Saturday, January 10, 2015

Are you 'Charlie'? Are you really?

Many of those who defend Charlie Hebdo as a publication do so on the grounds that, essentially, it is an 'anti-establishment' magazine of the post-1968 counter-culture, dishes it out to all comers, is an 'equal opportunities' offender, and so on.  (By far the best, most measured assessment of Charlie Hebdo in this light is this piece.)  

This may explain the affective outpouring over the magazine, but as a judgment it is trite, and untrue.  It is trite, because there is nothing necessarily virtuous in being an 'equal opportunities' offender, and because such a claim is abstracted from the context of power relations.  It is untrue because Charlie Hebdo did have limits.  As I argue in this Al Jazeera programme, its firing of Maurice Sinet showed that far from being a bunch of juvenile 4chan nerds spewing 'equal opportunities' race hate and sexism, the publication had a sense of political and moral purpose.  More generally, it's quite patently obvious that after the highly profitable Danish Cartoons saga, in which Charlie Hebdo joined a bunch of reactionary provocateurs in trying and eventually succeeding in making an issue out some racist, anti-Muslim cartoons, the magazine made a decision to go after Muslims in particular.  Given the context in France, this was about as pro-establishment and commercially opportunist a decision as they could have made.

But even if you bought the 'anti-establishment' stuff before, how will this work now?  The huge print run for the next edition of Charlie Hebdo is reportedly being paid for by large media groups in cooperation with the French government.  The big rally to celebrate the presumed 'values' of Charlie Hebdo which takes place next week will be fronted not only by Cameron, Hollande and Merkel, but also the General Secretary of NATO.  Which, the French weekly anticapitalist magazine Politis wryly suggests is "the cherry on the cake" ("cerise sur la gateau") because after all, quoting Prime Minister Manuel Valls, "we are at war" ("nous sommes en guerre").  Bibi and Avigdor Lieberman will also be there, making their passionate pleas for free speech while the IDF bumps off journalists.  If you want to be 'Charlie' now, you have to march with the establishment - which is to say, in this context, the empire.