Muslims should love Charlie. Here’s why.
A message from someone who is sad to see cartoons being such misunderstood…
You have the right to feel offended
Dear Muslims. Freedom of speech is something we value a lot over here. Sometimes, you may get the impression some believe we have the right to say or draw anything against you, and you should just refrain from telling us how you feel about it, and I’m sorry about that because it’s completely wrong.
When you see people replying to you “you shouldn’t feel that way”, those don’t mean you don’t have the right to be offended: they are telling you we didn’t intend to make you feel that way. We will continue to behave the same because we really don’t intend to harm you in any way, and it makes us sad to see how offended some of you are for what we often consider tributes to Islam.
That may seem strange, but please give me the chance to explain you what I mean.
Satire is like a martial art, it follows rules
You may have heard some people call martial arts brutal in the past. However, if you are practicing one of them for yourself, you probably feel very differently about it. Most martial arts are not violent, they just seem so from the outside because we don’t know about the rules, the habits, and the moves replying to each other. Battling someone on a judo tatami has nothing to do with wrestling with someone in the street. Things may look similar, but still be completely different nonetheless.
Each society has their own social codes, and some of those may look crazy to you. Don’t assume they are mad though, as some of those may be very useful for a reason. The French community has for a long time a very active counter-thought movement. We are known for stakes, revolutions, and it also reflects in the way we communicate.
Irony, satirical drawings: those tools are ours because we found it is sometimes easier to communicate important things as jokes. It enables us to tell things we probably wouldn’t dare to tell otherwise or that people wouldn’t want to listen; I argue this form of communication is making our society better overall. Irony is a martial art of the French community. Even when you think it looks harsh, we are often still practicing within the limits of our societal codes.
Being able to make jokes about something, even something very important, is key to make our society better – because we consider jokes as an effective communication channel. If we have to censor ourselves, we lose our communication channel. That’s why it’s important to us to be able to mock everything, because we believe everything is worth talking about.
The reason why cartoons are often misunderstood is that this form of communication is often very short, and very contextual. We unconsciously make use our cultural and historical background when we communicate this way. This makes what we say very hard to grasp for anyone not in sync with our ‘martial code of satire’, but this doesn’t mean this mode of communication is bad. I’ll, based on real examples, try to show you what I mean.
A naked cartoon of the prophet in an obscene position can hardly be misunderstood.
When I tried to understand which cartoons did offend Muslims the most, I came across the case of a naked Mohammed.
Before going on further on the symbolic nature behind a naked personality, I first would like to remind my readers that seeing naked individuals is something we’re quite used to in Europe. It’s not uncommon that popular people do, at some point, take a naked picture of themselves and share it to the world, and most people don’t actually consider this as a shame anymore. It’s not rare to hear about young teenagers sending nude pictures of themselves over SnapChat to each others, too. As a result, a nude prophet may not be as shocking for a Frenchman as you would think.
More importantly, imagining individuals naked is something anchored deeply in the French culture. It’s a tradition to tell children (being impressed or irrationally afraid of a teacher, a policeman, or some public figure) to imagine that person naked. Imagining someone naked help puts things back in perspective.
Every public figure is and remains a human. At the end of the day, he or she is made the same way you are, he faces some of the same physiological challenges you do. Like you, he sometimes had to make hard choices, and he certainly made mistakes, too. It shows you both are equal, and should not be afraid of each other. We learn respect by not treating anyone as superior to anyone else, and it starts by humanizing even the brightest individuals of our society.
It also remind you that even the most exceptional persons who ever lived on our planet made mistakes. We have to remember that because there’s an old saying that goes on like that “Love makes you blind”. When you truly love someone for the exceptional things he brought to the world, you sometimes forgets about all the bad things which he also did. Nothing on this planet is perfect.
The message is often hidden behind the first impression
Actually, a lot of Charlie cartoons about Mohammed are also there to remind us he was a great person. When a cartoon has him saying “It’s annoying to be loved by idiots”, of course our first reaction is to feel offended for Muslims. And then, we read the caption: “Mohammed, overwhelmed by terrorists”.
I think it’s one of the most beautiful message we could ever imagine him telling us right now, because it reminds us most Muslims are not happy either about the current situation, and that their spiritual leader himself would probably be sad to see what some do in his name today.
I saw another cartoon about the ISIS beheadings, where an ISIS soldier beheads a man. The man says “I’m Mohammed, please stop this butchery” and the solider replies “Shut up, infidel!” before killing him; again, this is very important to show our society that Muslim leaders actually do speak up against the ISIS situation, and do not agree with what happens.
The prophet is the symbol we need for the job, as there’s no Muslim representative that’s sufficiently known in Europe to take that role. Even when we represent the prophet, we don’t always intend to represent him personally; we represent Muslims by drawing the most iconic among them.
Shocking people is a way to get read;
getting read is a way to change our society
Sure, these pictures are made to shock. Sure, they’re made to have you get a look and buy the magazine. But they’re also made to show how your initial thoughts on something may be wrong. How the real meaning behind something is often more complex than it looks like at first sight. And that’s why we love satire here, because it helps us be better individuals.
When I hear people telling we shouldn’t make use of satire, I’m really sad. Satire doesn’t kill anyone, it isn’t violent: it’s just a way for us to tell people straight to the heart something in very few words, by letting them think for themselves. Provoking is a good way to initiate debate and discussions, and letting misunderstandings behind.
Images whose deep meaning contradicts your first impressions also enable you to target people interested in the first meaning, the one they immediately see, and then get them to actually think about the second meaning, the one that will come later. You wouldn’t get those persons read a long text explaining why they are wrong, but you can trick them into reading a cartoon and debate about it. Shocking cartoons with multiple interpretations are a way to get discussions started.
If you’re not sure what we mean,
give us the benefit of the doubt
Now, of course, I don’t mean every cartoon is good, neither is every joke, or every book that was ever written. I feel sorry for all the bad things which were written, said, and drawn about Muslims, but I’ve the conviction most Charlie cartoons weren’t in this category.
So, please, the next time you face a satire you don’t understand or that you think is awful, please give its author the benefit of the doubt. He maybe doesn’t intend what you think he does.
Really, those cartoons didn’t get the credit they are due outside France.
Please ask for clarification
So, when you feel offended, please ask us why we do something a certain way; the author has a reason and you should always give him a chance to explain himself, instead of judging on how you understand the final work, let him clarify his intentions.
If you didn’t watch it already, please take 30s to watch this video.
Art is something very complex, very contextual, and more often than not, friendly. Don’t attribute to hate what can be attributed to misunderstandings and, remember: we actually show no respect to someone when we do something disrespectful to him for the sake of it. Not when you think we do; authors should have the right to defend themselves.