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SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 10:29AM

France braces for latest Muslim-baiting crisis

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 Charlie Hebdo
"You shouldn't make fun of us": A billion Muslims would likely agree

YOU REALLY GOT TO hand it to the French: They genuinely believe in Liberté, even if they aren’t as good at Égalité and Fraternité. Just when you thought you might one day be able to reenter the "Arab Street" without getting your head sabered off, a new Muslim-baiting crisis is in the works, and this one is fabriquée en France.  Unable to stand idly by while the Danes, Americans, and Coptic Christians are having their fun, the publishers of the French weekly satire magazine Charlie Hebdo have taken the plunge too. In their latest issue, available today, the magazine packs not just one but several blasphemous Mohammad caricatures.

It starts out harmless enough. The cover shows a disabled Muslim in a wheelchair being pushed around by an Orthodox Jew. “You shouldn’t make fun of us,” they both say. The cartoon is entitled Intouchables 2, a reference to the popular movie The Intouchables about a disabled white Frenchman and his black caregiver. The caricatures on the inside are much darker, although scarcely unusual for the outspoken satire mag. There one can find a comic of the Prophet as a sex-obsessed film actor receiving an Oscar for The Innocence of Muslims as the “best anti-Muslim film.” Another shows the bearded sage displaying an ample bosom, a crude reference to the paparazzi topless scandal surrounding Kate Middleton. Several of the cartoons show the Prophet buck naked, as Allah created him.

Foreign minister Laurent Fabius isn’t wasting any time. He has already closed twenty French embassies and embassy schools in predominantly Muslim countries, pointing out that it is “not intelligent” for Charlie Hebdo to “pour oil on the fire” in such a sensitive situation. “This causes me great concern,” he says. 

That’s not likely to stop chief editor Stéphane Charbonnier. As he puts it in his editorial, “If you draw Mohammad in a glorious way, you must die. If you draw him in a funny way, you must die. There is no negotiating with these fascists. The freedom to amuse ourselves without reservations gives us the right to do so, as does the systematic violence of the Islamists.”   

Charbonnier's magazine has published anti-Muslim caricatures before and has reaped the expected whirlwind – including the firebombing of the magazine’s offices in 2011 after it made fun of sharia law. The first edition of 75,000 is disappearing like warm croissants, Charbonnier says, and he is about to print a second one. As of this writing, however, the magazine’s website has been shut down by enraged Islamist computer hackers. 

Charbonnier, who has been receiving strong support from the Front National and other racist groups for his stand, claims that "nobody has ever been killed by a drawing." Well, we'll see about that.

The response from Muslims, both in France and abroad, is fierce, and it is hard to imagine this latest assault on Islamic sensibilities ending without bloodshed. While I admire Fabius for upholding French Liberté, even at the expense of his country's national interests, I cannot say the same for Charbonnier and his team, who I think are too clever by half. To many Muslims, religion is as important as life itself – in fact, it is life itself – and the constitutional and philosophical arguments people like Charbonnier use to justify this kind of attack are not likely to encounter much comprehension among persons who have unlikely read much outside the Koran itself but must otherwise face drone attacks and witness what they regard as the complete sellout of their culture and livelihoods to callous unbelievers.

For such people the only response they understand is to fight fire with fire. After years of war, occupation, torture, support for pro-Western dictatorships, single-minded boosterism for Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, economic exploitation, and thousands of daily slights and insults, gratuitous Muslim-baiting in the press and online is the toxic icing on a putrid cake. Yes, we in the West have the right to print or say anything we want, and this is a right we must hold on to at all costs. But if you’re still wondering “why they hate us,” you really haven’t been paying attention.

 



UPDATE, September 19, 2012

Word is out that the German satire Titanic, which most recently made headlines for its crass caricatures of an incontinent Pope Benedict, is bringing out its own Mohammad caricature. A draft of the October cover shows a sword-wielding Prophet alongside disgraced ex-First Lady Bettina Wulff, who recently published her vindictive memoirs. The cover reads: "The West up in arms: Bettina Wulff is making an anti-Mohammad film!"

 

Titanic Wulff

 

Unlike the French cartoons and The Innocence of Muslims, this cover really is pretty funny, since it simultaneously pokes fun at the Germans, whereas the other caricatures are purely destructive. But will Muslims around the world catch the joke? Expect the Germans to start battening down their own embassies pronto.

 


UPDATE, September 20, 2012:

As a mob attacks the French embassy in Teheran, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle is announcing that Germany is indeed closing its embassies in several Muslim countries. Déja vu all over again...

 

 

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"...pouring oil on the fire." 'nuff said. R&R.
@toritto
Yes, strange bedfellows all around these days!
A perfect explanation of the word, French. Excellent read, Alan. R
France is being prudent in closing the embassies and consulates. I'd like to think that the Muslim fanatics who want to burn, bomb and kill over perceived offenses are no more representatives of their societies than the Tea Partians are on this side of the pond. But I don't have much sense of whether they're, say, a 10% minority, a sizeable minority or a comfortable majority. And some of them are a good deal worse than anything we deal with over here. Well, I'm off for 9 days in London tomorrow so I'm hoping The Sun doesn't get in on the act. Thanks for the reporting Alan.
"To many Muslims, religion is as important as life itself – in fact, it is life itself"
This is precisely the problem, as it is with any other fundamentalist view.

One's personal delusions, religious or otherwise, do not trump others' freedom of speech.
A few days ago, a German Islam scholar said on the radio that when you have 5,000 people demonstrating in a 20-million-city like Cairo, then you cannot call that representative. He cited an Al-Jazeera reporter who was there and said that when he asked people why they were demonstrating, about 90% said they did not even know this was about some American film trailer but were told to go there and damage something. These upheavals are very local phenomena staged by some people who know how to attract the media and recruit their extras within a huge "lumproletariat", i.e. a convenient reserve of failed existences with plenty of anger available for being directed at whoever you want, as with the German nenonazis or the American white supremacists.

All governments of the countries where the protests happened clearly dissociated themselves from them, even the president of Egypt, although he is a member of the Muslim brothers. But the cameras are always attracted to where the noise is and give the inattentive TV watcher a sense of tens of millions willing to destroy the West. Ordinary citizens on their ordinary business are not sexy at all for a TV camera, whatever their overwhelming number. So I think we have a very, very deformed perception of what is happening.

By the way, I heard a theory on French radio this morning that some people in the West have decided to continously provoke the fundamentalists to drive them to actions se extreme that they will isolate themselve within their own population and dry them out this way. So some people are going to die only because some other people really enjoy manipulating. The antidote is information.
Seems like the French are perfectly (almost) in line with the Americans on Liberty (very popular especially for oneself), Equality (lack thereof); as for Fraternite' I can't find a single equivalent word in English, but what do I know?
@Clint
I emphatically agree, although I do see a critical distinction between free speech and baiting a religious group for the hell of it - and to sell magazines. Yes, one has a constitutional right to do it, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. I imagine that American Christians would feel provoked if overseas Muslims began a concerted campaign of crucifix-burning and/or anti-Jesus caricatures. As I dimly recall, that "P*ss Jesus" art project of several ago didn't go over all that well in the USA.

@Alex
An interesting take on the subject. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are merely saddened by this sort of thing, if they take note of it at all, whereas certain radical groups delight in these provocations so they can strut their stuff in front of the news cameras. One hand washes the other. Regarding the strategy of "drying out" Islam, this certainly seems to be the case. Sometimes the distinction between the commitment to "free speech" and xenophobia is hard to make out. That's why the support the Far Right gives to these actions is disturbing (as I described on my piece about the "Pro Germany" group yesterday).
@Roberto
The term would be "Brotherhood," which is a complete dead letter in the US, and not only because of the non-inclusive language. But the Eyptians have the "Muslim Brotherhood," based on an ideology of religious and national solidarity, alien to us with our "everybody for himself" ethical system, which shows just what we're up against when it comes to this issue.
Westerners must know, they are under severe frustration, not Muslims, My Parameters vary, Look men, Mohamad is winning people of your own land, west is under triumph, Islam is rising, and that leads to such responses, When west fails to argue, it mocks, insensible, no doubt. Muslim Protests i believe are not a minority response, yes property damage ofcourse is, Muslim in total are angry, we believe west is making ways for Islam to rise, and west must ponder over it, Stop if you can, because the next Muslim can be U.
"If you draw Mohammad in a glorious way, you must die. If you draw him in a funny way, you must die. There is no negotiating with these fascists. The freedom to amuse ourselves without reservations gives us the right to do so, as does the systematic violence of the Islamists.” Perfectly accurate. That is history and that is today.

Oh no, you're another apologist for terrorists? They hate us for cartoons; we hate them for cutting people's heads off. Ask Daniel Pearl...oh that's right, you can't, they killed him. nuff said.
@Deborah
I don't think you've been paying attention to what I've said. I am absolutely in favor of free expression, and subscribe to the line attributed to Voltaire: "I don't agree with what you say, but will fight to the death to defend your right to say it." It's tedious to have to keep spelling that out, but I guess there's no way around it these days.

What I've been addressing in my past two pieces is the delight with which the European Far Right - the NPD and Breivik scene - and other opportunists are using the current situation to jerk the Islamists' chain and get away with it while hiding behind the Western constitutions. Sure, they're entitled to do it, but I think it's a development worth watching. One hand washes the other. Yes, it is an issue of civil liberties, but there is also a real-world political subtext at play here, both with the Islamists (who are pursuing genuine political interests here), and their taunters, who would rather have Muslim immigrants gone today rather than tomorrow. Since I've been following the evolution of the German and European far right, plus the Danish and Swedish cartoon controversy, for years on this blog, it's impossible for me to claim that the current spat is "only" about "free speech" when so much else is unfolding behind the scenes. Thus my blog. If it contains information and viewpoints not found in the MSM, that's all for the better, I think.
thx for reminding readers that the muslim world is not solely upset by cartoons. it shouldn't be necessary, but western government are relentless in their pursuit of power over the oil lands, and equally relentless about the lying that attempts to support that pursuit.

well done, charlie hebdo, well done la france.
Thank you for writing about this. I've been struggling with how to feel about it. On the one hand, freedom of speech is one of the things that matters most to me, and in that sense, I respect so much the staff of "Charlie Hebdo". On the other hand, it just seems like too much, too soon. After all, maybe the funniest thing is that no one is taking into account that on the internet, every day, you can easily find caricatures and "blasphemous" drawings and images of all sorts - that is freedom of speech, and it won't go away. But to point it out in such a way, at such a time...I don't know. It sort of seems like riding on the coattails of what happened. For me, the audacity of this stunt is lost.