Charlie Hebdo Massacre

While White Westerners Bellyache Over Offensive Satire, Satirists in the Middle East Push the Envelope to Challenge Radical Islam


Cover showing ISIS decapitating Mohammed
Charlie Hebdo

Yesterday's massacre at the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo by suspected Islamists was likely triggered by the satirical newspapers irreverent engagement of religion and, specifically, depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, something some Muslims believe their religion prohibits. In the aftermath there was an outpouring of support for the newspaper from around the world, by people who expressed solidarity by declaring "Je Suis Charlie" but maybe didn't actually take part in depicting the Prophet Mohammed or mocking radical Islam.

That led to a curious but sadly unsurprising backlash from mostly-white Western commentators decrying the "white males" of Charlie Hebdo as "racist assholes" for their depiction of radical Islam. It wasn't "Right" to murder them in response, these commentators say, but speech has consequences, sometimes unpleasant ones, and so the massacre was "understandable" because the murderers were "provoked." If it sounds like victim blaming to you, that's because it is. These commentators may think they can get away with it by defining the victims by their whiteness and maleness but in the process, unsurprisingly, they're whitewashing the situation.

Satirizing radical Islam is not the exclusive domain of white Western Europeans. There may not be a whole lot of satire of radical Islam in the United States, but in the U.S. the problem of radical Islam is not really a domestic one. The Middle East, on the other hand, is brimming with satire aimed at radical Islam. And since the rise of the bloody and murderous Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that satire has not shied away from mocking forces that would behead the satirist and actively work to try to do so.

The Globe and Mail explains:

TV shows across the Middle East have dedicated a sketch or two to the group's hypocrisies in adopting modern methods, such as Twitter and Facebook campaigns, to demand the return of medieval Islam. The popular Lebanese show Ktir Salbe showed a skit where a taxi driver picks up an Islamic State fighter who asks that the radio be turned off because this technology did not exist in the early days of Islam. When the driver suggests turning off the air conditioning because it did not exist in the early days of Islam, the fighter refuses and then starts talking on his cell phone, at which point the driver kicks him out and tells him to wait for a camel instead.

Even IS's practice of gunning down innocents is apparently not off limits for comedic fodder: Palestine's Al-Falastiniya TV broadcast a skit featuring three Islamic State fighters who reminisce about partying with Beirut's beautiful women before shooting a Lebanese driver for not answering correctly a trick question about the number of times to kneel during prayers and upon entering a mosque.

Can you count the micro-aggressions? The contrarian desire to try to blame the victims of yesterday's massacre isn't just insensitive to the families of the victims and dangerous to the value of free expression in the West; it helps justify the completely unjustifiable crosshairs in which satirists not just in France but across the Middle East and the world find themselves for poking fun at the radical elements of the "religion of peace."