Friday, 9 January 2015


It seems that the Charlie Hebdo gunmen have now themselves been killed, brought down in a thunder of righteous republican fire even as their possible colleague at the kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes murdered several of his hostages and was himself shot dead by police.  The immediate episodes may be over, but their ramifications - ideological, political, cultural, legal - will ripple out in as yet unknown ways.

Already the Charlie Hebdo slaughter is being compared to America's 9/11 - not in terms of casualties, of course, but in regard to its crystalization of France's contemporary relationships with its large Muslim minority and with the Arab-Islamic world beyond its borders.  Already, the air is thick with the Manichaean polarisation of discourse, which trivializes the real complexities of a multiply-overdetermined scenario.

One of the most troubling aspects of this situation is the drastic attenuation it effects of the possibilities of radical understanding and opinion.  Charlie Hebdo itself was in some ways exemplary of this problem - a magazine founded by old soixante-huitards whose 'radicalism' sutured all-too easily with contemporary Islamophobia and racism.  And so now we have 'leftists' or morally strident liberals who can see only a Hitchensite 'Islamofascism' behind the attack, wiping much of the more properly nuanced comprehension we've attained over the last decade of 9/11, Al Qa'ida, the outworking of the Iraq occupation, American war-crimes, Bush's and Blair's distortions of democracy in pursuit of a greater Middle East policy, the mule-headedness of American support of and European connivance at Israel's colonial expansionism and racism, and much else, out of the background picture.

Here are two articles that try to grasp this problem itself - not what has been happening in the last three days but the torsions of the public discussion.

Adam Shatz, at the London Review of Books:

Moral Clarity


And Scott Long, a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, at Mondoweiss:


Why I am not Charlie





  1. When I think of French satire, that born of the Revolution, I think of "Tartuffe" and its mockery of priests, of de Sade and his brutal mockery of all hypocrisy and Christian values, of the satires of Napoleon and Marie Antoinette, of Bataille and the Situationists. It's always been shocking than Swift or the mock-heroic satire of the Brits, Dryden et al. The French tradition seems to be rooted more in excesses of its history.

    1. Hello Tall Boy

      Thanks for your comment! The satire born of the Revolution was indeed savage: Robert Darnton has written very brilliantly about it. I have not thought about Bataille or the Situationists as satirists, but perhaps you are right. Perhaps Houllebecq sees himself in that tradition too, though I don't much like his novels. Certainly, my sense of Charlie Hebdo is that its images were more trivial, and I don't think it's always clear what their purpose was, in regard to Islam or French Muslims. One could construe them as hate speech, or reasonably call them racist, or sectarian.