7. January, Paris
Three man walked into the editorial offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, calling out the names of journalists and then killing them one by one. The three man also shouted the name of God in Arabic, praising Him for their deeds. Twelve people were killed, including two policeman, one maintenance worker, one visitor and eight iconic journalists of France. The three masked killers dressed in black and fled the scene driving a black Citroen 3.
It is already clear that the Charlie Hebdo incident will become a turning point in the modern history of Europe. Many believe it will have a 9/11 impact on the French society with unforeseeable consequences in years to come.
The two sides of a coin
The Republic is bleeding from its heart, Charlie Hebdo incident may soon become the epicentre of a broader European crisis that, from today's perspective, looks like an unsurmountable abyss. It may end up pushing Le Pen's cause further up on the list of the French voters.
Mosques are being attacked in France. The “cause” is mobilising the ever growing anti – Muslim groups through Europe, such as Pegida in Germany.
The events of today, combined with the general discontent of the French public towards their transatlantic allies, may further dangerously coincide with the growing eurosceptic sentiment in the country, at the time when French society is fighting to preserve its identity.
The satire is an important part of the French identity.
In my own history books, political satire was invented in France. Political satire represents not just mere specifics of French intellectualism, but also a French way of life. French have legacy to articulate social phenomena through the prism of political satire. Dating back to the time in France when Francois Rabelais wrote his satirical masterpiece “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, satire represented a humorous, non-violent criticism of society as a whole. Rabelais’s novel is bursting with vulgarities while its heroes search for the Divine Bottle. Born at the end of 15th century, Francois devoted his time to god as he served as a monk. And yes, the novel was written in the 16th century, at the early days of the Enlightenment in Europe.
Pioneered by the French artists and philosophers, the Age of Reason would bring to the European culture the ideas of liberty and equality. Once established, the late movement had been criticised by its most talented sons, like the unforgettable Voltaire, the most revered philosopher - satirist of the time. He famously wrote:
" What! Is it in our eighteenth century that vampires exist?
In his "Letter to Beaumont" another among the great French writers of the time, giant historical figure like Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, proclaimed his heresy to the Christian establishment of the time (18 century) by saying:
“If there is a well-attested history in the world, it is that of the Vampires. Nothing is missing from it: interrogations, certifications by Notables, Surgeons, Parish Priests, Magistrates. The judicial proof is one of the most complete. And with all that, who believes in Vampires? Will we all be damned for not having believed?”
Although Voltaire and Rousseau referred to the absurd vampire interrogations of the time, they also used the notion of vampires as a metaphor that applied to everything old, superstitious, supernatural or in discordance with the age of reason… They also referred to the repressive ideas of the time, arguing that governments have no right to regulate or sanction individual conscience. In other words, they invented all good reasons for the emergence of secular state model, arguing that old models should have been buried in the history’s graveyard, never to be brought to life again. In the light of that blasphemy was abolished in 1791 in France. In order to understand fully the significance of this achievement in France, one should take into account that “The Abolition of Blasphemy Offences” document which was published in the UK on 9th of May 2008
That is a tradition of the country proud of its satirists. Still, there is a legitimate question to be asked: Who is “Charlie Hedbo”? Je suis Charlie- it is written all over Europe today. Viktor Ivancic remembers the time when, during the Balkan wars of the 90's, one of the Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Wolinski, visited the editorial offices of “Feral Tribune”, a satirical anti-war magazine of Croatia. At the time when Feral Tribune had been systematically abused by local pro war factions, receiving regular death threats, which, in all his modesty, Ivancic does not even mention in his article, Wolinski was seated in their offices, smoking cigars, drawing down instantly on everything that was brought up to his attention.
“Twenty years ago Wolinski, while nonchalantly smoking a fat cigar, in the newsroom of “Feral”, squinting his curious eyes, produced the drawings with which he instantly (depending on the topic of conversation) ironized every attempt to take reality seriously to the level of faith in anything other than the unrestrained personal freedom and not without pride, saying that he was sued by Jean-Marie Le Pen. … and the fact that the dead Wolinski - thanks to the madness of religious fanatics - will be used by lepenists, testifies to the horror of the world that, despite the rivers of blood, foam from simplified stimuli and false sentimentality”. (by Viktor Ivancic, Novosti 9. January 2015)
After all, the question of Rousseau arises from its grave to terrorise (the secular?!?) 21st century Europe;
"Will we all be damned for not having believed?"
If, hypothetically, there was a satirical magazine in today's Berlin or any other European city, printing offensive cartoons about “greedy Jews” being portrayed as thieves, with small eyes and nasty looks, the majority of us would find it not at all funny. To the contrary, we would think of it as extremely offensive prints and no freedom of speech would have been an excuse good enough to justify such an act of public human degradation.
That is how most ordinary Muslims feel about blasphemy. If satire is a big part of the French identity, the Prophet for all Muslims, believers is an inseparable part of their identity. Insulting his divine figure is like individually humiliating each believer publicly and in flesh.
That is maybe why there are so many different views of the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo incident which is turning into a fast growing, dangerous myth.
On wsws.org - World Socialist Web Site, David North wrote:
“The cynically provocative anti-Muslim caricatures that have appeared on so many covers of Charlie Hebdo have pandered to and facilitated the growth of right-wing chauvinist movements in France. It is absurd to claim, by way of defense of Charlie Hebdo, that its cartoons are all “in good fun” and have no political consequences. Aside from the fact that the French government is desperate to rally support for its growing military agenda in Africa and the Middle East, France is a country where the influence of the neo-fascist National Front is growing rapidly. In this political context, Charlie Hebdo has facilitated the growth of a form of politicized anti-Muslim sentiment that bears a disturbing resemblance to the politicized anti-Semitism that emerged as a mass movement in France in the 1890’s.
In its use of crude and vulgar caricatures that purvey a sinister and stereotyped image of Muslims, Charlie Hebdo recalls the cheap racist publications that played a significant role in fostering the anti-Semitic agitation that swept France during the famous Dreyfus Affair, which erupted in 1894 after a Jewish officer was accused and falsely convicted of espionage on behalf of Germany. In whipping up popular hatred of Jews, La Libre Parole [“Free Speech”], published by the infamous Edoard Adolfe Drumont, made highly effective use of cartoons that employed the familiar anti-Semitic devices. The caricatures served to inflame public opinion, inciting mobs against Dreyfus and his defenders, such as Emile Zola, the great novelist and author of J’Accuse.” (David North, WSWS, 9. January 2015)
If, indeed, Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists are one day to be placed on a French coin, one wonders what would be on the other side of it.