A couple of years back, the weekly satire rag Charlie Hebdo went out of its way to re-publish expressly provocative ‘cartoons’ that had been *commissioned* by a Danish publisher to egg on Muslims. When leaders of the local Muslim community cried foul, the magazine’s editor, Philippe Val, harumphed about freedom of speech. Flash forward to this summer when Val published a piece in which the renowned French humorist Siné, commenting on Jean Sarkozy (son of Nicolas)’s upcoming marriage to a business heiress of the Jewish faith, said Sarkozy planned to convert to Judaism and essentially was marrying up. Allegations of anti-Semitism followed and, after the cartoonist refused to retract, the brave editor fired him.
Now, let’s compare.
The Danish cartoons (I can’t remember which Charlie Hebdo reproduced) included one of the Prophet Mohamed wearing a bomb with a live fuse as his turban. So let’s get this straight: Mr. Val actively supports ‘satire’ in which not just a race or religion, but one of its highest deities is depicted as a terrorist. And that’s freedom of speech worth championing. A cartoon which Mr. Val already consented to publish, and which, at its worse, says that Jews are rich is anti-Semitism and has to be retracted and when it’s not, merits the firing of its author.
The ‘cartoons’ ‘satirizing’ the Prophet were definitely anti-Muslim. Are those by Siné anti-Semitic? Possibly. But here in France, I’m more worried about incipient anti-Semitism such as that practiced by Le Monde, which recently made a point of describing the person from whom Israeli PM Ehud Ohlmert is suspected of taking money as a “Jewish-American Businessmen.” It’s this kind of subtle insinuation — coming from a mainstream media source — that is ultimately more dangerous and vile than the in-your-face, obviously satirical scribblings of a cartoonist.
Let’s cut to the chase here: The seeds for French collaboration with the Occupying German forces in the deportation and subsequent extermination of its own Jewish citizens were sown by hundreds of years of their being depicted — in mainstream media and literature, in government circles — as the Other. I guess it’s okay that France is now so scrupulous to avoid a repeat in the case of Jewish people that it sometimes over-compensates by seeing anti-Semitism even where it’s not necessarily at play. (And it should be said, real negationists like Jean-Marie Le Pen still exist, and it’s right that France should clamp down on them with strict anti-negationist laws.) But in the meantime, I wonder if the French media is aware that it is now doing the same thing with Arabs and Muslims, installing an image of them as the terrorist or at the least separatist other.