France’s South Park

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 7 2015 @ 12:49pm

A reader writes:

enhanced-27032-1420647847-2Here’s something I’d like to contribute re: the massacre. First, I went to high school with the daughter of one of the victims, a long time ago but still. I met him and knew him – a very nice and funny guy. So it’s shocking on a personal level.

Second, these things do not usually happen in France. Especially the part where a commando uses automatic weapons (AK-47). It’s very hard to procure AK-47s in France. It’s not on sale at Walmart, like here. So this means these are organized criminals (obviously).

Charlie Hebdo is an institution. Its humor was always very corrosive and harsh. The writers and illustrators have been active in one form or another since the late ’60s, making fun of everybody and angering everybody since then.

Its first incarnation, aptly called “Hara-Kiri” was the most scandalous weekly magazine you could find.

The week after the General de Gaulle died, they came out with the title: “Tragic ball at Colombey: one dead.” (Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises was the village where the General’s private residence was located). After the scandal, they were forbidden to print and had to start another weekly under a new name.

enhanced-22753-1420647659-17Charlie was always committed to intellectual anarchism, virulently anti-clerical and anti-religion and resolutely left wing. But always in a hilarious manner. There is no 40-year-old French person of all political persuasion who has not read and laughed along with Charlie’s weekly delivery of caricatures.

More recently, Charlie been printing lots of cartoons making fun of Islamists and their Prophet. They were already the target of a bombing a couple of years ago. So everybody is thinking what I am thinking. If it turns out to be the doing of an Islamist cell, this is almost like France’s 9/11. On a much smaller scale, but France is a much smaller country. To assassinate the comedians and the satirists is as big, if not bigger thing. It is a direct impact on France’s most cherished cultural trait: the active, public, vocal disrespect and skepticism towards any form of authority, political or religious.

I am crestfallen and scared. This is a very dark moment.

Amy Davidson adds:

Recently, the magazine had mocked the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Its last tweet before the attack was of a cartoon making fun of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. That is not recklessness; it’s how one knows that ISIS has not won, and never will. There Charlie-Hebdo-Secondary2-320ought to be more such tweets. (Whether ISIS in particular had a role in this attack is a question that can’t be answered at this stage; its members are, sadly, not the only ones in the terrorism business.)

The current issue of Charlie Hebdo, published the day of the shooting, featured a caricature of the novelist Michel Houellebecq on the cover. Houellebecq’s new novel, “Submission,” also out Wednesday, according to the Times, “predicts a future France run by Muslims, in which women forsake Western dress and polygamy is introduced.” The drawing of Houellebecq, accompanied by a joke about Ramadan, is not flattering. The French police have added the protection of Houellebecq to their list of priorities on what is, by all accounts, a traumatic and disorienting day for the entire country.

Update from a reader:

I have to ask, does your reader who states:

Especially the part where a commando uses automatic weapons (AK-47). It’s very hard to procure AK-47s in France. It’s not on sale at Walmart, like here.

… understand that automatic weapons are not on sale at Wal-Mart? Granted, something of the point may stand – it’s not as if illegal firearms play no role in crime in the US – but it makes me question someone’s ability to expound on a topic of they’re willing to throw out factual inaccurate remarks in the process.

(Top cover translates to “Love: Stronger than hate.” Middle cover depicts Catholic bishops discussing how to get away with pedophilia. Bottom cover is the aforementioned one featuring a caricature of the Houellebecq.)