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Charlie Hebdo: you know nothing, Garry Trudeau

The disastrous wrongness of the Doonesbury creator's comments

I thought we’d got somewhere closer to clarity on the Paris massacres by now. But comments made by Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury last week suggest we might have to go through this again. Speaking at Long Island University on 10 April, the veteran cartoonist sought to spread his wisdom on “the tragedy in Paris” (note the oddly neutral word “tragedy”: not “murders”, say).

“As you know,” Trudeau commented, “the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against ‘self-censorship,’ one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness.”

That “as you know” is not an ideal start for Trudeau, considering he then manages to confuse the gender of Jylannds Posten's male editor Flemming Rose, who published the cartoons in September 2005, nine-and-a-half years ago (not eight).

As you know...


“Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. ”


Well, no. No cartoonist involved in the original cartoons was “gunned down”. Trudeau also fails to mention the inflammatory role played by Hizb Ut Tahrir-aligned clerics in provoking violence over the cartoons  (including falsifying some of them).

And what the “free speech absolutists” should be “chastened” about is not clear. Was it free speech "absolutists" who killed those who died?

Anyway, as you know...


“Ironically, Charlie Hebdo,which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.”


Has it? Some French Muslims have been nervy about “Je Suis Charlie”, but that “many Muslims throughout France” now “make common cause” with “violent outliers” is not at all clear. More to the point, note what happens to Muslims: they are “provoked” into violence. This is the great underlying assumption of apologists for terror that has carried from the Rushdie affair onwards: Muslims are, inevitably, violent, and easily provoked.

Still though, as you know...


“By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence.”


This is untrue. French hate speech laws, such as the Loi Gayssot, which criminalises belittling of the Holocaust, kick in long before incitement to violence.

Anyway, as you know...


“...the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.”


So if I publish something mocking Muhammad in France, and people in Niger decides to hold a protest against it, during the course of which churches, shops and bars are burned down and people inside them killed, then I am responsible for the violence? That’s not how incitement works, Mr Trudeau.

But, as you know...


“Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.”


Wait, I thought we’d said that French speech laws only covered incitement to violence? So were they inciting violence or not?

Oh well; as you know...


“The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.”


Apart from the obvious undertone here, does Trudeau think it’s right or wrong that the columnist was fired? It’s not clear what Trudeau wants, apart from to scream “hypocrisy” at something.

Ah, but as you know...


“What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.”


Yes, Mr Trudeau, everyone has the right to be outraged. Everyone has the right to feel pain. What this has to do with murdering magazine staff and Jewish shoppers I have no idea. You seem to be suggesting that normal Muslims express pain through violence, rather than acknowledging that the Paris atrocities, and indeed the burning of churches and bars in Niger, were carried out by people acting upon a political ideology, the same ideology that justifies enslavement and murder by the Islamic State. For the avoidance of doubt, it is not me conflating normal Muslims and jihadists here: it is Trudeau.

Even so, as you know...


“I’m aware that I make these observations from a special position, one of safety. In America, no one goes into cartooning for the adrenaline. As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage.”


You acknowledge this, but not for one moment does it inspire you to show an iota of solidarity with your fellow satirists.

In conclusion, as you know...

"It’s not easy figuring out where the red line is for satire anymore. But it’s always worth asking this question: Is anyone, anyone at all, laughing? If not, maybe you crossed it."

You know nothing, Garry Trudeau.

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.

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