In the Minority

I spent a lot of time last week reading Muslim cartoonists’ responses to Charlie Hebdo, as well as interviewing some myself. Many hold complex views like the one in the fifth panel of this cartoon. All support free speech and deplore the attacks, despite having varied opinions on Charlie. Many operate under threats themselves. Some mention cartoonist Naji al-Ali, who was assassinated in London in 1987. Most Westerners don’t even know about this.

I haven’t seen any cartoons yet from the perspective of a French Muslim immigrant wrestling with these difficulties. One Charlie cover, in reference to killings of Muslims in Egypt during the 2013 coup d’etat, showed a Muslim man holding a Koran, both being sprayed with bullets under the caption “The Koran is shit.” Were this a Jew holding the Talmud, we would rightly recognize that as anti-Semitic. To say such a cartoon in this context is only about religious cosmology is a narrow, literalist interpretation worthy of our current Supreme Court. Religion and identity are hopelessly intertwined here, amidst a backdrop of history that hasn’t always been pretty.

I’ve seen a number of statements to the effect that we cannot — must not — talk about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons because that would be tantamount to blaming the victims. To be clear, I disagree with the Pope’s oddly-pugnacious phrasing that if one mocks religion, one can expect a punch. That’s a very unsettling way of putting it that excuses violent behavior. I do, however, agree with many Muslim cartoonists that we can blame the terrorists AND exercise our freedom of expression to talk about the cartoons. We can hold these two thoughts in our head. They are not mutually exclusive.


  • Susan Montgomery

    Am I the only one who thinks that the immigration situation in Europe is a wee tad Karmatic?

  • trucmachin

    You could have quoted the whole comic ! it says it sucks [because] it doesn’t stop bullets. It’s not offensive against islam since it’s clear nobody really evaluate how worth is Koran based on it’s ability to stop bullets. It’s obvious that no book, religious or not, would help here. It’s obvious that there is no good argument here against any religion and that the false argument could be used against ant religion. It’s an important element of religions beliefs to deal with the fact that being religious doesn’t prevent anybody from being killed. I also think they would definitly have done the same on a Jew. I wouldn’t consider it as anti-semitic. It doesn’t make fun on people’s death, it’s a sad, ironical “humour noir”.

    Also, I don’t think somebody in Charlie Hebdo would wrote “your god sucks”, since it would be understood as “your god especially sucks” or “YOUR god sucks”. Some might have said something like “God sucks”, but not “Your god sucks”.

    That said, I agree that what happened shouldn’t prevent us to criticize their work. Certainly some slogan like “Je suis Charlie” is problematic, since you don’t have to indentify yourself to Charlie Hebdo to protest against the killing.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.