After solidarity, reflection. I’ve noticed two tendencies in the responses to the mass murder of the Charlie hebdo artists. The first is pretty much the total theme of Andrew Hussey’s rather astringent column in the NYT. According to this theme, the journal went too far. Hussey enlivens the usual complaint by pursuing two different and contradictory complaints. One is that they were past their shelf life, old 68s – as he points out, Wolinski was guilty of being 80. Hussey implies that 80 was about the median age of the editorial board to make the point that this irresponsible May spirit has now been totally discredited. The other complaint, though, makes them totally relevant, creating threats to the French abroad and being hated by the whole of the immigant banlieux.
Hussey sees, with justice, that the immigrant banlieux have a lot to justly complain about. The other tendency, which one expected – such being the moronic inferno of this world – is that Charlie Hebdo was defending our civilization. With the implication that there is another thing outside our civilization, which is a buncha murderous Islamofascists who need to be taught a good lesson.
We don’t really have to dwell too long on the assimilation of Charlie Hebdo to the rightwing imperialist shitheads. It was a magazine of satire that devoted itself to a violent anticlericalism that was anything but friendly to “our civilization”. I think they would have agreed with a bon mot attributed to Brecht that civilization is such a good idea we should try it some time.
The first criticism is more interesting. In a sense, I think my problem with Charlie Hebdo’s bare bummed Mohammeds and such is that they did not go far enough. Being anti-clerical, I think, blinded them to the deeper level of humor to be derived from the utterly hypocritical coordination of the “west” and the “Islamic fanatics.” In truth, what we have seen for the last eighty years is the cultivation, for quite cynical reasons, of a form of Islam dominant in the Arabian peninsula. That form of Islam is a product of the nineteenth century, not of the seventh century. Its aim is to dominate and purge the Islamic world of the thousands of intersecting Islamic sects. In this, it was, until the 1960s, successful only in the restricted area of the Arabian peninsula, and not even thoroughly there. But what happened then is that the west decided that these powers would be very useful in the two-fold task of fighting Arabic Nationalism and Middle Eastern communism.
And thus began the hilariously sick comedy of the Western double standard: human rights for, say, totalitarian Russia, and cat licks and giggles for totalitarian Saudi Arabia. In the late seventies, with Iran becoming undone, the West had a new enemy, and agreed, as though this were the best thing in the world, to turn a blind eye as the Gulf states, flush with cash, planted and surplanted Mosques throughout the world. The first target of those mosques was… other mosques. Centuries old traditions and cults were brutally attacked. In the nineties, one saw this in, for instance, Chechnya, a country were the predominant Sufi Moslems became the victims of their so called allies, Moslem paramilitaries financed by Saudi Arabia, who tried to institute the thing called “radical Islamic rule” – except of course when that is the rule of our oil producing allies.
By never going beyond Mohammed’s bare bum, Charlie Hebdo failed to exploit the riches of the sinister and farcical alliance. Take, for instance, last year. The French foreign ministry was in a lather about civil rights in Putin’s Russia. It is a place where a tax avoiding but democracy talking billionaire doesn’t have a chance! Meanwhile, of course, in Saudi Arabia, France’s ally, there was a beheading and anti-witchcraft campaign going on, with at least forty guest workers, mostly from Indonesia, mostly maids, sitting on death row for casting spells. Remember when Qaddaffi kidnapped the Belgian nurses? That was a crime against humanity. But Saudi Arabia, oh, well, can’t fuck up the oil supply, can we? The French Foreign minister, Fabius, has spoken out about Pussy Riot and extended best wishes to Khodorkovski, but when it comes to Ati Abeh Inan, the Indonesian maid who spent ten years on death row in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft, silence at the Matignon. I would think here is the tender spot for placing a little comic dynamite. But I think this was beyond the vision of Charlie Hebdo – it was where they didn’t go. It would be going too far, after all, to basically mock the West for complicity in the murders of Indonesian guest workers by our allies, or for trampling into Bahrain, or for supplying all the money in the world to the Islamic “radicals”. Drive a car, and support an ISIS paramilitary for another day – this is of course what it comes down to.
Still, you targets what you can hit, as they say. They were a nervy band and their absense is a huge hole, into which, as we know, imbeciles and cretins from the right will be crawling for a long time.