Take the local baker, who has just bought the nearby bakery and replaced the old, recently-retired guy, he makes good croissants. He’s likeable and always has a ready smile for all his customers. He’s completely integrated into the neighbourhood already. Neither his long beard nor the little prayer-bruise on his forehead (indicative of his great piety) bother his clientele. They are too busy lapping up his lunchtime sandwiches. Those he sells are fabulous, though from now on there’s no more ham nor bacon. Which is no big deal because there are plenty of other options on offer - tuna, chicken and all the trimmings. So, it would be silly to grumble or kick up a fuss in that much-loved boulangerie. We’ll get used to it easily enough. As Tariq Ramadan helpfully instructs us, we’ll adapt. And thus the baker’s role is done.
Historical analogy can be tiresome and too easy, but sometimes it’s the sharpest thinking tool around. Reading this extraordinary editorial by Charlie, it’s hard not to recall the vicious development of “the Jewish question” in Europe and the horrifying persecution it resulted in. Charlie’s logic is frighteningly similar: that there are no innocent Muslims, that “something must be done” about these people, regardless of their likeability, their peacefulness, or their personal repudiation of violence. Such categorization of an entire community as an insidious poison is a move we have seen before.
Read the piece yourself—don’t just react. Read the piece and think through who you wish to be in relation to the kinds of arguments it presents. If I hadn’t carefully scrutinized the url (and thus confirmed that it really is legit), I’d have thought someone was doing a cruel parody of laïcité. The fact that the essay itself is written in English also indicates very clearly that Charlie is aware of its global audience now, of the bigotry that is increasingly popular here in the US, disguised and undisguised.
Meanwhile, you might remember that SOS Racisme, a French “anti-racist” organization, was brought to New York last year to defend Charlie from accusations of racism. One of the founders of SOS Racisme was Laurence Rossignol, the current French minister for women’s rights. This same Rossignol said last week that women who wear the hijab are like the “nègres américains” (American negroes/ American niggers) who accepted slavery.
So, SOS Racisme gets on stage and, on behalf of PEN, gives an award to Charlie Hebdo, and everybody applauds and congratulates themselves for their fine understanding of satire. The same Charlie, in this new editorial, writes: “From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts.”
What thoughts? The wish to discriminate freely against Muslims without having to be called out on it. The freedom to draw everyone who is Muslim, or comes from a Muslim family, or is connected to North Africa, or “looks” Arab, into one big universal blood guilt that makes them literally responsible for the horrors perpetrated by a few maniacs. The desire to have this hatefulness lauded as courage.