Charlie Hebdo”, not racist? If you say so…

Thursday 5 December 2013

by Olivier Cyran

translated by Daphne Lawless

He worked there from 1992 to 2001, before walking out, angered by “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of a certain Philippe Val [former CH editor - trans.] Since then, Olivier Cyran has been an observer from a distance, outside the walls, of the evolution of Charlie Hebdo and its growing obsession with Islam. He went over this long-term drift on the occasion of an opinion piece in Le Monde, signed by Charb [Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the cartoonists murdered in January 2015 - trans.] and Fabrice Nicolino.

Postscript 11 January 2015: to all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.


Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

And so Le Monde has charitably opened their laundry service to you, for an express steam-cleaning of your rumpled honour. To hear you talk, it was urgent: you couldn’t even go out in Paris without a taxi driver treating you like racists and leaving you helpless on the footpath. I understand your annoyance, but why did you have to go give yourself another black eye in a different publication than your own? Don’t Charlie Hebdo, its website and its publishing house give you space to express yourself to your heart’s content? You invoke “Charlie’s” glorious heritage of the 60s and 70s, when it was political censorship and not haunting disrepute that gave your magazine something to worry about. But I doubt that, at the time, writers like Cavanna or Choron would have asked for help from the posh press to make themselves respectable.

If it also occurred to me, in the past, to scribble out some furious lines in reaction to some of your exploits, I never dwelled on the subject. Doubtless I would not have had the patience or the stoutness of heart to follow, week after week, the distressing transformation which took over your team after the events of September 11, 2001. I was no longer part of Charlie Hebdo when the suicide planes made their impact on your editorial line, but the Islamophobic neurosis which bit by bit took over your pages from that day on affected me personally, as it ruined the memory of the good moments I spent on the magazine during the 1990s. The devastating laughter of “Charlie” which I had loved to hear now sounded in my ears like the laugh of a happy idiot getting his cock out at the checkout counter, or of a pig rolling in its own shit. And yet, I never called your magazine racist. But since today you are proclaiming, high and loud, your stainless and irreproachable anti-racism, maybe it’s now the right moment to seriously consider the question.

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslim world”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones - a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror  than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamo-leftists”.

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Shari`a Hebdo” cover: Mohammed, editor-in-chief: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

To Charlie Hebdo, it’s always been good form to scoff at the “fat idiots” who like football and watching TF1 [television network]. A slippery slope. Belief in one’s own superiority, accustomed to looking down on the common herd, is the surest way to sabotage one’s own intellectual defences and to allow them to fall over in the least gust of wind. Your own, although supported by a good education, comfortable income and the pleasant team spirit of “Charlie’s gang”, collapsed at a stupefying speed. I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression! Certainly, Fourest granted, the slightly coarse humour of her friend “doesn’t always travel well”, but it must be understood “in the Dutch context which is ultra-tolerant, even angelic, towards fundamentalism.” Whose fault is it if Muslims leave themselves open to gags with export difficulties? That of Muslims themselves and their over-angelic allies, obviously. As Nekschot himself explained to Charlie Hebdo’s readers, “Muslims must understand that humour has been part of our tradition for centuries.”

No-one in your office up and quit after this insufficiently-noticed page, which after all did no more than sanctify a process which had begun six or seven years earlier. Birds of a tolerant feather flock together. But when I read this in your Le Monde article:We are almost ashamed to remind you that anti-racism and passion for equality of all human beings are and will remain the founding principles of Charlie Hebdo”, the only information I got from it is that your team are not completely immune to shame. Really?

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things - one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism - we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist - trans.] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel - trans.]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

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It is this drawing by Catherine that comes to my mind, but I could point to so many others amid the torrents of Islamophobic sewage that you others, producers of humour inflated by the winds of fashion, flush from your tanks every week. That drawing accompanied a pseudo-investigation into “sex jihadists” in Syria[4]. This “scoop”, we learned a little while later - it’s true that it seemed plausible on first reading - was a tissue of stupidities belched out for propaganda purposes[5]. Let’s note that you haven’t even taken this mess off your website; apparently, some subjects lend themselves better than others to retraction. When you’re laughing at veiled women, you can let yourself go, allow yourself some confusion between exciting yet weakly-sourced information, and barracks-room banter.

But I’m not writing to talk about good taste; rather, about this country which you’ve made a nastier place to live in. A country which now forbids a woman to work in a crèche on the basis that the piece of cloth she wears will traumatise the kids. Or a tertiary student, wearing a bandanna judged to be too wide, is excluded from her college with the blessings of a UMP [conservative - trans.] mayor,  the socialist Minister of Education, and the rabid press[6]. Where you’re hard-pressed to find a café counter or a table of literary notables which, without a moment’s notice, won’t erupt in the kind of joke which, at “Charlie”, makes you soil yourselves laughing on deadline day. Where every woman who covers her hair is considered the vanguard of a fifth column, to the extent that she’s forbidden to participate in a school outing or to do volunteer work to feed the homeless[7].

I know that, in your eyes, these vigorous measures are crucial for the survival of the Republic and of secularism. Recently, you found it useful to publish an interview with your lawyer, Richard Malka, the valiant defender of Clearstream [a corporation infamous for tax evasion - trans.], of Dominique Strauss-Kahn [politician arrested for attempted rape - trans.] and of the spirit of the Enlightenment. “The veil is the annihilation, the burial of the Republican trinity of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity[8]”, your mouthpiece declared as if at a Toastmasters’ meeting for vacuum-cleaner salesmen[9]. He would first have to explain to us for whom this famous trinity has any real meaning, and for whose profit, but let’s move on. What he’s hammering into your readers’ heads, though they’re already fully instructed on the subject, is that a few square centimetres of cotton, perhaps mixed with polyester, threaten to spread the plague across our beautiful country. That the veil is so dangerously infected that it’s not wise to waste any time worrying about the person who wears it.

I must make it clear at this stage that, personally, I have no “problem” with my aunt’s bonnet or my cousin’s dreadlocks, and I have no more of a problem with my neighbour’s veil. If this neighbour told me she was wearing it against her will, I would certainly have the impulse to encourage her to find a way to live how she wants. I would act the same way if she was forced to wear fishnet stockings or a Scottish kilt. Outside this scenario, whether a woman decides to wear or not to wear whatever clobber has nothing to do with me. Whether it’s for personal, religious, aesthetic or other reasons, that’s her business. What’s stunning is the mania in this country for projecting our fantasies onto a square of fabric, whether the alienation of women, the fear of Islamic invasion, the defence of men’s right to enjoy seductive hairstyles, etc. I don’t care about a veil, high heels or a Camaïeu [famous French brand - trans.] t-shirt made in Bangladesh, only that the person underneath, on or inside it deserves respect. So where have we got to, now that we have to reaffirm such an obvious principle? Try it, you’ll see: it’s the best preventative against stomach ulcers and a nasty headache.

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Charb cartoon: “Are we allowed to draw Mohammed’s butt?”

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even - let’s not be stingy with the alibis! - by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. Each has their own source of authority: Skirt Day [film starring Isabelle Adjani - trans.], Elisabeth Badinter, Alain Finkielkraut, Caroline Fourest, Easter Bruckner, [Prime Minister] Manuel Valls, [fascist National Front leader] Marine Le Pen or countless others, there’s one for every taste and “sensibility”. But it’s rare that Charlie Hebdo is not cited to support the golden rule authorising us to spew all over Muslims. And, since your disciples have learned their lessons well, they never fail to exclaim when they’re caught red-handed: “But it is our right to mock religions! Don’t confuse legitimate criticism of Islam with anti-Arab racism!”

It’s obvious that you’re working this same vein in your opinion piece in Le Monde.It’s still the case, you moan, that Charlie devotes many of its cover cartoons to the papists. But the Islamic religion, whose flag has been imposed upon innumerable peoples on the planet, as far as Indonesia, should somehow be spared. Why the hell should it? What is the relationship, other than an ideology which is essentialist to the core, between being an Arab and believing in Islam?

I would really like to illuminate you on this point, but allow me first to appreciate the nasty little jab in which you sneakily serve up the old garbage about Islam-the-religion-of-conquest that does nothing but consume the planet. The Islamisation of the Indonesian archipelago began in the 13th century, when Sumatran princes converted to the religion of the Persian and Indian merchants who brought abundance into their harbours – not under threat, but by desire to integrate with a prosperous commercial network. Later, in the 18th century, it was irreproachably Christian Dutch colonists who set about imposing Islam on Java, so as to shield its population from the seditious influence of the Hindu Balinese. We are far from the image of the ferocious Bedouin bringing exotic peoples to their knees, which appears to sum up your knowledge of the Islamic world.

But let’s return to the question of “relationship” between Arabs and Muslims, racism and Islamophobia. Is the boundary that you trace with such bold assurance between the two categories really so clear in your minds? To read the beginning of your opinion piece, it’s possible to be sceptical. The edifying story about the “Arab taxi driver”, who refused the business of a contributor to your journal “because of its cartoons mocking Islam”, reveals a certain confusion in this regard. What does the quality of “Arabic” ascribed to the driver – who, according to you, could not simply be French – tell us about the insult suffered by your wretched colleague? Do you believe that only an “Arab” would turn their nose up at your crass offerings? I, who am neither an Arab nor a taxi driver, am not sure if I would lend your collaborator the price of a Metro ticket. Nevertheless, I hope he got over his culture shock and found a white driver who would allow him in their back seat.

You’re right, Arab and Muslim, it’s not the same thing. But you know what? Muslim and Muslim, it’s not the same thing either. Understand this: there are all sorts, rich and poor, big and small, friendly and rude, generous and greedy, wanting a better world, reactionary or even, yes, fundamentalist. On the other hand, in Charlie Hebdo, nothing resembles a Muslim more than another Muslim. Always represented as weak-minded, fanatical, terrorist, on the benefit. A Muslim woman? Always a poor dumb thing reducible to her headscarf, with no other social function than to arouse the libido of your comedians.

Speaking of which, we could say a lot about the sleazy aspect of your motivations. The euphoria with which Charlie Hebdo welcomed the topless activists of FEMEN suggests that the grease of Islamophobia blends perfectly with a splattering of testosterone. The ode of Bernard Maris to Amina Sboui, a Tunisian FEMEN-ist who posed topless on the Internet, offers a good example of the hormonal muck dripping off your pages: “Show your breasts, Amina, show your genitals to all those bearded retards who hang around on porno sites, to all the desert pigs who preach morality at home and pay for escorts in foreign palaces, and dream of seeing you stoned to death after raping you... Your nude body is of an absolute purity, compared to their jellabas and repugnant niqabs[10]”. Paging Dr Freud...

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You have the nerve to accuse your detractors of “essentialism”, and without doubt the numbskulls who worship you will applaud your acrobatics. But this isn’t a circus. You wallow in your essentialism every week - or nearly - by racializing Muslims, constantly depicting them as grotesque or hideous creatures. What defines the dominant image of the victim of racialization “is that it is entirely contained in what racializes it; its culture, its religion, its skin colour. It is seen as incapable of escaping it, incapable of seeing further than its melanin ratio or the cloth it wears on its head,” observes the blog of Valérie CG, a feminist who won’t interest you very much because she hasn’t shown you her tits. Muslim has become a sort of new skin colour, from which it is impossible to detach oneself.[11] ”

This judicious remark is aimed at the meanderings of the “child psychiatrist” Caroline Eliacheff, who, in Elle magazine, had recently justified the sacking of a veil-wearing childcare worker at the Baby-Loup crèche: “We might worry about the consequences for a toddler of only seeing the front of a woman’s face, a head amputated of ears, hair and neck.[12]” The veil is a weapon of mass destruction, it is burying the Republic as surely as it amputates women’s vital organs. It’s useless to point out that Caroline Eliacheff, just like you, “fights racism” - at least, that’s what she declares in her interview. For spouting stupidities, and justifying the brutal sacking of an employee recognized as competent and who had not been caught inciting the little angels to jihad, there is no more comfortable perch than on the highest ground of civilised virtue.

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

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Riss cartoon: Sweet Shari`a, “a kiss is still a kiss”.


Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag - with Jews instead of Muslims - would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism. The cartoon in question illustrated an article unmasking the dark designs of a small group of Salafists in Brussels. The subtitle sums up its thrust well: “Will all Belgium’s chips soon be halal? Some beards are pushing for it, and are fighting the democracy which allows them to exist[14].” What? Islamification of chips, democracy in danger? In their mind, the reader is already starting to clean their hunting rifle. In their mind only, because they’re anti-racist. At least until they go and pour their heart out on some internet site, applauding your daring deeds, in the manner of “lulupipistrelle”, author of this comment on Agoravox: “So do cartoons of the Prophet give Muslims ulcers? Well, I feel like punching all the veiled ladies I meet, and I’m not talking about the bearded ones... but I control myself...[15]

Of course, Charlie Hebdo isn’t limited to this one subject. They write and draw on many other topics. I can well believe that many readers buy your journal because of your support for animal rights, or because of [writers] Cavanna or Nicolino, or for the funny pictures, or to congratulate Bernard Maris after his nomination to the national board of the Bank of France, another den of thrills and giggles. But I doubt that many of them don’t get some small, shameful pleasure from your continual repetition of Islamophobic obsessions - without which, the magazine would fall from their hands. There are even some - you can’t deny it - who buy it mainly because of that: to see what “Charlie” is going to shove in their faces this week. I must admit, that’s good business. Since the Danish cartoon controversy, and your heroic mounting of the steps at the Cannes film festival in penguin costumes, arm in arm with Phillipe Val, Daniel Leconte and Bernard Henri-Levy (but, alas, without Carla Bruni, though she had been announced), “Muslim bashing” dressed up as “intransigent defence of freedom of expression” has become your front-window showcase, which you take care to replenish regularly. You can always insist that undocumented immigrants are your friends, or criticise Manuel Valls for his attacks on Roma, but Islamophobia is your staple diet, your first resort.

You tell me you’re not the only ones. Your position in this field is, it’s true, largely shared by your colleagues in the written press, from L’Express to Valeurs Actuelles, including Le Point, Marianne, Le Nouvel Observateur and Le Figaro, to mention only the most enthusiastic. And I’m not even mentioning TV and radio. There’s a rich market for media stories about “inconsiderate”, “scary” and “disturbing” Islam, even if it’s somewhat saturated. Nevertheless, amidst this healthy and friendly competition, your mag has successfully carved out a niche with products which have no equivalent elsewhere, allowing you to occupy a non-negligible segment of shameless Islamophobic opinion on the left.

However, knowing you, I wonder: what, exactly, is your problem with the Muslims of this country? In your writing in Le Monde, you invoke the healthy suspicion of “such great power in the hands of senior clergy”, but without explaining how Islam - which has no clergy, but you can’t know everything, can you? - exercises “such great power” in France. Outside of the hard-core version promoted by a few fanatics, the Islamic religion in our part of the world does not seem to me to assume such an extraordinarily intrusive or bellicose form. On the political level, its influence is zero: six million Muslims in our country, none of whom are members of the National Assembly. For a parliamentarian, it’s safer to plead the case of commercial lawyers and to pass laws making veiled women invisible than to worry about eruptions of Islamophobic violence. Nor is there a single Muslim among media owners, information officers, heavyweights among employers, big bankers, important editors or union big-wigs. In political parties of both left and right, only Muslims who have learned by heart the complete works of Caroline Fourest have any chance of getting even a low-ranking role.

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Charb cartoon: Filming a scandalous film about Mohammed:

“You’re sure that Mohammed had sex with a pig’s head?” “I can’t afford to pay a nine-year-old prostitute, dude!”

I do know, Charb, that you’ve received death threats and that maybe some crazies out there want to do you violence. That saddens me. Despite all my criticisms of you - and the others - I don’t like the thought of you permanently tailed by two cops, costing your beloved Republic an arm and a leg. I also fear that your guard-dogs might influence you, like Val influenced the whole team. But if you’re really afraid that French Muslims are turning into serial killers of holy war, maybe you will get some small comfort in seeing the calm manner in which these people react to the real or symbolic attacks which are their daily lot. When a mosque is covered in racist graffiti, do you think that its leaders or the local faithful break out in cries of vengeance, or vows to put the Presidential Palace to fire and the sword? No, every time they declare that they are leaving it all up to “our national justice system”. Among those whom I know, your skills at whipping up media froth just add a little bit extra to their burden. I’m not sure I’d have the same patience.

Hunkered down behind your aching sides, you claim the sacred right “to laugh” equally at imams, priests and rabbis. Why not, if you still really applied this principle. Have you forgotten the Siné incident [where a CH cartoonist was sacked for anti-Semitism in 2008 - trans.], where you had to draw a cartoon? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired. This kind of thing goes back to the Val years, but the cowardly approval which your boss received back then from “the whole gang” - and particularly from you, Charb - shows that the system of “one law for some, one for others” in action at that time wasn’t the fault of just one man. The same rule is still in force. To this day, I’m told, the special “Shari`a Hebdo” issue hasn’t been joined by a “Talmud Hebdo”. Please believe me, I’m not upset about that.

You claim for yourself the tradition of anticlericalism, but pretend not to know the fundamental difference between this and Islamophobia. The first comes from a long, hard and fierce struggle against a Catholic priesthood which actually had formidable power, which had - and still has - its own newspapers, legislators, lobbies, literary salons and a huge property portfolio. The second attacks members of a minority faith deprived of any kind of influence in the corridors of power. It consists of distracting attention from the well-fed interests which rule this country, in favour of inciting the mob against citizens who haven’t been invited to the party, if you want to take the trouble to realise that - for most of them - colonisation, immigration and discrimination have not given them the most favourable place in French society. Is it too much to ask a team which, in your words “is divided between leftists, extreme leftists, anarchists and Greens”, to take a tiny bit of interest in the history of our country and its social reality?

I do like swipes at the priesthood, I grew up with them and they helped me develop solid defences against fairy stories and abuses of power. It’s partly that heritage which raises my hackles against the lazy intellectual arrogance of a Muslim-basher. An anti-religious posture gives such a person a convenient way to relax in their ignorance, to dress up their knee-jerk mental reactions as defiance. It gives respectability to a gaping lack of imagination, and a conformity which is corrupted by the come-hither eyes of the extreme right[16].

Encoding racism to make it imperceptible, and therefore socially acceptable”, is how Thomas Deltombe defines the function of Islamophobia, also described as a “machine for refining crude racism[17]. These two formulas fit you like a glove. So don’t get on your high horse when your critics use strong language against you. In the last few days, you’ve cried scandal because a rapper of no great skill called for a “burning at the stake for those Charlie Hebdo dogs”, as part of an ensemble piece on the soundtrack of the film La Marche. As if your magazine were nothing but love and poetry, you let the whole world know that you were “shocked” by such “violence”. Yet, you weren’t appalled when the Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 described his own country’s police as “dogs who should have their throats cut like sheep”. On the contrary, you interviewed him, with all the respect due to a “fighter for free expression”[18]. The verbal violence of Weld El 15 seemed sweet to your eyes because it was aimed at a government dominated by Islamists who wanted to send him to prison. But when the canine metaphor was aimed at you, it was a completely different kettle of fish. So long, freedom of expression: let’s rally around neo-conservative talking points on rap like “appeal to hate” or “communalist religious chant”[19].

The machine for refining crude racism isn’t just profitable, but also extremely fragile.

Yours truly,
Olivier Cyran

[1] « Non, Charlie Hebdo n’est pas raciste ! », Le Monde, 20 November 2013.


[2] Fiammetta Venner, « Forum social européen : un autre jihad est possible », Charlie Hebdo, 29 September 2004. Available here.


[3] Published March 1 2006 in Charlie Hebdo with the co-operation of L’Express, RTL, RMC, Europe 1 and France Info.


[4] Zineb El Rhazoui, « Sexe and the Syrie », Charlie Hebdo, 25 September 2013.


[5] Ignace Leverrier, « Vous allez être déçus : le “djihad du sexe” en Syrie n’a jamais existé », 29 September 2013.


[6] For an analysis of this surreal affair, read Abdellali Hajjat et Marwan Mohammed, Islamophobie, comment les élites françaises fabriquent le « problème musulman », La Découverte, 2013.


[7] « Pas de femmes voilées aux Restos du cœur »,, 6 December 2012.


[8] Capital letters added by Charlie Hebdo’s editors.


[9] « Affaire Baby-Loup : la laïcité à la barre », interview with Richard Malka by Gérard Biard, Charlie Hebdo, 6 November 2013.


[10] Bernard Maris, « Cette jeunesse irresponsable », Charlie Hebdo, 20 juin 2013. Can someone explain to “Charlie’s” editorialist that the jellaba isn’t an “Islamic” attribute, but an “Arabic” piece of clothing? One month after this article, and to the great disappointment of its author, Amina Sboui walked out of FEMEN explaining that she didn’t want her name “associated with an Islamophobic organisation”.


[11] « L’islam, ce nouveau déterminisme selon Eliacheff et Elle »,, 22 November 2013.


[12] « Le conflit sur le voile touche aussi les enfants », Elle, 13 November 2013.


[13] I was surprised to see you endorsing, with your signature, your employers’ pitiful attempt at image control. I don’t doubt the sincerity of your solidarity, but it seems a bad indicator to me.


[14] Zineb El Rhazoui, « Les salafistes ont leur roi des Belges », Charlie Hebdo, 13 September 2013.


[15] Comments on the article « La dernière provocation de “Charlie Hebdo” contre les musulmans »,, 19 September 2012.


[16] Among your friendly supporters: Bruno Mégret, « Désislamiser la France », speech at the summer school of the MNR [far-right party – trans.], 27 August 2005 ; Ivan Rioufol, « Pourquoi “Charlie Hebdo” sauve l’honneur », Le Figaro, 19 September 2012 ; Benoît Rayski, « Tombouctou-sur-Seine : et si on tranchait les mains des dessinateurs de “Charlie Hebdo” ? »,, 28 November 2013.


[17] Read Alain Gresh, « L’islamophobie, “Le Monde” et une (petite) censure, Nouvelles d’Orient, 5 November 2013.


[18] Zineb El Rhazoui, « Tunisie : l’islamisme menacé par du rap et des tétons », Charlie Hebdo, 19 July 2013.


[19] Read Sébastien Fontenelle, «  Un intéressant cas de foutage de gueule »,, 26 November 2013.