Médéric Martin-Mazé
Maître de conférences en Relations internationales à l'Université Paris VIII et au CRESPPA-LabToP
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Billet de blog 10 janv. 2015

Why am I still Charlie today and why will I ride with them tomorrow.

Médéric Martin-Mazé
Maître de conférences en Relations internationales à l'Université Paris VIII et au CRESPPA-LabToP
Abonné·e de Mediapart

Ce blog est personnel, la rédaction n’est pas à l’origine de ses contenus.

Vigorous criticism of #jesuischarlie has emerged today. That’s remarkable, and most welcome. But I am still Charlie today. I would like to explain why. I would also like to say why I might be something else tomorrow. To start, here are a 3 objections to #jesuischarlie, 3 points that I take home, mostly from those very good papers.



1. #jesuischarlie is unanimist politics. But unanimism does not sit well with democracy. It stigmatises those who disagree (I read today in lemonde.fr an article counting how hashtags critical or unsupportive of Charlie Hebdo were posted- as if the witch hunt had already started. Terrifying). Unanimism demands an answer from those who would rather stay quiet, especially when asked dumb questions, questions that become a little bit dumber each time they are asked. Case in point? “You are Muslim, do you condemn these attacks?”... #jesuischarlie therefore plays in the hands of the “terrorists” (but, really, are we terrorised?) who expect these overreactions to push others over the edge, towards their own violence. Indeed, what intellectual lazziness and/or political cynism calls ‘terrorism’ is just a strategy of mobilisation that radical and ultra-minority groups implement in order to raise support in the community that they claim to represent but that ignores them blatantly. 

2. What is more, #jesuischarlie also neutralizes citizens who are concerned with yet another attack not only on freedom of expression, but on privacy, freedom of movement or asylum (and even back to freedom of expressions as I am afraid some twittos will discover sooner rather than later). And they are right, these citizens. Not two months ago, new antiterrorist legislation was introduced in France. Already, some call for yet another antiterrorist legislation to be adopted not only in France, but also in Europe. And make no mistakes: these will certainly be even more liberticid, even more securitarian. Snowden? The patriot Act? Anyone ? 

3. Finally, #jesuischarlie also runs the risk of endorsing an editorial line that, let’s face it, was highly questionable - to put it mildly. Expanding radical anti-clericalism to Islam was politically inept. I was convinced of this when Charb and his peers were alive. I haven’t changed my mind since their untimely and gruesome death. It was inept because Islam is not the Catholic Church. It cannot draw on powerful political resources. It is the religion of an ethnic minority. Or, more accurately, it is the religion of some of the French of (mostly) Northern African descent. Islam, as any other religious practice, is heterogeneous and unevenly distributed. There are many ways to be a Muslim. Not all French Muslims go to the Mosque even if some observe the Ramadan. Should I consider myself as Catholic because I set foot in a Church when people around me die (always) and get married (sometimes)? I do not. Most importantly, expanding radical anti-clericalism to a cleric-less religion seemed rather straightforward, but was not particularly clever. Islam is much more decentralised and much less bureaucratised than the Catholic Church. This difference has an important consequence: the target of anti-clericalism shifts from the body of the clerics to the community of the believers. That’s called Islamophobia, and it is plainly stupid. Again, I disagreed with it then, I disagree with it now.

So, why am I still Charlie, you may ask. Tomorrow I may be something else. But today I still am. Today I choose to disagree with those who disagree, although they have very valid reasons to do so, reasons that I share as much as I praise their amazing ability to dissent. I still am Charlie not only because I think that people should not be killed for what they write, think, believe, draw, say, sing, etc. (although this is still a valid point, a point beyond question). I am Charlie because Charlie is me. The proposition goes both ways. And this is important. Let me explain. 

I am afraid that you will have to take my word for it, but I am not a racist dick. The hijacking of Charlie Hebdo by the political far right sickens me - and I will come back to this below. Truth be said, over the past decade, some at Charlie Hebdo have tirelessly laid the ground work for such a move (Val, Fourest - for instance). This was pointed out by an ex-journalist of Charlie Hebdo in a piece well worth re-reading today.  


Some, especially those who look at the situation with the fresh perspective of an outsider (but also who may lack the political and historical background of this situation), have therefore some apparently solid reason to think that Charlie Hebdo was racist towards French Muslims. But I fundamentally disagree with this proposition. Not because it is untrue. But because it makes no sense. There is no racism against religion. There is racism against race. It is not the same thing, unless you assume a necessary relation between ethnicity and religion - which is, in itself, a racist move. A fine line, you say? Yes, but an important one. Freedom of speech is not an unqualified good. In France, racism is not an opinion, it is an offence punishable by law. For my part, I would not side with a racist, even if he or she is a slaughtered journalist. I would stay silent. But I can side with a stupid one. It is all the more possible that we are not talking about a 50 pages-long, daily review of analytical texts, but a 16 pages-long, weekly and satirical magazine of cartoons. The kind of nuances I referred to in the above does not fit well with satire. Those lines are too thin to show in the cartoons.

So was Charlie Islamophobic? Yes, no doubt. Racist? I do not think so, although I recognise that it is a disputed claim. More than that: it is precisely because it is a disputed claim that #jesuischarlie is not about unanimist politics (although it is about solidarity - which is not the same thing). It is about reclaiming Charlie Hebdo. It is about ripping Charlie’s heritage from the hands of the ones that lay claims on it, although Charlie had always opposed  them- albeit not always efficiently. As a war machine against all forms of exploitation, domination, prejudice, “connerie” as they would say, Charlie gained an amazing amount of sympathy, support or at least recognition amongst the political left and, more generally, the French people. This helps understand the magnitude of the emotions that anyone, everyone felt and is still submerged with in many cases - that, and the fact that a huge number of individuals know at least some of the victims’ name and faces, which is not that common in this kind of attacks. This may seem grim to some, but it needs to be acknowledged. What is at stakes today is the appropriation of Charlie’s cultural, political heritage by the very ones they had always opposed - that is, the political far right. 

This comes as a surprise only to those who are not aware of how grim the political climate is in France, today. The far right party, the National Front, has conquered a dominant position in French politics. It goes from electoral victories to electoral victories - mostly because no one opposes it politically. Most of the professional politicians have abandoned the politics of class for the politics of race. The center-right apes the far right, the centre-left apes the center-right and (paradoxically) the far-right apes the far-left (economically) as Boltanski and Esquerre, but also Fassin have explained. No one opposes the far-right politically because, since the 1960s, they have mercilessly and efficiently waged cultural war. And they won the latest battles. They won them without a doubt. The very dispute regarding Charlie's islamophobia testifies to this sad piece of news. People have lost their bearings. Words have lost their meanings. Some intellectual figures and artists, coming from the far left, have converted to the far right. And it is more than time that we make a stand and put an end to this dreadful drift.

To me, it starts with #jesuischarlie. Because if I am Charlie, then Charlie is me. And therefore Charlie is not racist. And therefore, those racist dicks cannot feed on the corpses of Charlie’s cartoonists while they are still warm. They cannot indulge in what Didier Bigo suggestively calls symbolic anthropophagism.  

It starts with #jesuischarlie, but it does not end here. This is not enough, of course (and, really, who are we kidding? What we are talking about is a hashtag.). Today, some racist fuckers, probably thinking that Charlie Hebdo needed avenging (a thought that would have caused Charlie’s cartoonists to vomit or, better yet, to draw some irreverent cartoons) have set Mosques on fire. They also have launched grenades, fired shots, and detonated bomb. Today. In at least four different locations in France. So now may be the time for another hashtag. One that comes from the antipodes.

After the attack in Sydney, some Australians came up with an idea: #Iwillridewithyou. #Iwillridewithyou meant that they would not let any of their co-citizens be insulted, attacked, harmed on the ground that, allegedly, they had the same religion as that of the attackers. In light of the events that are unraveling in the aftermath of the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo, maybe the time has come for #Iwillridewithyou. 

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