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In praise of blasphemy

198 pages
“Threatened by fanatics, censored by cowards, freethinkers on all continents continue to fight on all fronts to ensure the survival of an enlightened world. And the right to commit blasphemy plays a central role in their struggle.”
Caroline Fourest
In the overwhelming emotional aftermath of the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Caroline Fourest reaches those who refused to “be Charlie” in the name of “responsibility”, or concerns about “offending” or being seen as “islamophobic”.
In this ruthless and pedagogical analysis, Caroline Fourest looks into debates on freedom of speech. She also warns us about the risks associated with the globalization of bullying. She puts into perspective the breaking point between French secularism and Anglo-Saxon relativism, between the right to commit blasphemy and the calls for hatred, between Charlie and Dieudonné, and between laughing about terrorism and laughing with terrorists. 
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To all the victims of fanaticism and terrorism, wherever it strikes. To the “survivors” ofCharlie.
The truth behind the cartoons affair
How many days would they wait before going on the attack against the “spirit of 11 January”? My friends and colleagues atCharlieunder no illusion. The affair of the 2006 were cartoons, the arson attack in 2011, the years of threats and having to justify, had made them more wary. In the “survivors” edition the chief editor, Gérard Biard, was on the lookout for the “yes, buts”. Yes of course, it’s very sad, they are dead, “but” they were looking for trouble. They should not have provoked.. Rather like a rape victim, who at the same time as she is being comforted is told that her skirt was too short. The unfounded accusations took up again where they had left off, as though nothing had happened. The only consolation in the midst of this tragedy was that their mean-spiritedness was far more obvious than before. But the nature of the threats has changed. Today, the extent to which these attacks can isolate and weaken their victims, as well as arm our adversaries, can no longer be ignored. Confronted with such danger, who can still refuse to say “I amCharlie”? Those who have always opposedCharlie, of course, but not only them. The “nonCharliegalaxy is a motley crew. Real racists who try to pass as secularists. Pseudo anti-racists who act as allies to the fundamentalists. A collection of artists devoid of humour and courage. And intellectuals, past masters of the art of spreading confusion and muddying the water instead of clarifying the situation, and who from the very beginning of the so-called “cartoons affair” played their semantic games, refusing to acknowledge the context of the cartoons and the message they wanted to put across.
The context
The incomprehension surrounding theCharliecartoons and their message is directly related to our perception of their context. Those who are convinced that the world is threatened by anti-Muslim racism, and anti-Muslim racism alone, obviously fail to understand why a progressive magazine persists in drawing Mahomet. When a cartoonist portrays crimes committed in the name of fanaticism, all they see is his pencil and accuse him of “fanning the flames”.. A refrain heard thousands of times over during the 2006 cartoons affair.
This totally distorted perception ignores a vital contextual element: the origin of the “flames”. The cartoonists were simply defending themselves, using their peaceful and symbolic weapons against real acts of violence. When Mahomet appears on the cover of Charlie, after hundreds of other covers depicting the Pope or the Church, it is in response to current events. Yet even then they were already being accused of being “obsessive” and “gratuitously provocative”. Gratuitous? Really? At that time I was working atCharlieand was involved in every phase which led to the decision to publish this cover, the reason behind it and the price we would pay. There was absolutely nothing gratuitous about this difficult
decision. We did not put Mahomet on the cover page for fun, nor even to provoke, but out of solidarity. Solidarity with the Danish cartoonists and citizens whose lives were threatened by fanatics who had ignited the fire.
At first I failed to see the relevance of the Danish cartoons forCharlie. An Iranian refugee friend in Denmark showed them to me in Paris, three months before the cartoons affair erupted, but I couldn’t see the point in publishing them inCharlie. They weren’t particularly ferocious, nor particularly funny. My Iranian friend insisted. He explained whyJyllands-Postenhad published them.
I perfectly understood their reasons, but they were a “Danish thing”. The context of the cartoons was that in Denmark, which has a long tradition of comic albums, an editor decided to publish a story of the life of Mahomet. But not a single illustrator would do the drawings. It was too risky. They feared being murdered in the street, stabbed through the heart like Theo Van Gogh, assassinated by an Islamist in Holland because of his filmFitna(Submission). A short film denouncing the impact of certain verses of the Koran on the perception of women’s bodies. It was written by a Somalian author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is also living under the threat of death.
After Holland, it was London’s turn to fall victim to self-censorship. Just after the terrorist attacks of 7 July the director of the Tate Gallery admitted that he could not go ahead with the satirical exhibition which had been scheduled a few months earlier on the Talmud, the Koran and the Bible, and that it would be withdrawn. A museum in Sweden then decided to cancel an exhibition of paintings showing sexual symbols and quotes from the Koran. In Denmark, a comedian was quoted in theJyllands-Postenas saying that he saw no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but that he would never urinate on the Koran. Flemming Rose, then editor of the arts section, put a stop to this “self-censorship”. After fourteen years of working under censorship in Moscow, he now wanted to enjoy freedom of expression. His newspaper decided to commission cartoonists to draw Mahomet as they imagined him, but without making fun of him. “Draw Mahomet as you imagine him” was what they were commissioned to do.
Twelve sketches were selected. They were a mixed bag: light-hearted, innocent, mocking; they didn’t mock Mahomet, but the newspaper which had commissioned the drawings... Like the one where a young Mohammed, and not Mahomet, has written on a blackboard: “The journalists atJyllands-Postenare a band of reactionary agitators.” Another depicted all the prophets of the different religions in a police line-up. The funniest one showed candidates for martyrdom flying up to Mahomet. He suddenly stops them: “Stop! Stop! We’ve run out of virgins”.
Inna, Grasset, 2014. Libre chercheur,Flammarion, 2013 (avec Etienne-Emile Baulieu). Quand la gauche a du courage.Chroniques résolument laïques, progressistes et républicaines, Grasset, 2012. La vie secrète de Marine le Pen, Grasset-Drugstore, 2012 (avec Jean-Christophe Chauzy). Marine le Pen, Grasset, 2011 (avec Fiammetta Venner); Le Livre de Poche, 2012.
Libres de le dire, avec Taslima Nasreen, Flammarion, 2010.
Les interdits religieux, Dalloz, 2010 (avec F Venner).
La dernière utopie.Menaces sur l’universalisme, Grasset, 2009. La tentation obscurantiste, Grasset, 2005; Le Livre de Poche, 2008. Les nouveaux soldats du Pape.Légion du Christ, Opus Dei, traditionalistes, Panama, 2008; Le Livre de Poche, 2010 (avec F Venner). Le choc des Préjugés.L’impasse des postures sécuritaires et victimaires, Calmann-Lévy, 2007. Charlie blasphème, Charlie Hebdo Éditions, 2006. Frère Tariq.Discours, stratégie et méthode de Tariq Ramadan, Grasset, 2005; Le Livre de Poche, 2010. Tirs croisés.La laïcité à l’épreuve des intégrismes juif, chrétien et musulman, Calmann-Lévy, 2003; Le Livre de Poche, 2005 (avec F. Venner). Foi contre choix.La droite religieuse et le mouvement prolife aux États-Unis, Golias, 2001. Le guide des sponsors du Front national et de ses amis, Paris, Raymond Castells, 1997 (avec F. Venner). Updates on Caroline Fourest:http://carolinefourest.wordpress.com
Cover photo: JF Paga © Grasset, 2015.
All rights reserved including for translation, reproduction and adaptation
© Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2015.
ISBN : 978-2-246-86169-0