Was Charlie Hebdo Racist or Islamophobist?

So there is a very interesting conversation that has come up in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre about whether the cartoons penned by and published in the magazine were somehow crossing over the line into racism and islamophobia.  It’s a question that I don’t have the answer to.

First of all, let’s acknowledge the obvious, that even if the cartoons did cross the line, that’s obviously not a justification for murder.

That being said, several commentators have made the valid point that if someone were to print a cartoon depicting black people as monkeys, there would be a lot of social outrage (although that would not necessarily be illegal). A similar argument can apparently be made about some of the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. So, I don’t read French, and I haven’t done a survey of the cartoons, but what I did see and hear about did seem a little unnecessarily provocative. Even though, as I understand it, the French have a history of publishing especially provocative cartoons.

French freedom of speech is not unlimited, however. Even the French don’t allow people to advocate holocaust denial, for example.

In the United States, the situation is complex. Although freedom of speech is not unlimited here either, the Supreme Court has essentially protected hate speech except where it creates an “imminent danger” by inciting others to proximate violence.

Three articles that tackle this question include ones by Teju Cole in the New Yorker, by Jordan Weissman of Slate, and by the always provocative Ashgar Bukhari.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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4 Responses to Was Charlie Hebdo Racist or Islamophobist?

  1. I have been struggling with this very issue. It does gnaw at me that poking fun of the most important Muslim prophet, especially in the manner that the publication did, doesn’t contribute anything except the lowest common denominator of discourse.. I absolutely reject violence and terror as a means to protest expression that some find insulting. But perhaps it might help to consider the reasons for raising such passions.

  2. Jae says:

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (attributed Voltaire) — that doesn’t mean I won’t argue with you once you say them.

    Counter words with words (it’s called “debate”) – not AK-47s.

  3. zyonchaos says:

    I wouldn’t say the cartoons necessarily poked fun at the prophet, but openly mocked him in such a way that these images were designed to cause offense. I agree that this is no justification for the acts that were brought on as retaliation.
    I enjoy humour and I enjoy poking fun at situations and if I offend someone I apologise, but what I have seen recently is certain groups in the US and also one or two here in the UK are planning to have “Draw the prophet” days in an attempt to show “the muslims” that they are not scared, way to go morons! The idea of inciting more hatred and discontent to get your own way has worked so well in the past that they are actively encouraging it in an attempt to make things better for them. I personally do not care which invisible man/woman you pray to or even if you pray at all, it doesn’t take much to be compassionate or understanding to another human being

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