At the Frieze blog, Jörg Heiser mounts a long, nuanced defense of Charlie Hebdo against a number of left-leaning intellectuals who have denounced it as a racist publication in recent days. He criticizes writers such as Richard Seymour, Tariq Ali, Teju Cole, and Will Self for insisting that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not a free speech issue, and for ignoring the magazine’s extensive history of lampooning all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and—yes—racism. As Heiser puts it: “It’s fair enough to object to what can be considered racist and islamophobic content in Charlie Hebdo, as long as one acknowledges its anti-racist and anti-fascist content as well.”
So why do these writers, at different levels of intellectual integrity and capacity, take these positions? I think there are three possible answers. The first one would be that the urge to react and make sense quickly inevitably produces inaccuracies, half-blinded guesses. The second answer would be that for the sake of creating more traction for the argument, simplifying its message is key, hence one leaves out anything that doesn’t fit one’s ideological search mask. The third, and possibly more telling or interesting answer is that there is a more complex process of rationalization at play, to do with the dynamics of guilt, shame and blame.
Heiser goes on to suggest that Charlie Hebdo upholds many of the ideals that leftists hold dear. He also argues that the iconoclasm and blasphemy that the magazine practiced with such ruthlessness is essential to a robust civil society:
The realm of art and satire has other rules than the one of news journalism. Whereas we can rightly demand journalism to stick to the facts and play by the rules of the most basic decency, in a civil society there must be a realm where ‘out of line’ behaviour and tourettish insult and grotesque can play themselves out without constant governance, not only out of sheer tolerance but also because it is in that realm of anarchic parody and thought that a civil society can question its explicit as well as unspoken rules.
Read the entire piece, entitled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Charlie,” here. What do you think? Is Charlie Hebdo a racist magazine, or is in at equal-opportunity offender? Does the latter really negate the former? Were writers like Richard Seymour and Teju Cole too quick to denounce the magazine without fully appreciating its nuanced politics and satirical style?