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Razer: Je ne suis pas Charlie

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When Peter Cook opened comedy club The Establishment, he was asked by press to describe the entertainment Londoners could expect. He said he would take inspiration from the satirical Berlin cabarets of the 1930s that had done “so much to stop the rise of Adolf Hitler and prevent the Second World War”.
Cook, a truly great vulgarian with a lifelong commitment to taking a shit on everything, knew the power of satire. Which is to say, ineffective against bullets. He would not have proposed satire as a useful measure against the killers of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists but perhaps would have poked a little fun at The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore, who yesterday enjoined us all to “ridicule” these gunmen. “They fear laughter,” she said. Which is probably not terribly true, but, even if it is, certainly not as true as the fact of their fear of Kalashnikov malfunction.
Laughter may be the best medicine yet concocted by citizens of liberal democracies to soothe the pain of knowing that not everyone in the world enjoys their cultural and material comforts. That doesn’t mean it’s an especially potent one. Yet, every other person with a smartphone connected to a Western network seems today to disagree with Cook and with history as they transmit their belief that a war can be resolved with good jokes.
Today, apparently, we are all Charlie and today, we are all circulating some optimistically dreadful cartoons whose crude self-importance rivals some of the worst printed in that publication. Dave Brown of The Independent gives us a disembodied middle finger rising from the cover of a bloodied magazine. Dutch cartoonist Ruben L. Oppenheimer offers up a pair of pencils refigured as the twin towers. The most popular cartoon, initially attributed to Banksy, is the work of Lucille Clerc and here again, the joyful war of the cartoonist on terror is affirmed as we see pencils cruelly broken and then resharpened to document another day.
The message is clear and as unified as the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag that appends it: the civilised people of Paris find creative ways to settle disputes. Well, that is, apart from the Terrors. And the May riot of 1968. And the June Rebellion of 1832. And the Paris Commune. And the Resistance of 1944.
I’m not strong on history but I am reasonably sure that there has been little effective recourse in statecraft to jokes. It is, of course, a lovely idealism that replaces weapons with works of art and if territorial claims could be settled with skill, then the Reichskulturkammer would have come a very distant second to the so-called “degenerate” painting of pre-war Germany.
That cartoons can seem to provoke offence that mutates into brutal violence is not evidence “they fear laughter” and it is certainly not evidence that this laughter is any kind of panacea, despite what a posthumously reposted Christopher Hitchens might have to say on the matter in Slate. And this planned atrocity in Paris is not even evidence of an attack on freedom of expression. It is evidence of war.
We are at war. Of course, it’s a disordered, post-modern war with all the focus of a puppy in a pile of turds. The ongoing conflict between the illiberal East and the “civilised” West makes Vietnam seem like a game of checkers and many of its manoeuvres and players on both sides are illicit, concealed and unwillingly detained in battle.
It’s not just “them” opposing “our way of life” and refusing to sort out their problems in the fashion of Paris intellectuals. One does not simply hold up an art nouveau mirror to a pseudo-soldier whose family has been minced by Lockheed Martin and say “this is the way we do things in the West” with any hope of success. Militant Islamists don’t become militant Islamists because they have no good cartoonists. They become militant Islamists because they have their cultural and social roots in nations where pencils are even harder to come by than clean water.
Let it be plainly said for anyone who might mistake an impatience for righteous idealism with an endorsement of violence: shooting people is terrible. But what is also terrible in its foolishness is to elevate art or satire to a false state of moral primacy. We cannot go to war and endorse, as we explicitly do, the physical destruction of cultural institutions in Arab and Gulf States and then be surprised by retaliation. “How could they do this?” we ask, apparently amnesic that we did it first and better.
Let it also be plainly said that as a professional ratbag myself, I feel very keenly for the slaughtered cartoonists. I know it’s an extraordinary privilege to live in a nation where I can freely commit a thought like “your soft hypocritical faux liberalism and broken pencil symbolism disgusts me” to public expression and be paid for it with no expectation that you will do anything more violent to me than bitch on Facebook.
But, like Peter Cook, I know that this expression is every bit as powerful as Weimar cabaret. Art, satire and journalism do not win battles. At the very best, they can describe those battles in terms we can understand. And I’d have to say, the cartoonist’s art of recent hours is failing on that score. When all we have to recount what may or may not turn out to be the latest conflagration in a 30-year war is a bunch of images that say nothing other than how the production of a bunch of images is somehow a proof of freedom in the West, we might want to rethink what we are doing with our much-vaunted freedom of expression.
We don’t need to use art to tell ourselves that murder is morally wrong. But, nor should we use art to remind us — as though we needed reminding — that what we are doing to Islamic nations is somehow morally right. And I say this not only because I happen to believe that what we are doing in Islamic nations is morally wrong but because I believe that art has no real business upholding the self-confidence of the culture.
Of course, art can do whatever it pleases and I will defend to the (metaphoric, let’s be honest) death its right to displease me. But I will not pretend that the art of the Charlie Hedbo or that which commemorates it was produced free of agenda or context. It was a servant to ruling interests and so, even less empowered to end a war than Peter Cook’s delightful cabaret.
[box]Featured image: Melbourne vigil by Wayne Taylor/Getty[/box]

93 responses to “Razer: Je ne suis pas Charlie

  1. Was the purpose of your article this one paragraph? “We don’t need to use art to tell ourselves that murder is morally wrong. But, nor should we use art to remind us — as though we needed reminding — that what we are doing to Islamic nations is somehow morally right…” ?
    Dear, oh dear.

    1. It would seem to be axiomatic what the first sentence quoted states. Or are you positing that we DO need art to tell us that murder is morally wrong? For the second part, it’s a corollary of the first point, I assume we don’t need art to tell us what the West is doing in Islamic nations is wrong. Again, if you believe these are based on false logic, I for one would be genuinely interested in reading from you why, given that you’ve picked this reference to art, I reckon you have some interesting Art History position to put forward.

      1. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo had nothing whatsoever to do with what the West is doing in Islamic countries so your the one with false logic.

  2. Of all the Chatter and blather surrounding this incident, this is one of the least insightful or perceptive article I’ve read. Do you have a random topic generator to cover all topics with the same opaque words? Article re Tex Perkins excluded

    1. Soooo …. would you care to enlighten us on why this is one of the ‘least insightful or perceptive’ articles you’ve read? Anything in particular, or did you use a random word generator so you could say ‘I don’t like what you said therefore you’re wrong’? [See what I did there?]

      1. I’d love to read what Rundle has to say on this. Shame it’s paywalled. I used to subscribe but not enough hours in the day – I wish it were possible to just subscribe to Guy’s stuff.

    1. An interesting article on New Statesman:
      An important point, I believe, is to distinguish between ‘freedom of speech’ and its content and limits. Surely I can endorse the principle without expressing solidarity with what is being expressed. So far, however, it seems that if you dare to critique Charlie Hebdo’s mission statement and MO you are somehow endorsing murder.
      I am not free to criticise Charlie Hebdo?

  3. I agree with Helen, in that the commentary on this and other ‘terrorist” incidents eg Martin Place, overlooks the radicalisation of the Muslim world as a response to the ill-considered western attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan etc etc

    1. The attackers were born in Paris and converted to Islam. Sept 11th was before Iraq / Afghanistan. The Islamic Barbary Pirates were before Sept 11th. The Pakistani school kids murdered by the Pakistani Taliban did not invade Iraq. The list goes on and on. What are you talking about?

  4. HELEN RAZOR FOR PM! Thank you Helen Razer for your straight-talking words of reason. The institutionalised racism that prevails in the not-so-civilised West is shameful. Perhaps we could all do with some more history study to help avoiding such mindless repetition of self-centred, misguided nationalism that aways ends in tears.

      1. CH’s anti-Islam lampoons were not reasoned criticisms of a religion but perversely gratuitous attacks on Islam and its sacred shibboleths that bordered on Islamophobia. I don’t endorse fundamentalism, and there is nothing in it that justifies murder, but Razor is right – this is, and has been for a long time, a declared war by the imperialist Islamist terror machine that has recruited disaffected and socially alienated French Muslims just as they continue to recruit foreign fighters in Oz and everywhere else – a war in which CH were conscious provocateurs reliant upon a secular Republic to go guarantor for them…even if that security was at the cost of ultimately depriving the French the nation of its rights and freedoms.

  5. Good point. If it is okay to poke fun at Islam, is it also okay to poke fun at gays, disabled and people because of their skin colour? Where do we draw the line as to what is okay and who decides where the line is dawn?

    1. It’s okay to poke fun at any bad ideas such as Islam. It is racist – and therefore unfair – to poke fun at skin colour. Can you not tell the difference between bad ideas and skin colour? It’s pretty easy.
      And say someone did poke fun at skin colour, do you think they should be murdered? I don’t. So therefore it is definitely not Ok to be murdered because of insulting someone’s feelings about their special religion.
      So I am not sure what you are saying but it is dangerously close to saying the cartoonists deserved it.

  6. Actually I found it quite insightful. It also helps if you are white and western. Did the Pakistanii schoolchildren rate a cartoon in their honour?

  7. I think you are close to the mark I wonder what we would say if the attempt to bomb Charlie Hedbo by the extreme Zionist group a few years ago had succeeded. Religion is a wonderful focus for dickheads. From the crusades to the present day. Have we forgotten Belfast (funded by such diverse helpers as the PLO and the Boston Irish community)? Our swipes at Islam as medieval are true, but hypocritical given our own recent past. It takes a hell of a lot of paper to stop a bullet. Russia, Nigeria and Sri Lanka are probably good examples.

  8. Love this piece, Helen. Agree with everything your write, except your view of our actions in the Middle East. I can appreciate how strange is Israel as the offspring of the West, given my first hand knowledge of the drafting of ‘Liberal Fascism: The Politics of Meaning’ in Sydney in 2003 – 2006 and its subsequent misuse in US politics. But I think this is time to stand together and not imagine the US has ANY advantage in chaos n the Middle East as the left so oddly assumes as Gospel. Half the original senior people in the State Department resigned in protest at the endorsement of Israel and the oil company executives lobbied furiously against it, because of the expected outcomes that we see today. But we are here now.

  9. I happen to think that defending people from slaughter at the hands of Islamic State is morally right. I also think that Western nations should defend their own cultures from destruction by Trojan Horses. As an atheist I also support the ridiculing of superstition especially when it involves the suppression of freedom.

    1. I also agree with all those things… while also agreeing with much of Helen’s piece. They aren’t mutually exclusive, as far as I can see.

    2. ISIS was able to flourish thanks to the invasion of Iraq by Bush. I doubt that these terrible consequences were missed by the neocons. When you destroy authority, all hill breaks loose.

  10. Always to be relied upon to be negative, and to fly in the face of the public mood. I don’t understand why the trivial thoughts and mean spirited contributions of Helen Razer deserve space in print, online or otherwise.

    1. The world needs contrariness, particularly in these uni-vocal times where an alternative view is taken as endorsement rather than sage analysis.

    2. Do you have a substantive comment, or is an ad hominem your only rebuttal? And is it a logical fallacy to disagree with the majority? Should people repress their own free speech because it flies in the face of accepted orthodoxy? Do you see the innate contradiction in that, particularly in the context of the current issue?
      How about you tell us why you disagree with specific points that she has raised, rather than bitching about how much you don’t like her being ‘negative’ (whatever the hell that means).

    3. Helen’s opinion should absolutely be allowed regardless of any perception of mean spiritedness or hurt feelingness. It can just be very hard for people to swallow ideas that are contrary to what they generally believe on either side of the political fence, and facts (especially when true) usually only serve to make people MORE extreme in defense of their views…
      …and that’s all lovely, but in this case Helen’s argument is basically flawed seeing as the terrorists in this incident were born in France. Pretty much destroys the whole premise of her opinion piece… but she’s totally allowed to have her opinion and shouldn’t feel threatened or censored because of it… but she’s wrong… but she’s allowed to be… but she is!

      1. Helen’s argument is not flawed just because the terrorists were born in France. They identified with causes abroad which were opposed by France, and presumably felt themselves to be ‘outsiders’ in France. 9/11 was part of the continuing response (albeit a dramatic episide) to US involvement in international affairs, not the beginning of a new war. US actions since 9/11 have almost certainly helped the recruitment efforts of extremists. Vicious circle.

  11. Thanks for articulating some unpopular views HR. We should be asking a few hard questions in light of this tragedy, in the spirit of free speech, as opposed to revelling in jingoistic consensus.

  12. Can’t help wondering how many of the people now calling themselves Charlie had ever seen the cartoons or even heard of Charlie Hebdo before yesterday. And whether they would come out in thousands to protest internet censorship and surveillance.

    1. How is that relevant? People realised that French cartoonists were murdered for their cartoons and understood this is an extremely grotesque murder because it is based on nothing more than two Paris born Islamic converts taking offence to religious insult and killing total strangers for their ‘offence’. But maybe we did know what Charlie was because people remember it was bombed in 2011 by Islamists. But excellent red herring.

  13. Interesting article.
    I wonder if there is a lesson on how to integrate diverse cultures and values in light of the events in Paris.
    Fanatical religious ideology is not new. We Christians have been exceptional at it for millennia.
    So what is the next step to stop this madness?

    1. ‘Diverse cultures’. Interesting choice of words. The killers were born in Paris. They chose to be Islamists. Being murdered by Islamists for cartoons is just part of the beautiful tapestry of Paris life and ‘Diverse cultures’ is it?
      How do you stop it? Stop the self-loathing. Stop allowing religious instruction in schools and start making religions pay tax. Spot visits to hear the actual sermons of religious to their followers and have actual debates using the words Islam, Islamists, Koran without ever using ‘Islamaphobe’, ‘lone wolf’, ‘mental illness’ or ‘not real Islam’.

  14. I have admired Razer for many years but today she has failed to see the point I, for one, make when I say “je suis Charlie”. I defend the right to say what I want, short of inciting racial hatred, without being killed for it. For that matter, speech which incites racial hatred ought not be punishable by death. I find Helen’s interpretation extraordinary. Human kind has long understood that humour does not prevent violence or war.

  15. Like many others, here and around the world, I am deeply shocked and saddened by the slaughter at Charlie Hedbo’s office. Because most of us can identify with the Paris victims far more than we can with victims of bombs and tanks in the Middle East and elsewhere, it might be uncomfortable to be confronted with Ms Razer’s comments. However, I think she is making a valuable, if challenging, argument. There are blatant double standards in what we condemn and condone, depending on who are the perpetrators, who are the victims, where atrocities occur, and what means are used. I welcome Helen Razer’s remarks.

    1. Totally agree. Who does Helen think seriously believed that cartoons prevent wars anyway? Talk about a straw man. Also, a big part of the response in France has to do with the deeply entrenched use of cartoons as political statements, that originated largely with the French Revolution and has been cherished ever since. Saying Je Suis Charlie means I value being able to have my thoughts expressed freely by cartoonists, satirists, and journalists etc.

  16. As always Helen you are spot on. If anything satirical cartoons tend to trivialise certain events as some sort of passing comment without ever offering anything approaching detailed analysis and heaven forbid a possible solution. I’m not sure whether I’ve come across any satire on the West’s preoccupation with drone attacks on targets where indeed large numbers of non-combatants are killed and injured as an indirect consequence. One wonders what the survivors who witness such atrocities tend to make of such asymmetric warfare but perhaps some become the next wave of committed jihadists. Hopefully some among us will offer some rational analysis of these very confronting times with possible actions to minimise future outrages.

  17. dear Helen, contra Fred & Paul, this is the only intelligent (and morally sound, and brave) response I have read or heard. And it is the only response I’ve read so far that saves the day for freedom of expression.

      1. Can you provide evidence that she is “against freedom of expression when she doesn’t like what is being expressed”?

  18. Brilliant article –
    Worth noting that the vast majority of free speech practitioners do not abuse their rights. Seems there is a small minority like CH that do. Also worth noting that the vast majority of Muslims who get upset and suffer because Islam (which is central to their life) is deliberately mocked, do not kill. Seems there is a small minority like here that do.
    I can’t bring myself to call it terrorism though. Murder, yes. Terrorism, no. In fact, isn’t there a ‘crime of passion’ in France? Sounds more like that.

    1. Who the heck are you to decide what constitutes an “abuse” of free speech? Was Monty Python’s Life of Brian an abuse of free speech in your view because it ridiculed Christianity? Who decides what ideologies can be mocked and what cannot, and why?

  19. The sad thing is that, thanks to the brutal massacre of talented intellectuals, Razor and the world will now place their narrow focus on the Charlie Hedbo cartoons that satirised Islamic fundamentalism. Charlie satirised many aspects of society. Their reach was varied and far ranging. The only thing the crazed, bloodthirsty thugs who carried out this massacre have achieved, in terms of these cartoonists, is to place the focus squarely on their anti Muslim fundamentalist cartoons. I hope their other cartoons, satirising animal cruelty, politicians of all leanings, violence against women and many, many other aspects of society aren’t forever ignored or forgotten because of this massacre. That would make us all as blind and tiny minded as the ignorant violent and dangerous men and women who support and perpetuated this despicable act. I wish they were here to satirise the opinions flying around the world right now because I really think they got it.

  20. Well Helen was never going to take the side of any populist movement, was she, so no surprises there (and that’s a good thing, btw) but I think the point of the Je Suis un proper Charlie movement is more in support of free speech and no-holds-barred satire than any particular aim at winning the war on terror, n’est ce pas?

  21. Sorry Helen but I think you’re way off target on this one:
    Why would these guys murder a dozen satirists unless they thought the satire mattered a hell of a lot?
    Why would they attack a satirical magazine if they were responding to western actions in the middle east?
    You misunderstand them almost completely. Their main objective is to force or convert all muslims to their criminally stupid reduction of Islam to slogans, then the rest of the world. That is why the vast majority of the people they massacre are muslims and why the people they hate most are Shia. The West’s actions in the middle east help their cause, but the main reason for spectacular attacks here is that they cause reactions and, they hope, fertilize extremism – just like Baader Meinhoff and the Red Brigade etc. thought that provocation of excessive state reaction would win them more demented recruits and lead to revolution. They hate the West, but why attack satirists if they are retaliating against military actions? Je suis Charlie…

  22. “They become militant Islamists because they have their cultural and social roots in nations where pencils are even harder to come by than clean water.”
    The murdering brothers were born in Paris. They converted to Islam. They can afford machine guns. I bet you’d even find they owned a pencil and drinking water provided by the city of France. This is not an economic war. It is a religious war. Hence why they shouted out they had avenged the Prophet for ‘insults’ by the cartoonists.

  23. To cut a long story short Charlie Hedbo were creative intellectuals who refused to bow to a holy cow and were brutally murdered for it by crazed maniacs.

  24. Helen,
    enjoyed the article. I’ve never believed that ‘a war can be resolved with good jokes.’ But I don’t want to do without the jokes.

  25. Public satire of the institutions of power is permitted in some societies. Public satire of the institutions of power is not permitted in some societies. The difference between the two kinds of society is chilling in its impact on the quality of individual lives. “I am Charlie ” means I stand for a society where satire is permitted.

  26. Some time today in Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi, who set up the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, will receive the first round of his sentence of 1,000 lashes for crimes including apostasy. No doubt in his case religion is being called in aid of crushing political dissent but the two are inseparable in Saudi Arabia and other theocracies, and the intolerance of fundamentalist islam is the obvious link between Badawi’s plight and what happened in Paris. It shows that, although it no doubt heightens the problems “we” face, what western nations are doing in the middle east is ultimately irrelevant (what happened in Paris is visited routinely on dissenters in fundamentalist countries – e.g. Malala Yousafzai). The fatwa against Rushdie pre-dated the first gulf war so this is not new. Helen’s piece also begs the question – if satire and other art forms are so powerless, why does suppressing their free expression attract so much attention from dictators, theocratic and otherwise? Finally, the suggestion that people become militant Islamists not because they have no cartoons but “because they have their cultural and social roots in nations where pencils are even harder to come by than clean water” ignores the fact that these guys were born and raised in France and that poverty and deprivation have never been a barrier to the production of art, but fundamentalist religion necessarily deprives its adherents of the power of individual expression.

  27. Razer is right, it’s too simplistic to believe that humour can change the minds of a misguided radical movement. That does not mean we can’t have it, it remains our pressure valve in any society. Even Iraq has a political satire TV program poking fun at the IS.

  28. “Militant Islamists become militant Islamists because they have their cultural and social roots in nations where pencils are even harder to come by than clean water”
    Like Saudi Arabia?
    Peter Cook was being satirical! Geddit?
    If we are laughing at these fundamentalist cretins we are not being afraid of them.

  29. Sorry Helen, don’t know if you smoke, or, if so, what you smoke, but no cigar from me this time.
    You make the mistake of assuming that froggy satire is somehow representative of ‘what we are doing to Islam’, which it is not, no matter how many GE, Westinghouse, Lockheed Martin, etc atrocities are committed in our name.

  30. One of the problems with this analysis is that the English idea of “where’s Wally?” becomes « où est Charlie? » in France, and the Paris morning paper Libération is on to this when it put out a front page which read « Nous sommes tous Charlie » (we’re all Charlie). In other words an attack on any one of us is an attack on us all. Far from being a cry to turn aside guns with art it’s a call to collective action, and reading might clarify just how the French themselves see the current situation.

    1. Agree 100% Venise.
      I recently accused Helen of having too many off writing days.
      However, this piece is the best analysis of the rank hypocrisy of Western society in understanding exactly what has been done to the Middle East over the past 130 years.
      In Paris you don’t have to go very far to find an strong undercurrent of racism against Moroccan & Algerian Arabs based on such views as “why don’t they go back to their own countries?”. It occured to me that that would’ve been exactly what Moroccans & Algerians were saying when they were pillaged by the murderous 19th French colonial machinery….but of course, most French I spoke to don’t think that’s relevant.

  31. “We don’t need to use art to tell ourselves that murder is morally wrong. But, nor should we use art to remind us — as though we needed reminding — that what we are doing to Islamic nations is somehow morally right.”
    Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong. Wrong. Right. Right. Wrong.
    I am right, you are wrong. I have God on my side and so I can kill.
    As Vonnegut wrote, “So it goes.” But he knew all too well that Art will never stop War. That at the most it might change some people’s thinking, their world view, some of the time. Helen Razer you are not right in saying “we are at war”. I am not at war with terrorists, but they are at war with ‘The West’ whose policies and actions, now and historically, have often been morally dubious just as those of Islam have been morally dubious at other times.
    But the war of the Paris terrorists is not a just war as say the Crusades were not ‘just’. Any killing in the name of religion or moral right or certainty is killing, for at the end of the day there is on the streets of the world a dead Parisian, a dead Arab, a dead Jew, a dead Australian. But they all share something. They are all sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles. They all have friends, they all have dreams. They are all victims and they are all human beings whose moral right to live was neutralised by violence based on a misguided idea of power and right.

    1. At what stage does the West’s pillaging of the Middle East’s wealth & the destruction of its social fabric over the past 130 years, go from morally dubious, to morally repugnant?
      Whether you like it or not, Australia is justifiably seen by the Islamic world as being at war. or have you forgotten our role in Iraq 1&2, Afghanistan and now Iraq 3.

  32. A lot of people won’t like it, but Helen Razor is right on the money. The West has misunderstood the motivation behind this attack and has blown out of proportion the meaning behind it and attributed more value to it than it deserves.
    These terrorists were not targeting “our liberties”, “our way of life” or even freedom of speech. Or anything nearly as significant.
    They are extreme adherents of Islam who targeted ONE small newspaper that repeatedly humiliated a religious figure they (and their followers) revere. They didn’t hit France’s main newspaper (Le Monde) or the French President or a French government building or the Arc de Triomphe or the Place de la Republique or any other representative of liberty and free speech.
    They attacked a newspaper that ridiculed something they hold dear. They called out the names of their victims to make sure they killed the people they were specifically after.
    The West is making their actions seem more significant or more heroic than they were.

  33. you’ve written some crackers in the last couple of months, Helen, but this is probably the best. i agree with every word. free speech is not an absolute. Brandis said people have the right to be bigots if you want free speech – step right up, CHebdo. i don’t see how their cartoon on Wednesday was any more racist and adolescent than the bilge Andrew Bolt spews out. just because they have a radical history? CHebdo’s brand of insult and caricature (and remember it insulted MODERATE muslims, not just extremists) achieved nothing other than reinforcing a racist caricaturing of millions of people which played right into the hands of the Front National. the jesuisCharlie folks have that on their hands…

    1. I completely agree with your comment… I was wondering if there were other people with the same perception.. Thanks for your comment

  34. This may be the first article from Helen which was not a waste of my time.
    Yes, it was typically over-long (Paid by the word, Helen?).
    Yes it tends to use complex sentence construction where simpler would be better.
    Yes it is about Helen, as usual, too much about Helen.
    But this article does prick the self-satisfied balloon which is the notion that cartoons, of themselves, are tools of social change. They are not and never will be, however they can be witty, intelligent and discerning. They can aid focus on the essentials. And they aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.

  35. So many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons on middle-eastern issues are outright Orientalism in the worst European tradition. Big stretch to call them satire. Regardless, these murders are a sad and miserable business, and a dreadful waste of life.

  36. Thanks Helen for so lucidly expressing the disquiet I have been feeling over this ‘cartoon festival’ following the sad events in Paris. At their best, cartoonists can depict the complex nature of events. is sad to see such superficial sentiments on view.

  37. I must say, I have mixed feelings about this (and not just because you’ve ridiculed Weimar cabaret, something which I and my grandparents and great grandparents have enjoyed over the years). This is indeed ‘a puppy in a pile of turds’ (brilliant by the way).
    Charlie had a long history of pillorying religion – of any kind. Its editorial mission included skewering religions of all kinds until the idea of religious privilege and blasphemy was ‘ho hum’. It pissed off a lot of religious leaders and followers over its many iterations.
    Essentially, it sought to strip away the taboo or mystical nature of religion so it would lose its unquestioned authority and ultimately become a mundane, almost quaint, relic. And slowly, it was getting there (although its effectiveness and return on investment was pretty poor).
    This too was part of the motivation for the Weimar cabaret – in a turbulent time with the rise of fascism threatening and some pretty dire economic times, poking fun was an (ineffective) way of robbing the threat of its power. (Incidentally, Weimar cabaret is still very political and popular in Germany, Helen and has impacted on a couple of social policies thank you very much). Hell, even Madonna circa 1989 with her ‘blasphemous’ ‘Like a Prayer’ videoclip was some kind of artistic attempt to attack the self-importance of the church (though I suspect had more to do with record sales than breaking down dominant religious thought policing).
    The problem becomes, as Weimar and Charlie staff found out, extremists tend to a) have a poor sense of humour and b) deploy more lethal weapons than bad makeup and a dinner and drink with a show. And its not just fascists and Islamist extremists – had Madonna paraded a black sexy Jesus in the 1600s, I’m guessing she would have had less of a tut-tutting from the Pope and more of an angry mob burning her at the stake.
    I am very angry about what happened to Charlie’s staff. And not tweet a hashtag / hold a candle angry. Angry in a ‘do something and stop this madness’ way. But I am not so angry as to think that more drones and boots on ground is the only solution. I don’t know what the solution is but I do think that art (music and theatre) has a part to play. And this is where I have to disagree with you slightly Helen. It is a weapon – but we should not fall into the trap of thinking it is the only weapon. A weapon against the enemy, but also against the inevitable propaganda and nationalistic fervour that this incident will create from our politicians, media and ‘columnists’ such as can be seen in the Herald Sun today.

  38. Helen seems to has completely missed the point of satirical cartoons. They are, by their very nature, supposed to simplify complex social issues and therein lies the satire. Long satirical jokes are boring. Even more boring are people who can’t take a joke.

  39. It’s interesting to see posters who normally would be sympathetic to Helen Razer’s contributions, become angry when she raises such “satire (is) ineffective against bullets” or “Laughter may be the best medicine yet concocted by citizens of liberal democracies to soothe the pain” but it’s absurd to hope as they seem to when “they transmit their belief that a war can be resolved with good jokes.”
    The Crikey Collectives usual suspects seem to display the typical outrage of those who wish to continue their comforting dreams about Emperors’ New Clothes.

  40. I am yet again amazed at how many western commentators invent there own narrative around terrorist crimes – from Sydney to London, Paris and Boston. At each of theses hideous events the terrorists in question will tell you clearly and concisely what motivated them. There is underlying racist pattern from the west in the way we completely ignore there own words. We know best. We know what really motivates them and makes them tick. Shouldn’t we just listen and start having the real and difficult conversations about….. yes I’ll say it – religion.

  41. Helen’s article is most thought provoking thing I have read about the terrible events in Paris. It reminded me of the stupidity of the ‘ice bucket challenge’ where comfortable wealthy people used the world’s precious fresh water and energy resources to run refrigerators to create ice and CO2 so that they could buy it at the local gas station.and waste it rather than just sending the money direct to the charity. Consciousness raising indeed. As a postscript on another of her pieces, I wonder whether Helen would be prepared to raise the upper age limit of her potential partners, so that I would qualify.

  42. Helen, you scamp, wilfully misrepresenting the over-arching free speech issue, confining it solely to satire and cartoons. Please credit anyone holding up an I’m Charlie sign with the intelligence to know the difference, and understand that they’re demonstrating in support of your right to pump out wearying opinion pieces like this.

  43. This piece is another ‘fiddle while Rome’s burning’. It’s a fact that Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, Daesh, et al are completely ruthless in attacks on civilians, and I’m damned if I’m going to keep seeing their point of view. The populist ‘Je suis Charlie’ movements are neither here nor there…I really have no strong opinions on them. Intelligent counter-terrorism measures are necessary to protect our societies…Western Democracy, for all its faults, is far preferable to any alternatives on the menu.

  44. Conclusions based on misinterpretations. For example ” they fear laughter” does not refer to joviality; it means they fear their beliefs being laughed AT. Also “we did it first” is a glaringly superficial precept.

  45. Completely, agree with this article and Rundle’s yesterday. Can some one tell me when the march for the 2000 killed in Africa is starting and what world leaders will be present. Come now, just one person tell me, when the march is. The hypocrisy is deafening

  46. From Rundle Yesterday, thank you Guy (and Daniel) for telling it how it is.
    We are well on the way to that. Yesterday in Paris there was a march for “free speech”, occasioned by the evisceration of a satire/outrage magazine whose repeated focus gag was piss-takes of Muhammad, and to a lesser extent of Jesus, the Pope, rabbis, etc. The march was led by, led by, a group of characters including:
    The Prime Minister of Turkey, the country which has jailed more journalists than anyone in the world
    The Foreign Minister of Egypt, which has Peter Greste and two other Al Jazeera staff serving 10-year prison terms on absurd charges/convictions
    Putin’s Foreign Minister, a government whose shadowy affiliated gangs have murdered dozens of journalists in the past decade and a half
    The Foreign Minister of Bahrain (‘nuff said).
    The Prime Minister of Poland, whose government raided the Polish Charlie Hebdo equivalent when it “embarrassed” the government
    The Prime Minister of Ireland, where blasphemy remains an enforced criminal offence
    A sheikh from Qatar, where people are serving 15-year terms for “blasphemous” poetry
    Leaders of Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian territories, who all jailed journos
    Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Israel Defence Force lethally targeted journos during the Gaza invasion
    UK Prime Minister David Cameron, where Defence Advisory Notices and super-injunctions keep a host of live information from the public
    The Saudi ambassador to France, whose country has handed out a thousand lashes to a man convicted of blasphemy
    The Secretary-General of NATO, which deliberately bombed the Belgrade station of Yugoslav public TV during the Kosovo operation, killing 16 journalists
    The US Attorney-General, who works for a government which has cracked down harder on whistleblowers than any other.
    (this list was ably collated by Daniel Wickham)

  47. “we might want to rethink what we are doing with our much-vaunted freedom of expression.”
    That is the question.
    At least part of the answer to that question is ‘not much that is useful.’

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