The Charlie Hebdo Shooting

Jon Stewart, with his inimitable blend of earnestness and deadpan, weighed in on the events with a moving statement. “I know very few people go into comedy, you know, as an act of courage. Mainly because it shouldn’t have to be that. It shouldn’t be an act of courage. It should be taken as established law. But those guys at Hebdo had it, and they were killed for their…cartoons. A stark reminder that, for the most part, the legislators and journalists and institutions that we jab and ridicule are not, in any way, the enemy.”
Source: Salon, January 8

First question: What, then, is the enemy that satirists everywhere must target?

Answer: stupidity, intolerance, prejudice, abuse of power, hysterical conspiracy theories.

Second question: Is the rage animating the killers motivated by the desire to hit back at the oppressor? Or is there no rage at all but cold calculation to use violence to achieve political purposes?

Answer: The rage has its primary origin in hostility to the modern world caused by frustration.

Third question: Can we agree that religious zeal has little to do with it?

Answer: Yes.


11 responses to “The Charlie Hebdo Shooting

  1. But, hasn’t religious zeal fostered, encouraged and nurtured that rage???

    • It may well have. I wish I wish I knew more about it. I am influenced by Karen Armstrong’s new book which makes the point that violence usually has its origin in factors other than religion….

  2. “The rage has its primary origin in hostility to the modern world caused by frustration.”
    Very interesting analysis, Doctor, but essentially unhelpful. Even if you’re right, you and your colleagues will seek in vain to define in any useful way the root causes for the frustration and its resulting hostility.
    Meanwhile, we’re in the ditch and the question is not how we got here but how we’re going to get out.
    As to the assertion that religious zeal has little to do with it, why would we not extend to our adversaries (and yes, that’s what they are) the courtesy of belief when they say, as they continually do, that that’s exactly what it’s all about?

  3. How to get out of the ditch? It’s easy for me to say because my world does not intersect with the Muslim world but I see no alternative to treating non-violent Muslims as our equals, while hoping that Jeffrey Simpson is right – see today’s column which I’ve just read – when he says that the conflict is primarily within the Muslim community, with western targets as surrogates.

  4. Elisabeth Ecker

    Frustration has always been caused by injustice combined with powerlessness. Historically religion has also been easy to manipulate because it is based on belief and not on logic. But at the same time I see no point in baiting a group of believers if they feel that strongly about not depicting Mohammed. Maybe there is some value in keeping some things sacred.

  5. It is the nature of Mankind to try to make sense of the senseless, and find higher purpose in the acts of madmen. There is fascinating literature that links the JFK conspiracy theories with this desire. Maybe, just maybe, beyond the terrorists transparent interpretation of blasphemy in the cartoons, and their choice of response, there is no higher purpose. There is no doubt of a struggle within the Muslim World, which will lead to more strife and likely, more global instability.

  6. David Schatzky

    In 1951 psychoanalyst Theodore Reik in his book Dogma and Compulsion wrote “…dogma arises as a reactive formation, reacting against heresy; that it is born of the defensive battle against doubt.” In other words, even the true believers have their own doubts about their sacred beliefs and they need more and more structure and rules against challenging those beliefs, which even for them are somewhat unbelievable. Anything/anyone that breaks their dogmatic rules or seems to undermine their intense but shaky faith becomes threatening and must be destroyed to keep the rigid but vulnerable edifice of faith intact. As we’ve seen, that defensive reaction can be murderous and tragic.

  7. This remarkable characterization is from an article by Anthony Lane in the current New Yorker: “People with many ideas, plus an ingrained ability to skip from one to the next, or to pitch one thought against another, were slaughtered by people with only one idea.”

  8. A remarkable five-minute video made inside Charlie Hebdo in 2006, as the staff discusses the choice of a cartoon for the cover of an issue in which the Danish cartoons were reproduced:

  9. It is as simple as hate. (of course based on frustration, anger, social change, no employment, no respect….) I think Hillary Clinton remarked the whole problem comes down to angry young men with no place in society or no willingness to see outside their anger… Shouldn’t the debate be what to do with young frustrated populations? And the cartoonists in Paris really did not help anything. I am very sorry for what occurred. But their jibes and mockery only worsened the situation. Yes we need satire — but that is within a western society used to mocking itself. If you do not talk to the angry ones with some understanding and compassion, if you mock, the response is predictable, I think. Our world really has to find some bridges – though it may be impossible to reach the radicalized. But many others in Iran, Syria, Iraq, China, probably hope for freedom just to live as they choose…

  10. What the Paris incidents have done is sparked a debate about both “Freedom of Speech” and the use of “satire” with those cultures less familiar with their subtleties. While some saw the participation of leaders in the march who still suppress free speech in their own countries as hypocrisy, I interpreted this far more positively. These leaders, as well as many Muslim cultures living in the East and West, were forced to examine these concepts, and re-assess their past reaction to them. The “rogue” States that attended the march may not turn intro pristine democracies, but the Paris incidents and the March will likely spur real positive change.