A pan-left-wing comic. Charlie Hebdo has lampooned Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Charlie Hebdo has criticized the right-wing, particularly the French right-wing. Charlie Hebdo hasn’t been safe from the French left, either. The magazine has been accused of being Islamophobic and anti-Semitic by right and left alike. This is a weekly magazine that was banned in its former incarnation for making fun of the death of Charles de Gaulle. Subsequently, the magazine staff adopted the name Charlie in the 1970s to sidestep the censorship of the French government and take a long-lasting dig at the state’s attempt to silence it. No, not Charles de Gaulle, Charlie Brown. Clever.
The French government just gave €1 million to the magazine.1 (The French government is not, nor has ever been, Charlie.) Google, which has made no effort to resist the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States, donated some pittance as well. The Guardian Media Group, of The Guardian, the same that cooperated with the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks, also made a show of making it rain Sterling upon the bodies of the victims.
Cavanna and Val, Charlie Editors, and Charbonnier, Charlie cartoonist, once petitioned2 the Minister of the Interior of France to outlaw and ban the National Front, the nationalist political party of father-daughter zealots Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen. The National Front is authoritarian in the extreme, calling for a return to long prison sentences and capital punishment. Paradoxically, the attempt of the Charlie editors to ban the National Front was a tactic not without its own authoritarian twinge. Censorship is a cross-ideology tactic employed by the French left, the French right, ISIS and any other groups that deigns for a place near the top of a hierarchical power structure. (This is also why you are not Charlie.) This is not to say that providing no platform for National Front extremists is authoritarian. Using the coercive tools of the state to do so is.
I digress from the hypocrisy of but a few Charlie Hebdo contributors, now deceased. This is beside the point. This is not about Charlie Hebdo, the actual magazine. This is about Je suis Charlie as a sudden ideological movement.
At this very moment, the Wikipedia article of Charlie Hebdo describes the Je suis Charlie movement as:
“French for “I am Charlie”, was adopted by supporters of free speech and freedom of expression who were reacting to the shootings. The phrase identifies a speaker or supporter with those who were killed at the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and by extension, a supporter of freedom of speech and resistance to armed threats.”
Yet on no side has free speech been defended. Europeans have willingly sacrificed free speech. If we ever truly had it. The current heads of European governments, the same who passed modern censorship laws, are now asserting Je suis Charlie. (They are not Charlie.) The editors of the magazine, mentioned above, went out of their way to suppress a political party using the state’s machinery. Even they, the editors of the magazine itself, do not amount to the full implications of the nascent Je suis Charlie movement. Je suis Charlie as an ideological movement is now distinct, or at least not synonymous, with the magazine nor the victims. News conglomerates and corporations routinely suppress and spin information to promote their own agendas. Journalists who regurgitate Je suis Charlie have never hesitated to censor information on behalf of fear, government pressure or other methods of legal coercion. The same journalists are those who traded the transparent reporting of facts with the manipulation of political and economic dialogue. No blame is cast. These are merely statements of fact in respect to European censorship and free speech.
Je suis Charlie has become a mantra without a meaning in the short days that have proceeded the shooting. It is a brilliantly successful meme. It has, intentionally or unintentionally, provided ammunition for nationalists, racists, neo-Nazis, and anti-immigration authoritarians. What is considered the far right-wing in France and Europe. It has become a show of solidarity for those who legitimately advocate free speech or fight authoritarianism in its many forms. The ambiguity of the meme is such that anyone can latch onto it. Like the Bible, Je suis Charlie means exactly what the person saying it wants it to mean. “We’re all Charlie now.”
Charlie Hebdo has been accused of being racist. A small attempt to counter the meme, Je ne suis pais Charlie, or “I am not Charlie,” exists. It is a thing. But the reason you are not Charlie is not an aversion to racism, nor to being racist. This is not a critique of those who refuse to express solidarity with the deceased Charlie Hebdo staff. We are talking about the people marching in the square claiming they are Charlie. They’re confused, they are most likely all guilty of supporting some form censorship themselves, but they are not Charlie.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the nationalist authoritarian previously mentioned, morphed Je suis Charlie into Je suis Charlie Martel.3 This is the most honest rendition of the meme to date. His authoritarianism is not conveniently forgotten. Charlie is, to Le Pen, medieval aristocracy. Feudalism. Christianity. The archetype of authority driving Muslims out of Christian lands by the sword. Charles Martel.
Charile has become within mere days whatever the fuck anyone wants Charlie to be.
A word on “European leaders,” by which I mean the functional heads of European states. European leaders have near universally claimed to be Charlie. The same European states, by and large, have multiple laws on the books designed specifically to censor material similar to that published in Charlie Hebdo. The United Kingdom had an actual blasphemy law that was on the books and enforced until 2008. The UK now has the Racial and Religious Hatred Act (2006), of which a large portion of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting Judaism, Christianity and Islam would be considered criminal. The Terrorism Act of 2006 outlawed that which “glorifies, exalts or celebrates” terrorism, with a specific focus on “radical written material by extremist bookshops.” The United Kingdom is to Je suis Charlie as Saudi Arabia is to feminism.
Spain, 2013: Guifre Peguera and Jordi Nogue were fined €10,000 apiece for burning a picture of the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos. Spanish law prohibits acts that, “violate the dignity of the head of state.” Here, too, Charlie Hebdo would be called into question. Violating the dignity of the head of state is exactly why Charlie Hebdo was censored in the 1970s in France. Forty years – 2015 – and you still can not mock a king. The Citizen Safety Law, colloquially known as the ley mordaza (gag law) has been called the harshest measure against free speech in the European Union. The Citizen Safety Law prohibits both the videotaping and photographing of police officers, plus many restrictions on public assembly. The recent arrest of eleven Spanish anarchists is icing on the cake. Prosecutors are using access to the privacy-oriented email service riseup.net and the possession of a book titled “Contra La Democracia” (Against Democracy) against the detainees. (They are being charged with terrorism for allegedly burning bank cash machines, by the way.)
In France the Gayssot Act outlaws “hate speech” with a specific emphasis on Holocaust denial. “Religious hate speech” is included. Multiple French citizens have been fined and arrested for making the same comments found in Charlie Hebdo magazines on Twitter. (How Charlie managed to avoid censorship is merely due to what was its small, but visible media presence). In 2011 Copwatch Nord-Paris I-D-F, of the Copwatch movement designed to report police violence, was censored and had its removal ordered by a French court.
Germany and Austria are both notorious for their strict anti-”hate speech” laws, the former allowing up to five years in prison for Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is bad, but imprisoning Holocaust deniers is unacceptable for an anti-authoritarian or an abolitionist.
Article 137c of the Penal code of the Netherlands outlaws “expressing oneself insultingly” to anyone based on “their religion or their life philosophy,” among other things.
The Danish Penal Code, 266 B, makes it criminal to make any statement that “insults” or “degrades” a religion. The periodical Jyllands-Posten, famous for a few Muhammad pictures of its own, was accused under 266 B in 2005.
In Poland Article 196 makes it a criminal offense to “intentionally offend religious feelings” with a maximum prison sentence of two years. In 2010 the musician Doda was arrested for calling the Bible unbelievable. In the same year Adam Darski, singer in a death metal band, was charged for defacing a Bible in a part of his musical act.
In may of 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that members of the European Union have a “right to be forgotten.” This is now being used to censor Google search results. Google was also compelled to remove Google News feeds of Spanish news corporations in what has been called a “Google Tax.”
European Union governments haven’t wasted any time taking advantage of Je suis Charlie. The very response to the shooting, drafted by eleven member-states of the European Union, calls for tightened restrictions on the Internet as a venue “to fuel hated and violence.”4 This is not incidental. The EU Joint Statement focuses on the Internet’s relationship to terrorism throughout the document. The Joint Statement can be summed up as: terrorism is partly the fault of the Internet and we need to censor that part. Quoting from the document, “With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.”
You read it. The EU response to the Charlie Hebdo attack is to remove material from the Internet. If this happens the European Union’s censorship of itself will have been the result of an attempt by the Islamic State (ISIS) to censor Charlie Hebdo. All this despite Charlie Hebdo’s own cartoons being in violation of multiple EU laws prohibiting “hate speech.”
Let’s seal the deal: Bernard Holtrop vomits on you. Those are his own words. “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”5 Holtrop is one of the surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Holtrop did not attend the routine meeting that was attacked that day. It saved his life. Now he vomits on the people he says “have never seen Charlie Hebdo.” Are you one of the people who never heard of Charlie before you were infected with the Je suis Charlie meme? Are you one of the people who have voted for politicians (both left and right) who pushed through Europe’s authoritarian censorship laws? Wipe Holtrop’s vomit from your hands and face before you purchase the next edition of Charlie Hebdo.
(2) “Le 26 avril, Cavanna, Val et Charb (trois piliers du journal Charlie Hebdo) débarquent en estafette dans une annexe du ministère de l’Intérieur. Dans leur coffre, des cartons remplis de signatures qu’ils apportent à un conseiller de Jean-Louis Debré. En huit mois, 173 704 personnes ont répondu à l’appel «pionnier» de l’hebdomadaire pour demander l’interdiction du Front national.” Les 173 704 signatures de Charlie Hebdo, http://ecrans.liberation.fr/ecrans/1996/09/12/les-173-704-signatures-de-charlie-hebdo_183854