Geof Cox's Xmas Image 2015

I don't feel I had any real choice about my Xmas image this year - the tragic events in Paris in January, then again last month, defined 2015 here in France.  This year, it had to be Charlie Hebdo...
It's a choice not without some difficulties.  Should such tragedies shadow our celebrations?  But for me, the Xmas and New Year period is not only a time for relaxation and enjoyment, but also reflection on the past year and resolution for the new.

Later on we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Then there's the fact that although many Xmas cartoons have appeared in Charlie Hebdo over the years, hardly any have the usual messages of comfort and joy - and most of them are obscene or offensive - usually both!

In this respect, the terrorists got it right: to Charlie Hebdo, literally nothing is sacred.  It sits in a comic tradition which doesn't really exist in anglo-saxon culture - 'gouaille' in French - a sort-of Viz-does-current-affairs - which is not amenable to either the simplistic us-and-them politics of the right or the politics-by-numbers of the left (where certain words or stereotypes are automatically unacceptable, regardless of context or intention).

Often, the intention in Charlie Hebdo is precisely to shock, because it doesn't just want to make a political point - to confirm our own prejudices - but also to open questions and uncertainties on both (or many) sides of an argument.

The responses of cartoonists around the world to the Charlie Hebdo attack were wonderful and moving - but not generally in the 'gouaille' tradition.  Is the drinker featured here, for example - in Charlie Hebdo's response to the November Paris massacre - symbol of the indefatigable French love of life and freedom - or it's naive frivolity in the face of terror?

Well... c'est compliqué!     (If you want to know more, though, there's a wonderful website in English here.)

In any case, do have a great Xmas!

Vatican has criticised Charlie Hebdo

Dissappointing that the Vatican has criticised the Charlie Hebdo attack anniversary cover, which portrayed god as a terrorist (as reported in The Guardian 6/1/16).  The Pope's reported comment -

“If a good friend speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched, and that’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it.”

 - demonstrates precisely the typical insightfulness of Charlie Hebdo.

The analogy between 'faith' and 'my mother' is tellingly unsustainable.  Whatever your beliefs, and however much good you think religious beliefs have done, it must also be admitted that they have been responsible for dreadful violence and oppression - and they have almost always tried (and often succeeded) to shape the social, political and legal environment.  If 'my mother' had anything like the past entanglements of christianity in corrupt governments, wars, atrocities, cruelty, exploitation, etc - then I would welcome people speaking badly of her!

It is absolutely essential to the kind of society I want to live in that any ideas can be mocked.  It is one of our key safeguards against oppression.

A better analogy that occurs to me is between religious responses to religion-inspired terror and western European communist responses to Stalin in 1950s and 60s.  There were many shades of opinion, of course, but perhaps the most typical was 'that's not real communism'.  Perhaps the rarest, but most honest response, however, was from those who looked into the heart of marxist thinking and saw there - a lot of good, to be sure - but also the seeds of Stalinism.  For me, that is precisely what Charlie Hebdo has just done - opened up the real question right at the heart of religion and terror.

See also