After having watched the bobbing pundits as they went round and round on the carousel of the media circus, reaching for that golden circular meme with effusions they hoped would become the week’s buzzword, you’d have thought it was Charlie Brown, not Charlie Hebdo, who violently passed away a couple weeks ago, along with Lionel, Lucy and Pigpen – finally gunned down by a Red Baron swooping in with a ululating allahu akbar, crescent moon notches sprucing up his fuselage.
Let sleeping dogmas lie, they say, but then someone woke the sleeper cells – all the crazies of Abraham: Bush, bin Laden, radical Zion – and now all Hell has broken loose, no one happier than the zealots going at it like three dueling banjoes in a film called No Deliverance.
I’ve tried to stay away from the Charlie fray, seeing in it the usual tragicomedy of wasted lives, of sardonic ink spilled in an Ironic Age for naught, the world become in so many ways a self-caricature souped-up on Google juice. Frankly, I didn’t go with the handwringing flow on this catastrophe. Being the free-associative type (an oxymoronic expression if there ever was one), my first thought was: La Haine. The movie about hate and racism at work in the suburbs of Paris, whose violence left me feeling queasy when I watched it back in 1995. An Arab, a Jew and a Black, all friends, confront a police state on the local scale, like the residents of Ferguson.
But I also thought of France’s recent Burqa showdown; recalled Libya and how France was the first to raise her hand when it came time to murdering Gaddafi. And thought of French colonialism in Arabia. Thought: even my favorite existentialist novel, Camus’ The Stranger, features an Arab being rubbed out senselessly on a beach by a French nihilist. There’s a lot of karma at work here.
As it often does, Black Agenda Report adds some clear and succinct perspective on matters of Otherness. Bruce Dixon points out that “If you actually want to understand why some fraction of Muslims saw gratuitous insult instead of satire when the French magazine Charlie Hebdo depicted the prophet Muhammad doing things you wouldn’t want your own small children to see, or pregnant Muslims as ‘Boko Haram sex slaves’ howling for welfare checks, all you’ve got to do is look at is two bits of history.” He then cites philosopher Karen Armstrong’s observation that the notion of a separation of religion and state is a Western one, and that even in “modernized” Islamic states the separation has come not by consent but by force.
Of course, such a separation does not really exist even in the powerful West. In America, you are put through the ritual of swearing to God before taking the stand to bear witness in a court of law; money has the laughable slogan: In God We Trust. Even here in Australia, I was rather stunned a few months back when I watched a session of Parliament open with members murmuring the Lord’s Prayer.
Back in Europe, France is not the only nation with a growing intolerance toward Islam and its traditions, which are seen as hostile to the dominant Western culture they are embedded in, but it’s a dangerously multiplying phenomenon as the rise of PEGIDA in Germany attests to. It makes one wonder: Is there a Kristallnacht for Islam on the horizon? Dixon is right to suggest that given the ‘clash of civilizations’ forced on Islam by Western catalytic actions, “In this context, unlike jokes exposing the foibles of the powerful, which are real satire, Charlie Hebdo, which is now subsidized by the French government is engaged in something much like war propaganda.”
In yet another rightwing theft of postmodernist tactics, apparently it’s okay to jeer and sneer and stare at the people we are actively seeking to kill or depose, to humiliate as a softener before the hardball begins. These are old tactics by now. The CIA plotted to have Castro’s beard fall out so that he would ‘lose face’. Saddam Hussein was declared “a homo” in the first rumblings toward his demise. Gaddafi was, of course, daffy (and also the crucial principal financier of Mandela’s ANC party when its viability was on the line). Bin Laden had ‘his porn stash’. And more recently, of course, the West lit up with hilarity at the notion of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jung-un in a Seth Rogen comedy.
But lampoon some Israelis, who took to the hills overlooking Gaza with lounge chairs and beverages, the Star of David firmly planted in the ground, while the IDF bombed Gazans with remote-controlled drone missiles – well, that cold get you fired, and did: Australian columnist Mike Carlton practically chased out of town by murderous Semites crying, “You hate me!” Of course, it was the cartoon accompanying Carlton’s column which caused the original uproar – never mind that the cartoon was adapted from a Guardian photo depicting the very scene the cartoonist dressed up with funny curls. Meh.
No question: While not exactly a Massacre of the Innocents, the mowing down of a set of journalists is a horrible thing. There is nothing funny about that. And just to prove it, there were calls by fellow Jews for the editors of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz to be assassinated after they ran a cartoon a couple of days ago depicting a kind of scorecard of journalists killed in Paris versus journalists killed by Israel Defense Forces in Gaza last summer.
So all the pollies and pundits and assorted power punks have flown in to lay their wreaths of hypocrite mon lecteur fleur de malice at the graves of the fallen anti-heroes, who despised the endless ground zeroes these weasels stood upon. Another chance to co-opt, to call for more security, more up-ratcheting. Just as they did after two NYC police officers were murdered by yet another woken up sleeping dogmatist. Authorities are always ‘flying in’ these days to validate or co-opt. Obama had the sense or couth to stay away from the Charlie Hebdo charade – maybe he learned something after a terminally ill Nelson Mandela purportedly pretended to be dead in 2013 rather than receive the President’s phony smile. Out have come the slogans, the T-shirts with “Je suis Charlie,” that will soon be discarded, collected and shipped en masse to some Third World hell hole, showing up worn by children rummaging through trash heaps in the ‘burbs of Port Morseby or the like.
One good thing has come for Charlie Hebdo though: circulation has shot through the roof. Everyone in Europe now seems keen to seize a copy. Which inspires a modest proposal. What with falling revenues forcing newspapers out of the biz everywhere, maybe editors could start designating staff to be sacrificed for love of free press and freedom of expression The New York Times, for instance, might hang someone out to dry. Not David Brooks, who is too much of a vanilla milkshake, but, let’s say, Maureen Dowd, who is about the only one on staff capable of stirring people to healthy outrage with her acerbic wit and saucy savvy.
Think of the rebirth, the revenue renaissance that the NYT could enjoy if Dowd were hung out like a piñata (naked, if she prefers) and beaten by dogmatic mobs with dust brooms until all those whiskey shot glasses come tinkling out of her (assuming she drinks up to stereotype) and Bill Maher wrings his hands and Obama rings dem bells and Kathryn Bigelow directs another “journalistic” biopic on Dowd with black cats and Charles Schulz shows up, like Groucho, and machine guns ‘em all down with cartoon bullets. “Look at them run,” he’ll sneer, “now they know they’ve been in a war.”