FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Craig Collins
Why Did Socialism Fail?
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail