TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2015
I’m going to publish a number of English language translations of French articles on the background to Charlie Hebdo controversies for those who wish to follow it. The first few are from the publication Les Mots Sont Importants. Thanks immensely to Daphne Lawless for the translations.
“Charlie Hebdo”, not racist? If you say so…
translated by Daphne Lawless
He worked there from 1992 to 2001, before walking out, angered by “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of a certain Philippe Val [former CH editor – trans.] Since then, Olivier Cyran has been an observer from a distance, outside the walls, of the evolution of Charlie Hebdo and its growing obsession with Islam. He went over this long-term drift on the occasion of an opinion piece in Le Monde, signed by Charb [Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the cartoonists murdered in January 2015 – trans.] and Fabrice Nicolino.
Postscript 11 January 2015: to all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.
Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,
“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde, as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.
And so Le Monde has charitably opened their laundry service to you, for an express steam-cleaning of your rumpled honour. To hear you talk, it was urgent: you couldn’t even go out in Paris without a taxi driver treating you like racists and leaving you helpless on the footpath. I understand your annoyance, but why did you have to go give yourself another black eye in a different publication than your own? Don’t Charlie Hebdo, its website and its publishing house give you space to express yourself to your heart’s content? You invoke “Charlie’s” glorious heritage of the 60s and 70s, when it was political censorship and not haunting disrepute that gave your magazine something to worry about. But I doubt that, at the time, writers like Cavanna or Choron would have asked for help from the posh press to make themselves respectable.
If it also occurred to me, in the past, to scribble out some furious lines in reaction to some of your exploits, I never dwelled on the subject. Doubtless I would not have had the patience or the stoutness of heart to follow, week after week, the distressing transformation which took over your team after the events of September 11, 2001. I was no longer part of Charlie Hebdo when the suicide planes made their impact on your editorial line, but the Islamophobic neurosis which bit by bit took over your pages from that day on affected me personally, as it ruined the memory of the good moments I spent on the magazine during the 1990s. The devastating laughter of “Charlie” which I had loved to hear now sounded in my ears like the laugh of a happy idiot getting his cock out at the checkout counter, or of a pig rolling in its own shit. And yet, I never called your magazine racist. But since today you are proclaiming, high and loud, your stainless and irreproachable anti-racism, maybe it’s now the right moment to seriously consider the question.
Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.
Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamo–leftists”.