Opinion: What satire is able to do (Charlie Hebdo)

POSTED: 01/20/15 8:28 PM

The new Charlie Hebdo is there, a week after the terrorist attack at the editorial offices in Paris, The cover shows – oh yes – the propjet Mohammed. What does this cartoon tell us? The Dutch daily Trouw devoted an edition of its theological team to this issue, whereby two experts shed their light on an issue.

On Wednesday morning 700,000 of the 1 million copies of Charlie Hebdo that rolled off the press had already been sold in France. Many kiosks did not have single copy left. The magazine will now print an additional 2 million copies.

Back to the theological team, with the opinion of Erik Borgman, a professor of theology at the University in Tilburg about the latest cover of Charlie Hebdo.

“Massively supporting the free word is, paradoxically, stifling for the same free word. There is an enormous group pressure to take a position. Everybody has to make clear that he or she is on the right side of the issue. That makes me nervous. The world is being reclassified, along lines that are too unambiguous: the civilized ones versus the barbarians. We of fairness versus the religious fanatics. If you do not want to be on the side of the Kalasjnikovs you are forced as a matter of fact to join the protesters – Je Suis Charlie.

I was gasping for air during the past week. And this is exactly what this cover causes. This cartoon confuses me. It brings back the question and undermines the reflex to think in simple explanations and projections of the enemy. I find that very powerful. Here you see what satire is able to do. Charlie turns the whole matter around for a full quarter and suddenly you do not know where you stand anymore. The matter is much more complex than ‘we are under attack.’ Who are ‘we’ exactly?

If somebody could say, ‘Je suis Charlie’ it are the makers of Charlie Hebdo. But of all people they make this slogan ironic, by putting it in Mohammed’s mouth. If even Mohammed is Charlie, then who isn’t? They question the support that is suddenly coming their way. Suddenly everything has been forgiven and everyone finds them fantastic. Suddenly they are the heroes of the free word. The magazine does not fall into that trap. I find that great.”

Matthias Smalbrugge, a professor in European culture and Christianity at the Free University in Amsterdam has this to say about the new Charlie cover.

“Everything has been forgiven” is says above the head of a crying Mohammed. As if the dead cartoonists are able to forgive their killers – that it wants to save the calf after it has drowned. Forgiveness is with the living. If someone has done something to you, you are able to forgive him, so that you can go on together. When you are dead, you cannot continue with anyone.

This cover is therefore mocking the lofty ideals religion attributes to itself. It is as if the cartoonist is asking a rhetorical question: listen, religious one, what is really coming of the forgiveness and reconciliation that you are after? Exactly. Nothing at all. In the real world, people are simply and cold-bloodedly murdered. By going after your ideals, you are achieving exactly the opposite.

This cartoon questions the core of religion. Religion has a reverse side – that has become clear from this attack. It is love that can very quickly transfer into hate. It is something beautiful that can be ugly at the same time. This keeps me, as a theologian, always occupied. Because where is the limit? And how do I find it?

The world in which we are living is missing a shared story. That results in exclusion: we all believe something else and we say: I know better than you do. We place people on a pedestal. The cartoonist mocks that as well by depicting Mohammed. Because why do we feel the need to create idols and make them untouchable? It is courageous and valuable that Charlie Hebdo again claims the space to mock religion.”

Did you like this? Share it:
Opinion: What satire is able to do (Charlie Hebdo) by

Comments are closed.