Union Square Park, January 10, 2015. | KELLY COGSWELL
I guess you know by now that the key staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris were slaughtered by Islamist extremists outraged at, well, almost everything, but especially how the satirical magazine attacked Islamist extremists.
But before their bodies were even cold, the glorious automatons of the American left were eviscerating the work of these dead cartoonists and journalists, taking it out of context, blaming the victims, projecting the subtext loud and clear: these colonialist, racist pigs only got what they deserved.
I don’t even know where to start.
Except that if you think it’s important to speak the truth to power, or at least try to, you should’ve had their backs. Not that Charlie Hebdo always got it right. Satire is tough. Sometimes they had brain farts like anyone else. Case in point –– the time that they were trying to do a take down of Minute, the extreme right magazine that caricatured France’s black minister of justice, Christiane Taubira, as a monkey, justifying it as humorous. Charlie Hebdo responded with its own version of that image captioned, “Minute is not Charlie Hebdo. Racism is not funny…” While their intent was to critique racism, the image seemed to reinforce it. Like when some writers and filmmakers have depicted rape scenes, gay-bashings, and other graphic violence.
A Dyke Abroad
Fine. Whatever. Let them all be butchered, discarded without grief. Our artists should be perfect. And careful. We should put our work in the drawer for years, see if it holds up, and maybe wait until a team of censors can weigh in. Probably we should ban journalism altogether, along with late night comedy shows. Any form of media that is topical and subject to errors –– of judgment, good taste, history, and our murky collective subconscious.
Somebody might mistake an attack on fat cat imams or violent Islamists like IS for an attack on Mohammed himself or on ordinary Muslims just trying to go to mosque and pay their bills. Neither should we repudiate the Israeli attacks on Palestinians because the resulting anti-Semitism will no doubt lead to dead Jews in Parisian supermarkets. No, don’t expose the tyranny of the Castro brothers in Cuba, or it’ll look like you’re supporting US meddling. Likewise, queers in West Africa getting stoned by mobs will have to do without our American help because somebody might accuse us of colonialism.
Above all, we must never grieve the imperfect dead. We must stand above the fray and keep our delicate white, our delicate brown hands clean.
I read somewhere that all this criticism was progress, an attempt to avoid exercising “white male privilege.” No matter that the resulting carefulness, outraged superiority, and demand for perfection is itself rooted in privilege and power. The only careful people are those that have a lot to lose. Who if they aren’t already there, believe they might yet be invited to the grownups’ table, and having other resources at their command can define the only speech worth protecting, usually their own perfectly nuanced, calibrated, respectful, and educated sneers.
People like me will never measure up. Mild as I am I’ll be considered too shrill, too queer, too furious to always get it right. And when we open our traps, we’re dismissed or attacked. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You’d think she’d be heard as a nice brown Somali woman herself born inside the Muslim faith, but no. Every time she’s scheduled to speak somewhere, there’s a huge lefty outcry. “Islamophobe!,” somebody screams. And maybe she is, literally, afraid of Islam. In the name of it, her female body was mutilated. People around her were murdered. She herself has been condemned to death.
Me, I’m afraid of it, too. Like all religions. No matter how many reforms the Big Three go through, it’s there in black and white that women are worthless. Queers should be killed. And we are killed any place, any time religious fundamentalists get the upper hand.
I feel sorry, I feel sick, at these nouveau Torquemadas offended at offense. If I was a cartoonist, I’d draw them with their heads protruding from a considerable ass, and the delicate rose of that hole would be their vile little mouths. Or maybe that’s me. Or who I’d like to be some days. Like Charlie Hebdo, a vulgar satirist down in the metaphorical mud, sneering at my betters and making rude noises, but also wailing with inconsolable grief at the two towers I watched burn from the roof of my building, and then, also, at the resulting slaughters in Afghanistan and Iraq. At all the dead in France. Because in some things you don’t actually have to choose sides. In fact, you must not.
As Harry Bosch, fictional homicide detective and the only prophet I revere, once said, “Everybody counts or nobody counts.”
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” published last year by the University of Minnesota Press. Olivier Tonneau, a Frenchman living in the UK, offers his perspective on Charlie Hebdo here.