So satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo lives-on. It’s mission to raise a chuckle from the absurdities of life and poke fun at hypocrites will continue unabated – and for this I am glad. No-one should be considered above criticism. Religions, politicians, businessmen, celebrities all deserve to have their words and influence deconstructed.
This unfortunately is where the whole “Je suis Charlie” campaign falls down. It is already being used as a vote-winning bandwagon by populist politicians at home and abroad as if it is somehow evidence of their affinity for the common man and free speech. As student Daniel Wickham rightly pointed out – the majority of the leaders assembled by Hollande on Sunday were more worthy of attacks by Charlie Hebdo than of standing in solidarity for its right to free speech. In my book their hypocrisy rates them more as a bunch of Charlies for showing up in Paris than it does as “Charlies” of free speech.
“Free speech” is something that is open to interpretation – and it is not until you move abroad that you realise that the version you grew up with is not necessarily the best one. The English defamation law, for example, as Private Eye relentlessly points-out, prevents criticism of those with access to expensive lawyers. Super-injunctions and the “incitement to religious or racial hatred” law also make the UK a far from a country of free expression. Which is why the image of this week’s cover of Charlie Hebdo (above) is not to be found on the BBC News website today.
How on earth can a picture of a bloke in a turban holding a sign be deemed inciting hatred one wonders? Well the problem comes with how you read it – apparently if you believe the bloke is supposed to be the Prophet Mohammed, and you’re an orthodox Muslim, and you believe that no image (no matter how crappily drawn) should dare to show the face of the Prophet – then you might consider it offensive.
In France however such foibles do not come into it – if you decide to be offended by the image then that is your problem, not the cartoonist’s. Satirical cartoons are intended as comment, designed to make the reader think about the issue, the risk of offence is therefore high when dealing with religion – but how do you criticise a religion without offending devout believers? Well – you can’t.
When the Pope is depicted as a homosexual – it is designed to make you think about the absurdity of the Catholic Church’s stance towards gay marriage – not simply to cause offence.
If you ask me I think this week’s image on the cover of Charlie Hebdo is well chosen. It is defiant in the face of Radical Islam, underlines France’s belief in the freedom of expression and accepts that Islam itself is not to blame for the atrocities of last week. I doubt, however, that everyone will read it that way – shame on you BBC!