Char­lieHebdo is an equal-op­por­tu­nity in­sul­ter

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

By re­strict­ing car­toon­ists, you may risk de­feat­ing the whole pur­pose of a news­pa­per: to fer­vently en­gage read­ers in the news, is­sues and con­tro­ver­sies of the day, whether through the rel­a­tively civ­i­lized ra­tio­nal­i­ties of ex­pres­sion with the rel­a­tively bar­baric “emo­tional drone at­tacks” of the ed­i­to­rial car­toon.

A few of the es­teemed car­toon­ists with whom I worked have won the Pulitzer Prize and many other top awards. But in re­cent years, in US news­pa­pers at least, the edgi­est of them have ei­ther re­tired or been qui­etly re­tired.

The new crop seems tamer, even wor­ry­ingly po­lite— more like gen­teel il­lus­tra­tors than the noisy but bril­liant drunk at the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble. The pas­sion some­how seems to have di­min­ished.

But not in Paris: tame is not a word to de­scribe the caus­tic cartoons of Char­lieHebdo, the French satir­i­cal mag­a­zine that was the tar­get of an at­tack by armed gun­men that killed 12 peo­ple, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists, car­toon­ists, a care­taker, and two po­lice of­fi­cers. We should un­der­stand that the range of its cartoons was hardly con­fined to Is­lamic tar­gets; skew­ered by the staff was just about ev­ery imag­in­able sa­cred cow un­der the sun. Char­lieHebdo has been, in ef­fect, an equal-op­por­tu­nity in­sul­ter.

But what is more of a sa­cred cow than re­li­gion of any kind? Note that in this hor­rific at­tack, the au­thor­i­ties have iden­ti­fied the as­sas­sins as French cit­i­zens of Is­lamic per­sua­sion. French tele­vi­sion footage showed armed men wear­ing bal­a­clavas leav­ing the of­fices of the mag­a­zine shout­ing in French: “We have avenged ProphetMuham­mad. We have killed Char­lieHebdo.”

The prob­lem here is that speak­ing the truth — or draw­ing at­ten­tion to it, if not shout­ing at the top of your artis­tic lungs — can be a risky business. Some peo­ple just can’t han­dle the truth.

There will be more blood­shed of this kind. This lit­tle mag­a­zine is now more fa­mous than ever, and its slain em­ploy­ees have be­come martyrs. In fact, the grisly event is a mu­seum-qual­ity statue to the power of the artist.

The gun­men may have killed the mag­a­zine’s staff, but they have only rekin­dled the spirit and rea­son of the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine in gen­eral. The au­thor is a dis­tin­guished scholar of Asian and Pa­cific Stud­ies at LoyolaMarymount Univer­sity, Los An­ge­les.

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