This is still a draft text, a repository of some thoughts to which I will return soon ...
Last night Channel 4 news reported from La Place de la République where thousands of people stayed up late to protest against the brutal murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff and the policemen who got on the way of the perpetrators. The square was packed, with some people in shock, many angry at what had happened, most determined to send a message of defiance. Banners and posters featuring #jesuisCharlie, the hashtag devised to express solidarity to the satirical magazine staff were everywhere and, later on, the same hashtag was projected on the statue of the Republic in the centre of the square, superimposed over the crowd that had gathered. Matthieu Ecoiffier, journalist with the French newspaper Libération, talking to the Channel 4 reporter, was shocked, surprised that Charlie Hebdo could have caused offence. He mentioned the 'innocent' cover of the magazine issue with the title Charia Hebdo and referring to yet another cartoon, wondered how depicting 'Muhammad with a red nose saying that humour and Islam are after all compatible' can be construed as offensive.
In moments like this collective amnesia can paralyze our critical reflexes and lure us into the vortex of a false sense of superiority and self-righteousness; the journalist as many others who talked to the television audiences, or addressed the crowds in the squares during this horrible day, have been instrumental in cultivating a collective amnesia by focusing on the innocence of the humour that Charlie Hebdo professed to be serving as their discourse left out ugly details of the innocent practices we call humour.
I feel that I need to introduce a disclaimer here as what will follow might be easily dismissed as an apology for the murders in the 11th arrondissemrnt of Paris: There is no justification for the brutal murders and what follows should in no way be construed as such.
I will not refer to the many caricatures of Muhammad that may have been considered offensive by Muslims but I will briefly discuss a particular instance that I found extremely revealing of the insensitivity and aggressiveness of the magazine editorial team's satire. In a 2012 issue of Charlie Hebdo, there is another depiction of Muhammad, on the back cover, not with a red nose this time but with a star (on/in his rectum). In it, he is depicted naked, kneeling and leaning on his elbows. His posture can be construed in many ways and I will not enter here in a detailed discussion of the possibilities of interpretation.
|Photograph of an Abu Ghraib inmate|
|Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom - Pier Paolo Pasolini|
If I could ever conclude an argument that still needs to be made, there is no doubt that militant Islamic fundamentalism presents a threat to Europe just as it does to everybody who does not fit to its procrustean logic of the right path in the Middle East, Sout Asia, Africa and beyond, We definitely need to engage with the threat of Islamic extremism and the hatred that it nurtures, But at the same time we need to rethink our relationship with Islam, we need to stop being surprised when confronted with hatred, we need to remember alongside the drawings of Mohammed with a red nose the ones with the star in his rectum. We cannot forget the imaginaries of humiliation of the 'Other' that Abu Ghraib reminded us belong to our own European modernity, its experimentation with freedom, its successes and its patent failures.We need to lose our pretentious innocence when we speak of our freedoms when we use these to belittle, denigrate and culturally eliminate others.