These past few days, I’ve come to see many articles (mainly in English) stating Charlie Hebdo magazine was racist, homophobic and sexist. As evidence, selected cartoons from the magazine were taken out of context and used wrongly... As they seems to state the exact contrary of what their authors originally meant.
articles are slanderous, and here I will try to disassemble them.
of all, it is important to understand this magazine’s spirit,
birthed by a very traditional, French type of satire that may be
tricky to understand by non-French minds. It’s the heritage of 19th
century’s caricaturists such as Honoré Daumier, or of the
satirical and anarchist magazine from the early 20th century,
l’Assiette au beurre.
in the late 1960’s, Charlie Hebdo was linked to a monthly satirical
magazine, with a very dark, biting and provocative humor, with no
respect whatsoever to any political wings, or establishment of any
kind: Hara Kiri, which was subjected to censorship many times, and
even banned by the then-government.
magazines were created by cartoonists close to the left wing (
anarchists, communists, environmentalists). Their favourite targets
are the army, religions, politicians, employers, the far-right and
This double identity linking political views and art was important.
In the pages, you’ll find in the mean time cartoons, texts and news
coverage defending what they fought for (ecology, feminism,
anti-clericalism, anti-militarism...), while others would tackl with
a ferocious humour topical politics, lampooning absolutely
everything: the leaders and the lead, the criminals and their
victims, and even their families. Their motto would have been
«nothing is sacred!» Everything, everyone is potential
laughingstock, as a means to transcend topicality, even life itself.
Rather than a left-wing magazine, it is in fact a nihilistic
magazine, typical of the era it was born in, advocating that
absolutely everything is subject to questioning.
strongly linked to topical, current events, each cartoon has to be
read in its context, its era, intended for its audience, and within
its culture - the French tradition of satire. The tone is highly
sarcastic, violent, erotic, coarse, even surrealist at time.
illustrate, I’d like to decipher three pictures that I have seen
used as «proof» by those accusing the magazine.
the first one, a black woman is represented as a monkey. Utmost
racism, you may say. Except that this cartoon isn't making fun of
that woman. In fact, it’s referring to the cover of an extreme
right-wing French magazine called «Minute». In French, there’s a
expression meaning «full of energy»: avoir la banane (to have a
banana). «Minute» titled their cover «Taubira [French attorney
general] has the banana», therefore implying Christine Taubira, as a
black woman, is a monkey. Sickening racist metaphor. The text on
Charlie Hebdo’s picture, «Rassemblement bleu raciste» («blue
racist rally»), parodies the extreme right wing catchword
«Rassemblement bleu marine » («Marine blue rally», from the
name of its leader, Marine Le Pen). Far from being a racist cartoon,
it in fact denounces the racism of Minute and Front National.
the second cartoon, «Bonne année, bonne quenelle» («Happy new
year, happy quenelle»), a black man has a phallic object up the
arse. This character’s identity is important. It’s Dieudonné, a
french stand-up comedian, and extreme right wing politician famous
for his countless anti-semitic provocations. He popularized a
gathering gesture with his fan, calling it the quenelle*, halfway
between the Nazi salute and the «bras d’honneur» (coarse gesture
meaning «Fuck you»). So, the cartoonist turns the gesture back to
its initiator, to fuck him as well, and as such... denounces him.
quenelle is a French dish, a small seasoned ball of pounded fish or
meat... Looking quite like the phallic object coming out of his
the third picture, two women, ecstatic - obviously two Lesbians –
look adoringly at a crucifix soiled with vaginal secretions. Looks
like a homophobic cartoon, doesn’t it? It actually portrays Frigide
Barjot and Christine Boutin, the two leaders of the reactionary
movement «la manif pour tous», which is dominated by Christian
fundamentalists opposed to homosexual marriage rights. The title «2
mamans, 1 sextoy?» («2 moms, 1 sextoy») is also a parody of their
slogan «1 papa, 1 maman» («1 mom, 1 dad»). Their movement
predicts that allowing homosexual union will lead to the destruction
of the Christian Western civilization. By portraying these two women
as what they despise, two Lesbians, furthermore obsessed with an
improvised dildo (the crucifix, a sacred object, becomes here a mere,
trivial object). The cartoonist Coco here pictures their true nature:
two irrationally obsessed people, actually obsessed not by sex lust
of course, but by an absurd and anachronistic belief in a moral
apocalypse. The target isn't the LGBT community, but its opposition.
may consider those cartoons to be of bad taste, to be vulgar. We may
not find them funny. But to accuse them of being racist, homophobic
or sexist is nonsense, pure misinformation.
perfectly legitimate to find these cartoonists’ attacks against one
or another group, person, establishment, movement shocking. But from
the moment we forbid to make humour about someone or something,
humour is dead. Humour (particularly Charlie Hebdo variety thereof)
is ferocious, and spares no one. It’s in its nature.
the extreme left in France, there is no consensus about Charlie
Hebdo. Part of it accuses the magazine of being carefree,
irresponsible, of mocking Islam at inconvenient moments, as a
xenophobic and Islamophobic wave hits the country, with symptoms such
as the growth in popularity of the extreme right wing Front National,
the trivialization of racist speech in politics, and also a few laws
supposedly for secularism, when in fact they target specifically the
Muslim community. To what the authors answer there’s no humour
without the right for it to be... carefree. Here lie the magazine’s
limits, its vulnerability (or strength), standing between humour and
militancy, stances against xenophobia, and extreme-right, but also
fierce defenders of secularism, and raging humour that takes any
aspects of life, any member of the national community as a target.
But in no way can
it be said that Charlie Hebdo is racist. It is slander.