Today, in the wake of the Paris' tragedy, some journalists, here and there, also on Gawker, try to understand what this very "different" newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, actually is. And yes, I say "is" because the newspaper itself is not dead and will be published normally next Wednesday and the weeks after that, despite the slaughter of half of its team.
Let me start by introducing myself. I am a 30 year old french. I've lived in North America most of my adult life and I now live in Japan, where I'm married, with no kids. I grew up in France though, often reading a comic magazine named "Fluide Glacial" for which Charb, the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, was working at the time. The style of the magazine is pretty similar to what we can see on Charlie Hebdo, it's just less politically oriented and a majority of the stories are ficticious. I also used to read Charlie Hebdo once in a while. They are not of the same political orientation I am, but nonetheless, it was often funny to read.
But now, some poeple, while still condemning the massacre, also say that the whole newspaper was racist. To be rather direct with you, you couldn't be more wrong, it's always been the exact opposite.
This drawing by Charb, has gotten poeple outside of France (and even people in France too), screaming for racism. "He is drawing a black woman as a monkey! How can you say it's not a racist drawing!!". Well, yes, it IS a racist drawing. That's the whole point of it.
In 2013, Christiane Taubira ended up on the facebook account of a candidate for the Front National / Rassemblement Bleu Marine (National Front and Marine-Blue Meeting, extreme right-wing party in France, two names for only one party), compared with a monkey. Here is the picture for you:
Next to the picture she wrote: "In this picture, all is said. I'd prefer to see her hanging out in trees rather than in the government. She is a savage with an evil smile." adding at the end "But it's not racist!"
She ended up being suspended from the Front National and if I recall correctly she had to pay a fine.
Of course, soon after, extreme right-wing newspaper "Minute" pictured her smiling, saying she had "the banana", a french expression meaning she is smiling and happy with the verdict against the Front National.
So Charb decided to draw his vision of the Front National, exposing the thoughts and what the "Rassemblement Bleu Marine" really was: The "Rassemblement Bleu RACISTE" a political party who sees black people as monkeys and find it normal. It's not like the title of the whole drawing doesn't explain that yes, it's depicting something racist. But people often ignored the whole title, nor did they even bother reading the entire article next to it and focused on the picture, taking it out of its context.
The history of Charb, as a cartoonist for the MRAP, a famous anti-racism french NGO, had been quickly forgotten and he even had to go justify himself (he was used to it though) for this drawing, eventhough anyone who could read french would easily notice that this is a satire.
"I would love to hire you, but I don't like the color of your.... huhhh... Tie!!"
What people may have a hard time understanding also, is Charlie Hebdo's constant religion bashing. Lots of people also accuse CH to be particulary against Muslims and Islam. And well, they are against Islam for sure. Not only are they atheists, they are also antitheists. Religion in general is ridiculous to them and they do see religions as one the main problems of today's world. But what they are not against, is muslim people. They understand that they have a certain belief, but they also feel the right to laugh about it and make fun of that belief. They do it for every religions. They are arguably quite worse when it comes to Christian religion. Here are some of the past covers of Charlie Hebdo on the subject:
"Mgr. André Vingt-Trois has 3 dads: The father, the son, the holy spirit!" (yes, it is a picture of Jesus sodomising god, while having the holy spirit stucked in his ass. This cover was done during the protests against gay-mariage in France last year, targetting the religious traditionalist catholic population of France)
"The Gay-lobby at the papal conclave: "So, this smoke, is it coming??"
But what created a huge controversy has been the Mohammed drawings. As mentioned in Islam, you cannot draw Mohammed. But as Charb said: "well, sure, Muslim people can't draw Mohammed...".
Charlie Hebdo is on the opposite political side of the original Danish newspapier, the "Jyllands-Posten" , but they did not care about that. They were shocked that these drawings would cause death threats and that millions of people were willing to see the caricaturist die. So they naturally decided to republish those drawings in France and added their own personnal touch to it. Provoking extremists who wanted to see them die, shocking muslims just like they were shocking catholics or jews. They would not stop because after all "Fuck them"! They are right, it's their freedom and it has to be fought for. The end results (well, it's not the end as they do not give up) were the ones we know.
Caricatures of Jews in Charlie Hebdo. Let's go over this too. They have often been accused of being "nicer" to Jews.
"Jewsish ass!: Does racism create more sales? We'll tell you next week!"
"Untouchables 2 (refering to french movie "Intouchable"): You can't mock us!"
What is often brought up is the "Affaire Siné", when CH fired the cartoonist Siné for saying this: "Jean Sarkozy (son of Nicolas Sarkozy), just like his father and already general adviser for the UMP (right wing french party), almost came out applauded by everyone out of his trial for running away from the Police with his scooter. They even asked the jury to give up on sanctionning him! Well, of course, the victim was arabic! But that's not all: he also declared wanting to convert to judaism to marry his fiancé, jewsih and herress of Darty (big french company similar to Best Buy)! That kid will go far in life!"
Charlie Hebdo fired him over this declaration. Siné sued Charlie Hebdo.
The reason behind him being fired was that Charlie Hebdo makes fun of religion and what they consider to be ridiculous beliefs. They also make fun of extremists and like they enjoy saying, "stupid people" (les cons). But they don't go after jewish, muslims or catholics with no good reasons, like Siné did. And when they do, they focus on the idiots among those religions, precisely targetting them like with the Mohammed cover ("It's hard being loved by idiots" is precedeed by "Mohammed overwhelmed by extremists", clearly explaining it is aimed at extremists. But it's often ignored too). It's not Charlie Hebdo's problem if one want to convert to a religion and they don't make fun of that, especially when it implies it's for the money because of course, "all jewish are rich!". When being such a strongly opinionated newspaper, with strong antitheist views, the limit between racism and antitheism has to be clearly drawn. So they fired Siné for this, as to them, he crossed that line.
Nonetheless, Charlie Hebdo lost this trial and had to pay 90000€ to Siné.
I hope you understand a bit more what Charlie Hebdo is now. It's humor is VERY different to anything you can find in North America or pretty much anywhere in the world. But by showing and drawing racism, bigotry, extremists, abuses and so on, they caricature with loads of vitriol and dark humor what they see as today's problems and news. Their drawings maybe sometimes be racists, yes, but they are done this way to denounce this racism and are therefore impossible to understand if taken out of context. This is exactly what a satire is supposed to be. You take someones opinions and ideas and exarcerbate what is wrong with them.
This what Charlie Hebdo has been doing for longer than I have lived and that's what they'll keep doing for hopefully many, many more years.
You may not like their style, their insults and their political opinions, and it's ok, a crapload of people can't stand them. But they are not doing ANYTHING wrong and that's what seems to be forgotten when I read some articles in the North American press. This is what free speech is about. Yet, american medias, still censors the drawings of Charb everyday.
Je souhaite bonne chance à toute la rédaction de Charlie Hebdo. Je ne suis pas nécessairement toujours d'accord avec vous, mais vous avez toujours réussi a me faire marrer. Bon courage du Japon! N'abandonnez jamais et merci pour toutes ces années de rigolade!
UPDATE: Hey, thank you time zones, I was sleeping when the whole article was published. Anyway, instead of answering individually to people, I'd rather just post one answer here as it slimplifies everything...
Obviously, my explanations are definitly not enough to some readers here :)
So let me say it once again. It's not racist. Provocative, childish, shocking, insulting, bad, ugly, stupid, not funny, anything you want... sure! But nope, not racist.
I was also asked to comment on another drawing that I didn't post in my original writing and that is essentialy followed by "If they're not racists, then explain this!!"
(Kinja and its formatting...)
Title says "Sexual slaves of Boko Haram are angry: "Don't touch our welfare!". So yes, once again, like with most drawings from Charlie Hebdo, this is terribly racist when taken out of context. Let me explain this one for all of those who don't bother looking further than the drawing itself.
The entire past year in France there was a huge debate, mostly through right wing conservative, saying that politcal refugee and immigrants who don't even necessarily have legal status in France shouldn't benefit of welfare. They were saying that they were coming to France, making lots of kids on the territory because according to the french law, a child born in France can have the french nationality and then just live out of welfare...
At the same time, those people were shocked seing the treatment that that Boko Haram sex slaves had to face, being raped daily and giving birth to kids from those rapes.
Though, according to french law, these girls would be of course, admitted as political refugees and they would NEED this welfare, like a huge majority of immigrants who just arrived need this welfare too. But right wing parties want to see it removed from their hands. Charlie Hebdo points out the hypocrisy of the whole situation.
But I can go through other drawings if you want.
What about this one?
"Oh my god, two white people have a black person on a leech pictured as a dog!!!!"
Yep, how much more racist can it be huh?
Context maybe? I mean that could help right? Last year, the strong conservative right wing side of France was on the streets to protest against same-sex mariage. At the same time, a few modern slavery stories made the front pages as some rich traditionalist families got arrested actually having modern-days slaves, usually immigrants with their passeport confiscated, that they did not pay and had work 20 hours a day at their home, with no possiblities to go out.
So Charlie Hebdo drew this, saying that in order to be accepted as "normal" by those traditionalists, gay people had to AT LEAST be like them: a family has to be made of two parents and one slave, like they were doing.
Anyway, a lot of those drawings are explained here, in english for those of you who don't understand them (or who don't want to maybe?)
Thanks to Aventura, Taytoy and the others who posted this link in the comments, it really simplifies my life ;)
I've also been asked about "Dieudonné". He is a french stand up comedian who has had his shows canceled as they were considered anti-semite. After all, why is everyone shocked and talking about freedom of speech while, at the same time, his show is censored and he is condemned for what he says? First, a little background with french laws. In France free-speech does not mean we can do and say anything. Incitation to racial hate is very strongly condemned by french laws since the early '90s (Loi Gayssot) and so is "revisionnism", which basically is saying that "well, concentration camps did not kill that many jews, it's bullshit". This is against the law in France.
He got condemned saying this in an interview and I quote (but translate): "Muslim people have to wake up (...) jewish people are the biggest crooks on this planet". And his show got canceled after he said about Patrick Cohen a french radio speaker: "Me, you know, when I hear about Patrick Cohen, I feel that.... you know... gas chambers..." Making a face, saying that it wouldn't have been a bad thing for him to end up there and die. People laugh. Along with parodying a kid song and replacing the main lyrics which says "chaud cacao" (hot cacao) over and over by "chaud ananas" (hot ananas) that when sang sounds like "Shoahnanas", just after his sketch on the shoah, inviting so-called-historian and known revisionnist, Robert Faurisson on stage to talk about the shoah and jews in general.
Should his show have been canceled. I think not. It was obvious that doing so would only put him on the front pages of newspaper and would be free advertising for him. Unfortunatly our french gouvernment is not smart enough to understand that and he got extremely popular with those same people voting "Front National" (the godfather of is own daugter being Jean-Marie LePen by the way...)
Anyway I hope I answer to some of the quesitons being asked. I will ungrey a maximum of people so they notice the update and answer.
Thank you for reading.
For those who speak french (and lots of people seem to speak french since everyone knows Charlie Hebdo very well here on Gawker), here is the the interview of Dominique Sopo, president of the biggest anti-racism association in France, SOS Racisme, telling why CH is the biggest anti-racism media in France:
PS: forgot to mention, Charb's girlfriend was Jeannette Bougrab, french woman of arabic origins and ex-president of the "French Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission"... Pretty crazy for a "white supremacist" as some have called Charb in the comments, no? :)
PPS: Sorry for the impersonal "Added some more infos to the article, maybe answered your comment..." answer, just too many people to answer to... Hopefully some of what I added help answer your questions. Or not... or you can just insult me if you want :)
PPPS: To the few still debating with me, I'm off to bed guys. But one last thing... What do you think of those drawings?
Again guys... Context is everything.
Good night :)