Je suis encore Charlie

May 3, 2015 • 8:40 am

by Greg Mayer

Following up on Jerry’s post, I note that in a piece in the New York Times op-ed pages yesterday, Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Stossel, the leaders of American PEN, defend giving an award to Charlie Hebdo, and defend Charlie Hebdo itself. The piece is quite good, suffering only from a bit of accommodationism toward the opponents of Charlie Hebdo, calling them “well-intentioned people with shared values [who] interpret and weigh principles differently.”

I especially like that they defended Hebdo by quoting Christiane Taubira, the French justice minister (the black woman in the monkey cartoon), who rose to their defense. They note:

[Taubira] delivered a poignant elegy at the funeral of one of her supposed tormentors, Bernard Verlhac, known as Tignous, saying that “Tignous and his companions were sentinels, lookouts, those who watched over democracy,” preventing it from being lulled into complacency.

And, Solomon and Stossel added this:

The leading French anti-racism organization, SOS Racisme, has called Charlie Hebdo “the greatest anti-racist weekly in this country.”

In the print version, a subheading reading “It’s an award for courage, not cartoons” is quite misleading. The piece makes it clear that it is not an award for mere courage (you could give that to a German soldier at Stalingrad), and Solomon and Stossel give an explicit endorsement of the cartoons as anti-racist—a necessary defense of the “norms to which free societies subscribe”.

Je suis encore Charlie.

Guest post: Je suis Charlie?

January 14, 2015 • 10:03 am

[JAC note: Greg wrote this two days ago, and I think it will be the last thing written on this site about the Charlie Hebdo murders. One can never be sure, of course, but I think Greg’s post closes out the matter for us.]

by Greg Mayer

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris, a number of commentators, while of course condemning the killings, have attempted to ‘contextualize’ the attacks. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical of the French to mourn the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, they ask, while persecuting the comedian Dieudonne? No, it isn’t. French SWAT teams did not kill Dieudonne (along with his janitor and doorman); he was fined and had shows canceled. We can contest the wisdom of French (and European) anti-Nazi laws (as Christopher Hitchens did), but the case of Dieudonne doesn’t even begin to compare to the tragedies of last week.

And several commentators (including, perhaps predictably, Bill Donohue and David Brooks) pronounced Charlie Hebdo too blasphemous, or too racist, or too aggressive, or too unfunny—as if these failings somehow expiated the murder of the staff (and several others who had nothing to do with the paper). As several Francophone commentators have pointed out (including Matthew), much of this stems from a misunderstanding of French politics, or just not having read (or been able to read) the paper.

“Je suis Charlie” never meant “I agree with all they have written or drawn”, or that “I myself prefer aggressive caricature as the best form of criticism”, just as Le Monde‘s famous “We are all Americans” never meant that “We endorse all American policies” or “We think America is always right”.

What “Je suis Charlie” means is that certain outrages are so heinous as to strike at the very notion of a liberal, civilized society, and that at such times all persons who want to live in or build such a society must stand as one to oppose the barbarism that seeks to dissolve it.

If we are not Charlie, then we become Ward Churchill.

Je suis Charlie.