Unifying Force of Culture, Grenfell Reveals the Corruption of Government
Ted Rall
Democratic Refusal to Impeach Could Be Disastrous
Tracey Harris
Lessons Learned From the Tiny House Movement
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Human Flourishing (Eudaimonia): an Antidote to Extinction?
Dana Johnson
Buyer Beware: Hovercraft Ruling Deals a Major Blow to Land Conservation in Alaska
Norman Solomon
Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality
Jen Marlowe
The Palestine Marathon
Binoy Kampmark
Lethal Bungling: Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings
Michael Slager
“Where’s Your Plan?” Legalized Bribery and Climate Change
Jesse Jackson
Trump Plunges the US Deeper Into Forgotten Wars
George Wuerthner
BLM Grazing Decision Will Damage the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness
April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail