Yesterday's extensive Sydney Morning Herald coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, by what appear to be Muslim extremists, variously described the 'satirical' magazine in these terms: "outrageous left-wing satire" (Nick Miller); "a history of mocking Islamic extremism" (Nick Miller); "relentlessly satirised Islamic extremism" (Julien Oeuillet); "satirising Islamic extremism and taboos of Muhammad the prophet" (Cathy Wilcox).
The only hint that there might have been more to Charlie Hebdo than met the eyes of Miller, Oeuillet and Wilcox came in Nick O'Malley's piece, Decision time over cartoons that offended, which addressed, albeit only indirectly, the issue of just how offensive its cartooning was. Citing Santiago Lyon, a vice-president of Associated Press, O'Malley wrote:
"The Associated Press distributed no images that included the [CH] cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in keeping with its longstanding policy on offensive images. 'We don't want to publish hate speech or spectacles that offend, provoke or intimidate, or anything that desecrates religious symbols or angers people along religious or ethnic lines. We don't feel that's useful."
That Charlie Hebdo regularly indulged in selective, gratuitous offence becomes more apparent when we read the comment by Time magazine's Paris bureau chief, Bruce Crumley which followed the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo's offices in 2011:
"Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by 'majority sections' of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that 'they' aren't going to tell 'us' what can and can't be done in free societies? Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good. What common good is served by creating more division and anger, and by tempting belligerent reaction?
"The difficulty in answering that question is also what's making it hard to have much sympathy for the French satirical newspaper firebombed this morning, after it published another stupid and totally unnecessary edition mocking Islam...
"We, by contrast, have another reaction to the firebombing: Sorry for your loss Charlie, and there's no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humour-deficient parody on the logic of 'because we can' was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring...
"Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn't bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response - however illegitimate - is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it's pointlessly all about you.
"So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the 'illegal' bit, Charlie Hebdo's current edition is all of the above, too." (Firebombed French paper is no free speech martyr, world.time.com, 2/11/11)
To see just how problematic Charlie Hebdo has been, check out some of the images at http://indo-pak. tumbler.com/post/107502052807/pm-hello-i-agree-that-no-journalist-artist
See also my 21/2/08 post A Thorn Among Roses.