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  • Sam Darling

French racism

Virtually everyone I know, in a virtual manner, has renamed themselves Charlie this week. #jesuischarlie

The gruesome murder of staffers at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris has created a solidarity among writers and comics and fans of freedom.

Unfortunately, it does mean that we’re also defending the freedom of a publication that frequently behaved like assholes. Comedy–particularly the crude machete that is satire–can punch down.

On a normal day I don’t give a crap about this dumb satirical publication. In fact, I’ve probably sneered at its puerile attempts at comedy and rolled my eyes at its exaggerated visuals. Their cartoon style can well be declared racist. Look at this. You’re making me defend stuff like this?

Screenshot 2015-01-09 15.49.35

Oy. This French comedy is not subtle, yo.

France has a racism problem. Absolutely. All countries with a mixture of people develop a racism problem. Particularly when it comes to “their” Arabs, those who came to them from former French territories in North Africa, the dominant ruling class of France can be downright hateful. They’re no fans of the Jews either.

Islam represents as much as 10% of the French population. The status quo is being upset and people are uncomfortable. They use descriptions of “those people” the same way North Americans talk about “those Mexicans” or a Canadians talk about “those Indians” or Kiwis talk about “those Chinese.” They even accuse them of the same transgressions: having too many children; using up social services; taking advantage of good people; being dirty; being violent. The script is remarkably consistent through the ages when a group is “othered”.

France is a secular nation. The tension between the secularist ethos of the French government and the religiosity of many of its newer citizens can sometimes provide a nifty justification for racism. And sometimes, it’s too murky to make a clear division. Is banning the niqab a fight against misogyny, or is it an act of state-sanctioned racism? It probably depends on the motivation of the people doing the banning, but the results are the same: the women are stuck at home if they can’t wear the niqab per their own culture’s dictate.

It’s murky and there are unintended consequences. In the end, I favor freedom of the individual. If you want to write a comedy magazine that uses racist imagery? Go ahead. If you’ve been raised to believe you have to cover your face in order to go out in public? Go ahead.

The plurality of ideas in a free society means that we must live with odd contradictions. We have to tolerate being uncomfortable with new people and ideas that we may dislike. You want to practice your religion of Scientology? Go ahead. You want to draw a cartoon that mocks Scientology? Or Israel? Or Islam? Go ahead.

All mockery is welcome. The only thing we don’t tolerate is violence.

And I don’t have to buy your crappy magazine.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Quotation should be attributed to Beatrice Evelyn Hall writing as S. G. Tallentyre.

Edited to add: sharp readers noted I’d grabbed an image that was a goof on an original Charlie Hebdo I’ve made an update. Thanks, guys!

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