Some people have been comparing Charlie Hebdo and Der Sturmer (Nazi propaganda paper run by a Nazi party official). For example Norman Finkelstein wrote something along the lines of:
The ideas behind both publications are exactly the same, making fun of a group of people that are in a weak position and already generally hated.
I've also read comments and articles, often by Americans, who seem to believe Charlie Hebdo is as equally offensive as Dieudonné.
Beyond the Language Barrier
Before calling Charlie Hebdo a rag, or a shmatte, you should understand what it is. Without perspective and context you might get the wrong or even opposite impression, like to visiting places in Asia and concluding that the Nazi party is still thriving (Swastikas are common and they have nothing to do with Hitler).
Understanding French humour is beyond understanding the French language. I went through this process. Comprehending the language was relatively easy, but at times I got caught off guard when the words either didn't make sense, or worse, when I thought I understood something opposite to what was intended.
This isn't even news, it's like that everywhere.
I'm not advocating that the world needs to learn French humour/culture, but if you are going to seriously compare Charlie Hebdo to Nazi propaganda, then yes, you probably should.
A "Racist" Cartoon by Charb
An example of something that could be read the wrong way would be the drawing of Christiane Taubira being portrayed as a guenon by Charlie Hebdo. On bottom left there's a red, white and blue flame. At first glance, one could possibly interpret this as a racist cartoon.
References and context. The flame is the Front National's logo. Prior to this edition of Charlie Hebdo, Minute Hebdo, a far right wing weekly that is close friends with Front National, wrote:
Maligne comme un singe, Taubira retrouve la banane
which translated to English is "clever as a monkey, Taubira got her smile back". ("Banane" means "banana, but can also mean "smile", or "good mood".)
You can make your own conclusion, for me, the image is as shocking as the fact that too many French voters believe that the Front National is not a racist party.
There are many other better examples to point out how Charlie Hebdo might not be comparable to Der Sturmer. I'm sure something relevant could be said involving a book, its cover and the act of judging.
The Finkelstein Paradox
During an email exchange on this topic, Finkelstein told me that he did not want nor require any comprehension of French caricature or the culture around it. This part was edited, explanations below
I obviously disagree with this approach, even more coming from Finkelstein. Indeed, he has faced strong criticism for his book "The Holocaust Industry". Some of the criticism Finkelstein's work and person have faced are just as absurd has his criticism of Charlie Hebdo.
I read all of his emails, in fact I read them twice, I did what any curious person would do. I went through the blog posts and Wikipedia links, I gave the subject serious thought. And there is only one conclusion that one can come to, and this is not an ad hominum attack. Comparing Charlie Hebdo with Der Sturmer is like comparing The Holocaust Industry with Mein Kampf.
The likely reason that this bothers me more coming from Finkelstein than from others is precisely because of his general work. The unwillingness to question, the lack of curiosity and the definitiveness of what can only be personal opinion using false comparisons and perhaps an unhealthy bias leaves me feeling deceived.
It would make my day if Finkelstein would review his opinion, but the emails and the blogs posts on his site since dissipate such thoughts.
Free Speech, Not
Then there's those criticising France's free speech hypocrisy. Again, without basic understanding. I'm not even one to particularly defend the French version of free speech. It should be understood that it's not as hypocritical as many say.
Another thing I've heard, from various places, again including Finkelstein, is something to do with the notion of equal opportunity criticism, in other words: He or she who criticises Islam must equally criticise Judaism and Christianity. I'm sorry but that's not how this works, that's not how any of this works.
I get that things are far from perfect but the false comparisons and refusal to try to understand (or in other words: close mindedness) is not helping the conversation. It's only dividing further. What makes it worse is that on the many sides of the table there is probably more agreement than not. When noise fights signal, noise wins.
- This post explains (much better than me) a few things that can help fill the cultural gap.
- This website attempts to help understand Charlie Hebdo.
- A more constructive criticism of the situation, even though I'm not sure I agree, by Gleen Greenwald.
- Der Stürmer - Wikipedia
- Charlie Hebdo - Wikipedia
Update: About the Edits and Email Quoting
I had previously quoted 2 sentences out of a few email exchanges with Norman Finkelstein. After a discussion with a friend of mine it was agreed that, even if quoting his emails were legal I should still ask permission because it's the right thing to do. So, I did just that.
However, the response I received was quite chilling and left me with a bully-ish feeling. it was along the lines of "something something too late something something no something something legal backlash".
After checking a few ressources I concluded that this is a very grey area, although it would probably okay because of.... so many things. I re-concluded: who cares. I was initially debating ideas and such. trying to get someone for whom I held respect for rethink about a specific topic, or perhaps to convince me.
The irony is Finkelstein's publishing hate mail on his own blog shortly after this. One word, and I used to hate this word, but now I get it: Facepalm.