Charlie Hebdo never asked for glorification
On Jan. 7 at about 11:30 a.m., France faced its largest national security threat in decades. Two violent extremists broke into the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and opened fire on unarmed civilians. amidst proclamations of "allah-u-ikbar," they rained approximately 50 shots of gunfire onto the magazine’s staff, killing eleven and injuring seven others. The attack was apparently motivated by "blasphemous" images of the Prophet Muhammad that Charlie Hebdo routinely published.
In the following weeks, support and solidarity for Charlie Hebdo and France poured in from all quarters. Within days, #JeSuisCharlie was retweeted over 5 million times. Vigils and marches were held in cities all around the world, from London and Amsterdam to Melbourne and Perth. A massive unity rally, attended by approximately 3.7 million people throughout France — including 40 world leaders — was centered in Paris on Jan. 11. Furthermore, the post-attack "Survivors' Issue" of Charlie Hebdo was bought by nearly 7 million people who wanted to express their support for the magazine.
Let me be absolutely clear: complete freedom of speech is one of modern society’s greatest achievements, and using violence to suppress this freedom in the name of God is unjustifiably, unforgivably evil. Stifling controversial ideas through force is a highly condemnable act that is rightly illegal. That said, the glorification of Charlie Hebdo and its positions, as demonstrated by the outpour of support for the magazine over the past few weeks, sets a dangerous precedent and tends to miss the very point that Charlie Hebdo has tried to make.
Going through Charlie Hebdo’s previous issues, one discovers the magazine's penchant for taking brutally crude aim at all kinds of figures that societies around the world revere. From religious prophets such as Jesus and Muhammad, to important figures today such as the Pope and the President of the United States, Charlie Hebdo has been equally offensive to all. It has reveled in its ability to upset and affront, and generally be a shameless irritant to unimaginative, uptight, mainstream society. This brand of humor, colloquially known as “gouaille” in France, does not attempt to align itself with any one particular school of thought. Instead, it attacks anyone and anything that attempts to position itself as an exclusive purveyor of the truth.
The veneration of Charlie Hebdo in western media over the past few weeks is the very sort of phenomenon that Charlie Hebdo would mock. The massive marches, the hashtag, and the sales of Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue are cruelly ironic, in that they fly in the face of the very anti-establishment sentiment that has traditionally been Charlie Hebdo’s lifeblood. Memorializing the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo as martyrs of free speech is to turn them into the very kinds of icons that they routinely ridiculed.
Another reason not to glorify Charlie Hebdo is somewhat more depressing and far more practical. One cannot escape the fact that several of their issues are deeply offensive to massive swathes of people, particularly Muslims, to whom any image of Muhammad — let alone a blatantly offensive depiction — is sacrilegious. Some of their covers include a bare-naked Prophet Muhammad lying prostrate and Muhammad being beheaded by an ISIS fighter.
If such material resulted in a violent attack when their circulation was in the thousands, consider what might result now that their circulation is in the millions. Giving such material widespread circulation is akin to providing ammunition to Al Qaeda and other peddlers of propaganda and extremism. Although an overwhelming majority of the world's Islamic population is moderate and peace loving, Charlie Hebdo’s material, far more than ever before, is angering those on the fringes of the moderates and pushing them towards extremism. On the other side of the fence, in the political climate left by the wake of the attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s material is unwittingly promoting Islamophobia within Western Europe and beyond.
According to Radio French Internationale, more anti-Muslim incidents have taken place in France since the Charlie Hebdo attacks than in all of 2014. n the meanwhile, following the publication of the "Survivors' Issue," South Asia and the Middle East have been swept by protests against *Charlie Hebdo and its depictions of the Prophet, according to Yahoo News. In a sense, the glorification of Charlie Hebdo has pushed both sides further away from each other than ever before.
Traditionally, Charlie Hebdo’s brand of offensive humor has raised questions about our icons that deserve to be raised. With the attention Charlie Hebdo has gotten since the attacks, its societal role has undergone deep change. Pre-veneration Charlie Hebdo was a subcultural symbol of rebellion and impropriety. Post-veneration Charlie Hebdo strikes more hatred into the world than curiosity.