Today is the first anniversary of the massacre. I had not intended to mark the occasion but have just come across an excellent commentary by the fine British writer Kenan Malik, “Charlie Hebdo, one year on,” that he posted on his blog today and that I am reposting, as I share his view across the board. Among other things, Malik aims his fire at persons—mainly non-Francophones who had never picked up a copy of Charlie Hebdo in their lives and simply didn’t know what they were talking about—who asserted that CH was “racist” and “Islamophobic,” and, in its cartoons lampooning Islam and Islamism—though never Muslims qua Muslims—was, as the cartoonist Gary Trudeau put it, “attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority.” Malik rubbishes all this, as did I in several posts last year (which, if one is interested, may be consulted via the Charlie Hebdo category on the sidebar).
For the record, I do differ with Malik on one point, which does not specifically concern CH. He writes
Like many on the left in France, Charlie Hebdo has often expressed strong support for the policy of laïcité. ‘Laïcité’ is usually translated as ‘secularism’. It is as a secularist, however, that I oppose it. Secularism demands a separation of state and faith. Laïcité, on the other hand, refers to a form of state-enforced hostility to religion. It requires the state to intervene in matters of faith.
This view of laïcité is widespread—including in France—but is inaccurate. There is a culture and spirit of laïcité but it is, above all, a law: the law of 1905 on the separation of churches and the state—which contains 44 articles—and its follow-up decrees—and which, it must be emphasized, enjoys a 100% consensus in France. No public person in France or organization anyone has heard of opposes the 1905 law. Not one. The 1905 law mandates neutrality of the state vis-à-vis religion. That’s basically it. The 1905 law does not speak to the comportment or vestimentary practices of citizens—agents of the state in the execution of their duties excepted—in public space. So in order to proscribe the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols by students in public schools or of face veils on the street, new laws had to be enacted, as such was not prohibited by the 1905 law. The conception of what laïcité means has indeed evolved in France over the past three decades with the rising visibility of Islam, with laïcité now seen—by politicians left and right, intellectuals, and the public at large—as involving the behavior of individuals and not merely the state. But this is a perversion of laïcité as spelled out by the 1905 law. It is a distortion of this hallowed principle.
There has been a significant political evolution in France since last January’s attacks and, above all, since the ones of November 13th. France is going a bad and dangerous direction, and with François Hollande in the lead role. I’ll have more to say about this in the coming week or two.