Charlie Hebdo

Feb 08

I’ve attracted a little Twitter opprobium for sharing this comic today. Several people say that it’s essentially a piece of victim-blaming  – that to poke fun at Jews, and Christians, but not Muslims – is to cow to the terrorists.

I don’t have a problem with causing offence when offence needs to be caused. Like Nick Cohen, I was disappointed every British newspaper didn’t feature the Hebdo cartoon on its front page.

It would’ve been morally right to explain exactly what these killings were over: it was morally wrong to display the very images of murder and fear the terrorists wanted to be seen around the world.

As it was, only the Independent got its front page close to right.

Michael Deacon saw what was coming three days ago. He wrote:

“On the whole, I’m not sure that’s very likely. I don’t think the terrorists ‘win’ if we fail to reproduce cartoons. I think the terrorists ‘win’ if we leap up, gulp down their bait – and hate Muslims.

This is not about satire. This is beyond satire.”

But, comes the response, by way of Stephen Fry: you must mock. And you must. Because if you don’t, they’ve won.

But now it feels the point made by Fry and others has been co-opted. Douglas Murray on TV and Rupert Murdoch on Twitter, among others, have  pointed the finger at Muslims for failing to solve the problem of extremism, and many others suggest this is exacerbated by the western world’s “squeamishness” over mocking Islam.

As Frankie Boyle, among others, has pointed out, this is a category mistake not far from that made by the extremists themselves – or in his words:

“Holding civilian populations responsible for the actions of others is what terrorism is.”

It seems we’ve already forgotten that these murdering twats killed a Muslim. That hostages’ lives were saved – by a Muslim. That all but a tiny minority of Muslims feel murder is a far greater offence than any cartoon.

So the question is still not whether we must mock, but whom. Should we publish as many pictures of the prophet as possible, prove to all Muslims that offence is a necessary part of life?

As Will Self has correctly pointed out:

“…I observed that the test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken’s definition of good journalism: it should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. The trouble with a lot of so-called “satire” directed against religiously-motivated extremists is that it’s not clear who it’s afflicting, or who it’s comforting.”

The lesson we seem to be missing, in our rage, is that satire that punches down is no satire at all. That’s the message I take from Sacco’s cartoon.