This is the final part of what was originally a 3-part essay. Parts One and Two can be read here and here, respectively.
Caroline Fourest is a feminist, writer, and journalist, and co-founder of the French anti-racist, anti-fundamentalist, and secularist magazine ProChoix. Unlike Will Self, she does not cringe with embarrassment before the imperfections of liberal democracy. And unlike Alan Rusbridger, she can find no reason to indulge Islamists like Tariq Ramadan in the name of open-minded toleration. In 2004 she published a book entitled Frère Tariq, in which she painstakingly analysed Ramadan's 15 books and his countless essays and speeches and concluded that, in their desperation for an eloquent spokesperson for a modern and moderate Islam, liberals were being hoodwinked by a duplicitous reactionary.
Two years later, when Jyllands Posten published its cartoons of Muhammad, she was working as a contributor at Charlie Hebdo. As Danish embassies burned, and Will Self was busy with his eccentric observations about what does and does not constitute legitimate satire, Fourest drafted a short manifesto.
Originally entitled Together Against A New Totalitarianism (later translated and re-published as The Manifesto of the 12), it first appeared in Charlie Hebdo on 1 May 2006, co-signed by 11 secularists - one signatory for each of the 12 Jyllands Posten cartoons - some of whom were practising Muslims. It began:
Having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global totalitarian threat: Islamism. We - writers, journalists, intellectuals - call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.Unencumbered by moral relativism, Fourest's lucid analysis derives from a straightforward belief that the ideas of the Enlightenment and the progressive politics they midwifed are worth defending. What was unfolding, her manifesto declared, was to be a bitter struggle for ideas and values in which the excuse-making of apologists would only aid fanaticism at the expense of universalism and liberty:
[N]othing, not even despair, justifies choosing obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology that kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its victory can only lead to a world of injustice and domination: men over women, fundamentalists over others . . . We defend the universality of the freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit can be exercised in every continent, with regard to each and every abuse and dogma. We appeal to democrats and independent spirits in every country that our century may be one of enlightenment and not obscurantism.Having published Fourest's manifesto, Charlie Hebdo was virtually alone in re-publishing the Jyllands Posten cartoons. Death threats followed, and in November 2011, Charlie Hebdo's offices were completely destroyed by a petrol bomb. A year later its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, explained his refusal to compromise by remarking "I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees". On 7 January 2015, along with eleven others, he did just that.
|The Post-Massacre Issue|
Two days after the massacre, Will Self had informed readers of his Vice article that: "When the demonstrators stood in the Place de la Republique holding placards that read "JE SUIS CHARLIE", they might just as well have held ones reading: "NOUS SOMMES LES TERRORISTES" "
Charlie Hebdo's post-massacre cover decisively answered his bitterness. The magazine's response to the massacre of its staff and fellow citizens was as dignified as Will Self's was reprehensible and squalid. Writing in Tablet, Paul Berman described the illustration as "a masterpiece . . . inspiring, moving, slightly mysterious, and entirely beautiful."
It is inspiring because, in the face of the ultimate in terrorist pressure, the editors and cartoonists have chosen to go ahead and put the drawing on the cover. The cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo is the most defiant newspaper cover in the history of journalism—a bolder cover even than the cover of the 1898 Paris newspaper that presented Zola’s article, J’Accuse . . . Zola knew that, by publishing his accusation against the enemies of Capt. Dreyfus, he ran a danger of persecution, arrest, and imprisonment, but probably not murder. The editors, staff, cartoonists, printers, truck-drivers, and kiosk vendors of Charlie Hebdo are in danger of murder. And they are unfazed.Courage is not the absence of fear, but its conquest. The surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo had seen the power of the weak explode into their own offices and had decided that no, their raison d'être was not for negotiation. Richard Malka, the magazine's lawyer was blunt: "We will not give in, otherwise all this won't have meant anything."
In an interview with CNN, Fourest was similarly matter-of-fact. "After what happened - after this slaughter - it was really impossible for my colleagues and friends to not do a cover about what happened and it could only be a cover about, of course, Muhammad." Pressed by the (somewhat reluctant) anchor to accept responsibility for the subsequent violence that had erupted in Kurachi, where protestors burned French flags, and in Niger, where mobs burned churches and desecrated Bibles, Fourest was unequivocal: "But you understand that, when you put it that way, you are blaming, not the people who are killing because of the cartoons, but you are blaming the cartoonists. This is cowardice and it is exactly what the terrorists want."
When the French-Algerian academic and Guardian commentator Nabila Ramdani appeared on This Week to discuss the new cover, she likewise accused Charlie Hebdo of "inciting violence" and held the staff explicitly responsible for the violent protests that had erupted in the Pakistan and Africa. Michael Portillo responded by saying he was outraged. Were he to have then physically assaulted Ramdani in a fit of offended fury, I wonder if she would have been prepared to accept moral responsibility for her own injuries. If not, then she should be made to explain her apparent refusal to consider African and Pakistani Muslims as moral actors.
Ramdani had already written that the cover "symbolises egalitarian bigotry" (whatever that might be). Not to be outdone, her Guardian colleague Joseph Harker, the paper's assistant comment editor no less, had ruled in the same item that, by depicting Muhammad, Charlie Hebdo was "deliberately offending the vast majority of Muslims around the world . . . adding insult to injury . . . lashing out at potentially 1.6 billion people . . . [and most bizarrely of all] spreading guilt by association".
Nevertheless, even the Guardian finally relented and reproduced a two-inch high image of the cover on their website, albeit with a warning in bold type alerting readers to an appalling affront to decency that awaited them as they scrolled down. This placed them a rung or two above Murdoch's Sky News, which cut away from Caroline Fourest and apologised to its viewers, the moment Fourest attempted to display the magazine's new cover illustration.
Western democracies and those journalists who still understand the need to defend basic liberties are confronted with an impossible, disgraceful choice. Submission to Islamist demands will only inflame an appetite for further concessions. But to resist is to court lethal danger. The staff of Charlie Hebdo have gone back out on a limb. No-one asked them to - they did so on a point of principle they were determined to uphold, and they did so of their own volition. But they are out there on behalf of us all, exposed once more.
Charlie Hebdo’s leaders were much, much braver than most of us; maddeningly, preposterously and — in the light of their barbarous end — recklessly brave. The kind of impossibly courageous people who actually change the world. As George Bernard Shaw noted, the “reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself”, and therefore “all progress depends upon the unreasonable man”. Charlie Hebdo was the unreasonable man. It joined the battle that has largely been left to the police and security services.Nonetheless, it surely remains beyond dispute that the more brazen the defiance of fundamentalist demands, the more frequent, and the more widespread, the less risk there is for all involved. While it is relatively straightforward to pick off isolated publications who dare to defy them, terrorists cannot murder the entire Western press. The failure to stand alongside Jyllands Posten made it more not less likely that vengeance would be the reward for the few that did.
But to defend something, it is necessary to understand its value and to refuse to become discouraged by resistance. Having seen his pleas for solidarity roundly ignored, Timothy Garton-Ash conceded defeat. In an essay for the New York Review of Books he concluded that getting journalists to act in concert is as futile as herding cats and he made a confused recommendation (in which I don't think he really even believes) involving linking to controversial material hosted on an anonymous website in Iceland. Defeatism like this gets us nowhere.
It also misses some encouraging signs. It is easy to be cynical about the huge protests, the hashtag activism, the opportunistic gestures of solidarity by world leaders, and so on. But Jyllands Posten benefitted from none of these things. Meanwhile, the number of publications and networks prepared to re-print and broadcast drawings of Muhammad is slowly increasing, and the number of rioters attending furious demonstrations across the Muslim world is diminishing.
There is nothing to be done but to keep repeating that no compromise should be considered. The freedom to criticise ideas in open societies must be universal and indivisible. As the 'Jesus and Mo' controversy last year reminded us, it is not just the liberty of white Westerners that suffers from a craven observance of Islamist blasphemy codes. Liberal, secular, and reformist Muslims, not to mention those wishing to discard Islam altogether, are their first and worst victims. They deserve our solidarity as much as courageous free-thinkers like Stéphane Charbonnier, Caroline Fourest and all of those at Charlie Hebdo, whenever and wherever they choose to take a stand on the matter.
As Fourest observed during her CNN interview, "If we do not show the drawings that the fanatics do not want to see, we are killing ourselves. We are killing our rules of democracy if we cannot show a simple drawing due to fear . . . we cannot live under Pakistani law. We are in France. We are a satirical newspaper respecting French law, and French law is very clear: blasphemy is a right."