Thursday, January 8, 2015

Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

They Came For The Cartoonists
 Candles Before French Embassy In Vienna (AAP Photo)

I am both sad and angry at the news from Paris: Two murderous imbecilic whoresons individuals killed over a dozen people, and wounded others, using automatic weapons in what French authorities described as a "military-style attack" on the Paris editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper.

The attack occured as the paper was holding its weekly editorial meeting , as the entire staff was gathered in one place. Among the dead were Stéphane Charbonnier, the newspaper's editorial director and one of France's best-known editorial cartoonists (aka 'Charb'); other artists Jean Cabut (known as 'Cabu') and Bernard Verlhac ('Tignous'); and Georges Wolinski, one of Charlie's original founders. The deranged sociopathic bottomfeeding fuckwads masked gunmen also murdered the paper's receptionist and other staff members, and two French policemen. 

A number of residents in the same building as the Charlie Hebdo offices apparently heard gunshots and immediately escaped up to their roof ; several took cellphone videos of the gunmen, including images as they machine-gunned a French policeman (who had responded to a call about the initial attack) as he lay wounded on a sidewalk, begging not to be killed [Ironically, the man was not only a Flic, but also a Muslim himself -- a Tweet sent from France said, "I Am Ahmed The Cop, and I died defending the right of free speech"]. One of the pathetic excuses for sentient life murderers could be heard, even on a cellphone video taken from a distance away, shouting that they had "avenged the prophet". 

The French believe that the freedom of expression -- to speak, write, or draw anything, even if it offends -- is a basic human right. There is a very old tradition for this style of editorializing and illustration, in France and across Europe, and on all sides of the political spectrum -- and the French see no difference between an offensive cartoon satirizing President Hollande in 2014, and Emil Zola publishing J'Accuse! in 1898 during the height of the Dreyfus Affair.

Zola's Famous Editorial, 1898

Charlie Hebdo was a publication with a small press run, financially always on the edge (this, too, part of a tradition of self-expression on the margins). But, it was internationally known for its no-holds-barred, nothing-sacred commentary and cartoons regarding the politics and cultural collisions in Europe and the larger world. They went for the jugular, and acerbic views included various currents of the Islamic world, and after republishing Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 and poking fun at Islamists generally, Charlie's offices in a quiet Paris suburb were firebombed.

In 2012, the paper published a number of its own cartoons of the prophet, forcing the French government to close embassies and other offices abroad in the face of threatened retaliation from unnamed Islamist groups. Within the last year, as Charlie mocked the brutality and savagery of ISIS's assault on the Middle East, threats against the paper escalated and several members of its editorial board began using bodyguards. Within the past few weeks, French intelligence had received information that some form of terrorist action was coming, but had no details.

The French are correct: The ability to freely speak, write, or draw one's opinion -- to create and to express that opinion even if it offends -- is a basic human right. The things persons who committed murder in Paris yesterday, and the murderous ideology they serve, are an obscenity on the face of the Earth. They deserve to be exposed, ridiculed, reviled, and ultimately brought to justice.

The forces of ignorance, intolerance, degradation and hatred not only use fighter-bombers, drop cluster munitions or use drones. Their leaders don't only speak in parliaments or congresses, wear expensive suits, manage corporations from boardrooms, or are part of families with great hereditary wealth. Darkness and real evil are not limited to that sort of trash.

They are no better than the people, or ideologies, they claim to oppose. They can create nothing; all they can do is destroy, and kill -- and it was demonstrated in the streets of Paris yesterday.  It's demonstrated around the world on a daily basis. And the only comfort we can take from any of it is: What goes around comes around, and there's a certain kind of person who acts as if that particular truth doesn't exist.

In a not-so-great 2013 film, Monuments Men, there's one good scene: Frank Stokes, an art curator-turned-army officer during WW2 (played by George Clooney), questions a captured SS officer about the whereabouts of art which the nazis had stolen from every corner of Europe they could get their hands on. Other works, paintings and sculpture which 'offended' them, were simply burned in the streets, like books. Or like people.

The SS officer smugly declines to help; Clooney smiles a little, then delivers a not-so-bad line (which I'll have to paraphrase from memory, but I think the point is clear):
... I'm going home soon. I've got a nice apartment in New York on the Upper West Side. There's a deli down the street, called Sid's. Every morning when I go to work at the Met, I walk to Sid's, get a cup of coffee and a bagel, and I read the New York Times .
One day, about a year or so from now, on some nice morning in springtime -- you know, when everything just starts to warm up? I'll be sitting there, reading the paper -- and I'll come across this tiny article. It won't be on the front page, but way in the back... and I'll read that you've been hanged for crimes against humanity.
Then I'll finish my coffee, and go to work.  Sid will use the paper to wrap some fish in. And I'll never think about you again for the rest of my life.
What goes around comes around. Some tend to forget that.


  1. these events remind me of a bon mot i heard in the twentieth century - "multiculturalism is not eating couscous; multiculturalism is stoning adulteresses"

    a tolerant, pluralistic society is, i think, the ideal - and if there are groups within such a society that are provoked to violence by it, perhaps they should be provided assistance in the process of resettling someplace where they would be more comfortable

    i am old enough to remember reading in the paris edition of the herald tribune in that same century about Front Algérie Française - their struggle was not successful and in the wake of its defeat a population redistribution took place - and perhaps a somewhat symmetrical population redistribution in the opposite direction might be called for in the twenty-first century

    la france - love her in her frenchitude, or return to the land of your ancestors

    some of my ancestors were french, by the way - they left - who knows if it's good or bad?

    1. French culture is certainly a Latin one -- highly individualistic, quirky; cynical and passionately hopeful at once. And it champions free expression almost like no other. It's one reason Jerry Lewis and his films are revered there and all but forgotten in America.

      Paris is a great city, but my people come from further East, over the Rhine. Berlin's more my kinda town, but as they say there, "God lives in France".


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