Je suis Charlie

It’s the fifth anniversary of the Islamist massacre of the satirists.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Today is the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. Five years since one of the darkest days in the modern history of the French Republic, when 10 journalists and cartoonists, as well as a maintenance worker and a police officer, were massacred by two Islamist gunmen for the ‘crime’ of blaspheming against Muhammad. Five years since people were executed for making jokes, for mocking a deity, for upholding the hard-won liberty to ridicule all faiths, ideologies, dogmas, gods, prophets and fads.

And here’s the scary thing: in those five years, too many in the West have failed to learn the lesson of that horrific day. Instead of defending freedom of speech as the core liberty of European society, too many so-called liberals are actually propagating the foul ideology of the killers themselves, albeit in a peaceful way, by demonising and even punishing people who criticise Islam or any other belief system that the PC set deems to be beyond criticism.

It was a Wednesday morning, 7 January 2015, at 11.30am. The radical Islamists, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and used rifles and submachine guns to slaughter the employees of France’s famously godless and satirical weekly magazine. Many of Charlie Hebdo’s best-known writers and illustrators were murdered, including Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, who had been editor since 2009. He was a fierce defender of freedom of speech, including the freedom to make fun of Islam. Asked by the Associated Press in 2012 why he thought it was acceptable to depict Muhammad in a derogatory fashion, he said: ‘Muhammad isn’t sacred to me. I live under French law, not Koranic law.’

The massacre revealed a great deal about the deranged loathing for liberty that exists among radical Islamists. But it was the response of the West’s own political and intellectual elites that highlighted just how thoroughly Western society has lost its way and how fully it has jettisoned the ideals of freedom. Initially, the response was positive. French people in particular were defiant: on 11 January, four million of them took to the streets, 1.6million in Paris, to chant ‘Liberté, Charlie!’ World leaders joined the marches, too (in a highly staged fashion). ‘Je suis Charlie’ became the slogan of the day. The issue of Charlie Hebdo that came out the week after the massacre – the production of which was itself an extraordinary and heroic feat – sold seven million copies; the mag normally sells around 40,000.

But this stirring solidarity and defence of liberty did not last long. Rumblings emerged within the cultural elite about whether Charlie Hebdo really should be defended. Didn’t the magazine bring the massacre upon itself by insulting Muslims, some liberals wondered? In April 2015, numerous prominent writers – including Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje and Joyce Carol Oates – scandalously protested against PEN America after it said it would give its freedom-of-expression prize to Charlie Hebdo. They said it was wrong to reward a magazine that had caused ‘humiliation and suffering’ to French Muslims.

This fed into a broader debate about the problem of Charlie Hebdo ‘punching down’ – that is, using its free speech to mock Muslims rather than to target true power structures. Leaving to one side that Islam is a vast religion with a billion adherents – and thus is a pretty powerful ideology – the more important point is surely that freedom of speech can be used for any end the speaker chooses. That’s the point of it. Nonetheless, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau joined the chorus of Charlie attackers and said the mag had committed an ‘abuse of satire’ by always ‘punching downward’.

The day after the massacre, when its offices were still stained with blood, Slate denounced Charlie Hebdo as racist. In France, Muslims are a ‘poor and harassed minority’, Slate said, and it is wrong that people like Charlie Hebdo use ‘liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia’. It is tempting to accuse Slate of dancing on dead cartoonists’ graves, but they hadn’t even been buried by that point. Islamist organisations agreed with liberals who branded Charlie Hebdo racist: less than two months after the slaughter, the Islamic Human Rights Commission gave the magazine its ‘International Islamophobe of the Year’ award.

These almost instant expressions of discomfort with, or outright hostility towards, Charlie Hebdo spoke to the broader crisis of freedom in the West. Freedom of speech is now under almost constant assault in Western institutions. From the political sphere to university campuses, from hate-speech laws to workplace speech codes, it is now broadly accepted that speech can be controlled to the end of ‘upholding diversity’ and protecting minority groups in particular from offence.

And here’s the thing: it was this very notion that it is wicked and racist and unacceptable to say offensive things or to question minority belief systems that fuelled the two killers themselves. Indeed, their massacre of the satirists can be seen both as an Islamist outrage and as the armed wing of political correctness; as the use of extreme violence to enforce a mainstream ideology – that the right to offend must be curbed in order to protect certain social groups from feeling ‘humiliated’.

When those novelists denounced PEN America for celebrating a magazine that had caused ‘humiliation and suffering’ with its words and images, they were expressing in a more erudite, non-violent way the sick ideology of the Kouachi brothers themselves: that words hurt, that a picture of Muhammad humiliates us, that offensiveness can cause suffering. The liberal elite’s equation of words with violence, where they argue that words can cause serious pain and feelings of ‘erasure’, is incredibly dangerous. First, because it logically gives rise to censorship. And secondly, because it convinces some people – most notably the Kouachi brothers, but others too – that violence is sometimes a legitimate response to words. After all, if words are violence, can’t they sometimes be met with violence?

This is what is so haunting about Charb’s free-speech plea, his reminder to his critics that he lives under French law, not Koranic law – France itself has illiberal laws that can chastise criticism of Islam. Indeed, in 2007 there was an unsuccessful attempted prosecution of Charlie Hebdo for insulting Muslims. The French novelist Michel Houellebecq was also charged under hate-speech laws after he he called Islam ‘the stupidest religion’ (he was acquitted). Across western Europe, the idea of ‘Islamophobia’ is used to demonise and censure those who raise critical questions about Islamic beliefs and practices.

All of this – all of these laws, all of the speech codes, all of the branding as ‘Islamophobes’ anyone who mocks the niqab or the Koran – sends a message to radical Islamists. It tells them their religion must never be criticised. It tells them Islam’s critics are racist (a new way of saying ‘evil’). It green-lights their violent intolerance. Mainstream censoriousness inflames extremist violence.

Five years on, our response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre must be to defend freedom of speech for everyone. For every blasphemer, every unorthodox thinker, every un-PC cartoonist, every offensive comic, every free-wheeling politician, and every citizen who wants to make fun of religion or oppose mass immigration or say that people with penises are not women and never will be. There should be worldwide events to mark Charlie Hebdo Day today. That there aren’t reveals how little backing freedom of speech now has in political circles. Let’s change this so that on the tenth anniversary of this act of censorious and Islamist barbarism, people will gather to say once again: ‘Je suis Charlie.’

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Noel Mac

10th January 2020 at 7:49 pm

Liberal pacifism is nothing new. Protect the criminal subjugate the victim. Until we fight these cowards and hit them where it hurts it all remains the same.

Willie Penwright

8th January 2020 at 2:30 pm

Brendan O’Neill (PBUH) deserves much credit for this clear and reasoned article. It’s a pity that its sentiments are not more widely expressed in mainstream media.

Noel Mac

10th January 2020 at 7:43 pm

He’s in the main media scrum quite a lot to be fair

Marvin Jones

8th January 2020 at 11:40 am

There is only, and only one way that this cancer can ever be fought against. The Trump way, but the illiterate imbeciles that have infested this planet will not allow it. This primitive and medieval cult, and all followers of this barbaric religion must be corralled in the countries they hail from. They must not be allowed to seek sanctuary in a land that they will never ever be compatible and fit to settle in, unless they decide to forego and discard that particular belief, which will never happen. Hence! we are too cowardly, tolerant and appeasing to ever cure this problem.

Robert Spowart

8th January 2020 at 10:00 am

Yes, it is staggering how quickly the Carlie Hebdo massacre was met by condemnation not of the murders, but of the magazine its self.
But considering how quickly these self same people responded to Islamist atrocities with the worn out, kneejerk mantra of “It’s nothing to do with Islam,” is it really that surprising?

Noel Mac

10th January 2020 at 7:45 pm

No it is not. It is called cowardice.

Mike Stallard

8th January 2020 at 8:40 am

Islam is in a terribly weak position.
The scholars have shown that the religion is based on very debatable foundations indeed. This hasn’t yet sunk in but it is bound to. Western ways are very attractive to younger Muslims – and the religion restricts them horribly, as they often find. Finally the canonical hadiths and in ibn Ishaq show very clearly that the Prophet of Allah was a very charismatic, broad minded, humble, attractive human being (he insisted on that). In no way was he a stickler for religious laws at all. He was simply a messenger of Allah: in no way was he “holy”. and people loved him for it too.
When this finally hits home, Islam is simply going to have to adapt. That moment cannot come too soon.

Jerry Owen

8th January 2020 at 9:07 am

Mike Stallard
My view is that the western way of life to young Muslims is in fact becoming more unacceptable to them as the years roll by. As you say ‘young Muslims’ why not ‘young people’ if they prefer our way of life?
It appears that the younger generations are more extreme than their parents. I know we have far greater numbers of Muslims now but for example I remember the days of the IRA bombing of London and the terror and carnage the cowards wreaked on us .. Islam wasn’t even on the radar then to me. Now barely a day goes without us being subjected to some anti Muslim sentiment of some sort.
Islam is the most tedious in your face religion there is and as such its only affect on most people is to repel them.

Jerry Owen

8th January 2020 at 9:09 am

*I meant to say in the latter part of my post that, barely a day goes by where we are accused of showing anti muslim sentiment of some sort.*

Ed Turnbull

8th January 2020 at 9:41 am

Actually Mike the ‘canonical hadiths’ (by which, I presume, you mean the sahih hadith collections, particularly Bukhari and Muslim) show no such things about Mohammed. Charismatic? Broad-minded? Attractive? Humble? No. The hadiths portray a warlord, sadist, bandit and sexual predator (and that’s just for starters). Characteristics obviously valued in 7th century Arabia as Mo is considered to be the ‘perfect man’ and ‘ideal model of conduct’. The appalling – to modern Western eyes – deeds ascribed to him are considered, in the Islamic world, worthy of emulation because Mohammed’s example is seen as normative.

In the punchbowl of ideologies islam is, without doubt, the largest turd. Does that offend anyone? If so I offer you some simple advice: grow up and join the adult world. That the foul creed that is islam gets any kind of succour from western progressives must surely be due to the fact that the majority of its adherents are ‘brown people’, and, thus, viewed as ‘vulnerable’ and a ‘minority’. Hmm? Judging people on the basis of their skin colour rather than the content of their character. MLK must be doing several thousand RPM in his resting place.

Marvin Jones

8th January 2020 at 11:42 am

That moment is a figment of a utopian impossibility, and will never happen.

Marvin Jones

12th January 2020 at 2:24 pm

Mike, it took several hundred years for Christianity to evolve from the days of mass genocide of people for the flimsiest of reasons, including the horror of the Inquisitions. I think it will take this barbaric and medieval mob a lot longer.

Jerry Owen

8th January 2020 at 8:19 am

I had little time for the ‘ je suis Charlie’ brigade right from the start because they chose to hold candles and pencils aloft, straight away showing their fear of mentioning the religious elephant in the room.
This was around the time that bloody piano started to get wheeled around everywhere… Be nice show love and tolerance, blah blah blah.
Had they all held up the relevant CH page mocking big Mo instead of a soft HB pencil I would have been impressed.
The CH massacre is going the same way as the Manchester arena massacre and Lee Rigby murder.. down the Orwellian memory hole.

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Walter Sobchak

7th January 2020 at 11:23 pm

Theocracy is a synonym for totalitarian it’s no wonder the radical left and the radical Islamists share such philosophical cross pollination.

Michael Lynch

7th January 2020 at 10:20 pm

You know, if you’d have been about in the 1930s you would have seen the same type of loathing for politicians like Churchill from the liberal left. They more or less accused him of being a warmonger for simply pointing out how Hitler was arming up for domination of Europe. Of how the freedom we so preciously coveted was under immediate threat. The left leaning media was also full of praise and adulation for the despot. Many of them openly supporting the Jew bashing going on in Germany. University Students and their teachers burnt Jewish books and anything else that criticized the regime. Absurd, worrying and downright dangerous behavior that led to the near extinction of Europe and democracy. Nothing ever changes; it’s the same old song with just a different tune.

Marvin Jones

8th January 2020 at 11:52 am

Precisely Michael. As long as this flawed and strange world is inhabited by flawed and weird people
insisting on self torture of appeasement of gruesome and barbaric savages in such large numbers, how is it ever possible to believe that we are the perfect creation of a phoney fantasy.

Danny Rees

7th January 2020 at 8:22 pm

Brendan’s basic position seems to be that anyone who disagrees with the content of Charlie Hebdo is disrespectful towards their journalists who were murdered by Islamist terrorists.

Michael Lynch

7th January 2020 at 9:36 pm

You know Danny, you don’t half write a load of old bollocks sometimes.

Danny Rees

7th January 2020 at 9:42 pm

I don’t care what you think.

Michael Lynch

7th January 2020 at 10:11 pm

One thing’s for sure, Danny, you don’t care much for your own freedom either. People died for merely having a mild poke at an insane religion and you are merely making yourself an apologist for those savage crimes. Sometimes, it’s simply better to not jump right in and comment about certain things; it’s demonstrates prudence and an ability to think carefully and clearly.

Jerry Owen

8th January 2020 at 8:21 am

I don’t think so Danny, but then I did actually read the article.

Ven Oods

8th January 2020 at 9:32 am

“anyone who disagrees with the content of Charlie Hebdo is disrespectful towards their journalists”

While I respect your take on what Brendan wrote….
What I took from it was that the criticism hid behind the notion that criticism of Muslims or their religion is ‘punching down’ and therefore reprehensible. And that, therefore, some religions or their adherents should be immune to criticism or satire.
It’s not really the same as mocking the disabled, though, is it?

brent mckeon

8th January 2020 at 12:30 pm

If you are going to comment at least read the article properly, which means with a clean slate and mind. Brendan says nothing about the content of CH but the right to say/write it and not be murdered for saying it. Simple message, do you agree with the message or not? If no explain why with points of debate not one line trendy rubbish. That CH also critted other organisations and religions (ie punched up and down) is lost in the Lefty bullshit. Bullshit that they developed long ago as they trashed, very badly, mainly the Christian religion and now the chickens have come home to roost its not allowed. Perhaps they should have a forum that details the rule changes and proper PC speech/writing every three months so us plebs can follow quicker!!! I have a bet that your reply will be a typical trashy, nothing one liner with no reasoned debate, please prove me wrong and show that you have a sliver of higher IQ grey matter.

Tim Wheeler

7th January 2020 at 7:13 pm

The obvious reply to the Hebdo Murders was for EVERY TV channel, newspaper, magazine, and public billboard throughout the Western Democracies to display the offending cartoons proudly (as a message that murder of journalists does not work, and that modern democracies don’t impose blasphemy laws to protect coercive medievalism.) Apparently though, murder & intimidation DOES work, and modern democracies do impose blasphemy laws for alien religions! Apparently we now appease and even celebrate coercive medievalism. I will never support that , and I suspect that policy is one of the NUMEROUS reasons why free democratic citizens are now voting against their moribund ruling classes and their tame mainstream media aplogists – who attempt to tell us all what we must think and not think.

Mike Stallard

8th January 2020 at 8:43 am

There are over three million reasons why the Labour Party and the left appease Islam…

Jerry Owen

8th January 2020 at 9:12 am

Tim Wheeler
Is this the same media that is scared sh*tless to show old Tom & Jerry cartoons lest they be accused of .. yawn.. racism !!

brent mckeon

8th January 2020 at 12:36 pm

well said

Cedar Grove

10th January 2020 at 10:22 pm

It took the English 400 years to get the boot of the Church off our necks, and create a secular democracy. It’s a precious legacy.

Some Muslims appreciate that, but they are attacked by their own community and not made welcome by the Left, who, I’m sorry to say, like people with brown complexions to be as primitive as possible. They think that’s “authentic”.

I supported Rushdie when the Satanic Verses was published, because I was aware that the riots in Bradford, the first demonstration of Muslim religious identity, were a result of well-considered Saudi policies. The Saudi newspapers kept a running total of how many Wahhabi mosques they’d set up, without opposition, in western countries. They had free rein with that for 30+ years, and we see the results.

As for Charlie’s racism, the French antiracist body SOS-AntiRacisme, repeatedly explained how the magazine had defended asylum seekers and ethnic minorities. Christiane Taubira said time and again that the cartoon depicting her with simian features was a satire against Le Pen’s party, not her: she delivered a eulogy at one of the funerals. But the self righteous members of American PEN, who showed no signs of ever having read the magazine, were quite sure they knew better.

We have to resist this insidious self-censorship and romanticising of religious totalitarianism. Our freedom of mind and expression should not be sacrificed on the altar of a hypothetical civic order – especially when those being constantly pacified are ready, at a moment’s notice, to resort to intimidation and violence. Humouring doesn’t promote peace. It’s not tolerance, but abject surrender. And before too long, no one will remember that it was ever any different.

eli Bastenbury

7th January 2020 at 3:47 pm

Brendan O’Neill forgot to mention that freedom of speech covers petitions and arguments for sharia and a caliphate, otherwise it’s not freedom of speech.

Weyland Smith

7th January 2020 at 5:21 pm

“… petitions and arguments for sharia and a caliphate,”
is a subset of
“… defend freedom of speech for everyone”
so he didn’t forget to mention it – he’d have been here all night writing an infinite list.
BTW, you sound a lot like ZP / AC

eli Bastenbury

7th January 2020 at 11:37 pm

ZP/AC I assume those are other posters here? Not true, I just posted for the record, you are correct that it would be exhaustive to list all those who have freedom of speech, and all the content, point accepted WEYLAND SMITH.

Cedar Grove

10th January 2020 at 10:26 pm

The point is that whereas people are free to argue for Shari’a and the caliphate, they’re not equally free to criticise such aspirations, because that would be “Islamophobic”.

And as you say, freedom of speech has to cover all views.

Cedar Grove

18th January 2020 at 1:26 am

Of course. But the point is that no one is accused of hate speech for preaching Shari’a, despite the oppressive & discriminatory nature of its principles.

If on the other hand, people object to Islamic preaching and argue with its fundamental principles, they are likely to get their collars felt, e.g. by the South Yorkshire police, who said they intended to take action against “non-crime hate speech” – while failing to notice the mass rapes going on under their noses.

Jane 70

7th January 2020 at 2:48 pm

Recently I disputed a close family member’s claim that since the Abrahamic religions share so much in common, Sharia law should not be seen as unduly threatening.

To hear a very devout catholic making this assertion led me to point out the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere: ISIS; Boko Haram come to mind.

It seems to me that we in the west have now implicitly signed up to appeasement, in the somewhat misguided belief that this will lead to a Panglossian future.

The woke inquisitors continue to encroach on our freedoms.

Mark Lambert

7th January 2020 at 3:27 pm

I’m not sure how you challenged your relative’s assertion about Sharia, “just cos the Abrahamic faiths share a lot of commonality”.

I might imagine though (outside of what you said).
Some years ago, there was a political fringe party in the US who claimed they wanted “Old Testament law” in the US Constitution. Even in the US they were seen as nuts and sank without trace.

The whole thing is all about literalism. Everyone knows we cannot go literal with the Old Testament. So why should we accept Sharia? That is literal “Islam” and yes, draws on Old Testament stuff.

Leaving those old texts and laws behind, versus believing they are perfect for all time.

Jane 70

7th January 2020 at 3:40 pm

I just put the secular, non- believer’s opinion- that a secular democracy offers the best of what is available and ,as I previously wrote, emphasising the plight of Christians in countries where Sharia law holds sway.

Needless to say, we agreed to differ.

John Marks

7th January 2020 at 2:42 pm

The Iranis are up in arms about the murder (really execution) of Soleimani who had murdered many himself.
By contrast, Charlie Hebdo had only drawn cartoons.
If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re finished.
But the murderers of Charlie Hebdo were Sunnis, promoted by Sadist Barbaria (aka Saudi Arabia).
We should be supporting Shiite Iran against the real enemy: the Sunni fanatics in Arabia.

Jane 70

7th January 2020 at 3:00 pm

Be careful what you wish for: public executions, one of the world’s worst prisons-Evin-fundamentalism, economic chaos, persecution of independent thinkers and women who discard chadors are just a few of the dubious benefits of the Shi’ite theocracy.

Frankly ,there is little to recommend either Saudi or Iranian fundamentalism.

Jim Lawrie

7th January 2020 at 4:40 pm

I’d rather we withdraw from the region, send back those who do not belong here, and let them settle their differences cordoned off from us.

Marvin Jones

8th January 2020 at 12:03 pm

John, these two factions are of one and the same race, but for a slither of hypocritical mumbo jumbo in their phoney and flawed ideologies. We should not care one iota for this type of tripe and make them stay where it is compatible for this sort of existence.

Mark Lambert

7th January 2020 at 2:32 pm

Two disgusting things with this. Firstly, the obvious slaughter. But then, so very quickly, the attack on “free speech”, something even the BBC ran with on a few programs where they hosted Islamists while the hosts were rubbing their chins implying, “Maybe they have a point”.

The Muslim organisations coming out with the two-pronged sentence of “There should not have been any violence, BUT what you need to understand is how much we love Mohammed”.

That declaration in itself was a threat.

People who made those statements are still used by our media and yes, they are the ones witch-hunting anyone who challenges them. That recently included lists of journalists, radio presenters and politicians. I actually cannot think of one person who has challenged who has not got the “Islamophobe” treatment, while many times if said by a guest on a TV current affairs program, the presenter never challenges.

Back to Charlie Hebdo, there was the astonishing sight of Caroline Fourest being interviewed by video link by Sky. She reached down and picked up a Charlie Hebdo magazine and the camera went upwards in avoidance. Cut to the studio where the presenter looked like she’d seen a ghost, looked terrified, and babbled some sort of “apology if you were offended”.

This was too much, but the media allowed it and effectively bowed to an Islamic blasphemy law, just as they did after the “Danish cartoons”. This was through pure fear and everyone knew that, no matter what they said about “offence”. I find this more worrying than the terrorism.

Years and years of this and now we have idiots pushing the APPG “definition” of “Islamophobia”, trying to get it officially recognised. Every single time they moan that the Conservatives are not bowing to demands and signing it, they never, ever recognise the terrorism and attempts of free-speech shutdown that Islam has actually, unequivocally brought to us over the last fifteen years.

Jane 70

7th January 2020 at 3:05 pm

Back in 1989, my late mother bought a copy of ‘The Satanic Verses’ and inscribed it as follows: ‘ In support of freedom of speech’.

30 years have elapsed; imagine anyone doing this now.

Mark Lambert

7th January 2020 at 3:12 pm

I must admit, I sort of missed the Rushdie thing a bit. I just thought it was a nutty Mullah thousands of miles away and it meant nothing here. I missed the fervent marches in towns in this country. I can only look back now and recognise that was possibly the start of all of this, certainly in the UK.

Ven Oods

8th January 2020 at 9:39 am

I thought it an awful book that would have caused few ripples even among Rushdie’s fanbase. But its notoriety and publishing success was guaranteed by the protests and book-burning (all done by those who’d never read it). It was a religion discovering the law of unintended consequences.
Of course, it ruined Rushdie’s life, however much he earned from it. And the UK taxpayer footed the bill for his extensive security for the next couple of decades.

Jane 70

7th January 2020 at 3:26 pm

I was at university back then, and many of us bought the book, and actually read it.

As you rightly say though, this was the start of our move to our current lamentable state of affairs: the book burnings in places like Bradford were the first real instances of what was to come.

Mike Stallard

8th January 2020 at 8:51 am

I tried – and failed at page 20.
If Muslim Ulama think they can scotch the scholarship and the archaeological non-evidence and the sheer unpleasantness of current Islam with force, appalling barbarism and sheer bigotry, they have got another think coming!
It may work for a time, but on my own bookshelf I have several works by Muslims and Western scholars which are lethal to narrow minded bigotry. And I have some which are truly inspiring too!

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