France braces for latest Muslim-baiting crisis
"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!"
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...