In The Aftermath of Atrocity Is This The New Face of Europe ?

French journalist Caroline Fourest, who worked at Charlie Hebdo, when it printed the controversial Danish cartoons, says despite the murder of her cartooning colleagues, Western journalists should back “the right to make fun of religions, extremists and fundamentalists”.

The new face of Europe ?

The new face of Europe ?

The interview below was published on the Open Democracy website and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

“Support the right to make fun of extremists”: an interview with Caroline Fourest

We are facing a political threat, a totalitarian Islamist threat that manifests in terrorism. Journalists are defending something which is elementary to our democracy: our freedom to breathe and to laugh.

Caroline Fourest worked at Charlie Hebdo when it re-published the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed. Karima Bennoune interviewed her for openDemocracy on the day of the Paris attacks.

Karima Bennoune: What is your political analysis of the attack against the Charlie Hebdo paper where you used to work? How should we understand it?

Caroline Fourest:  Charlie Hebdo has received death threats for more than ten years, since the explosion of the affair of the Mohamed cartoons almost 10 years ago. For Anglophone readers, I should explain that the paper occupies a very particular place on the French political spectrum. It is very leftwing, veryanti-racist and very secular all at the same time. It represents something that we cherish in France, this balance to which we are very attached between, on the one hand, the defense of secularism and the struggle against religious fanaticisms in any religion, and on the other, the fight against racism.  This is what is so unacceptable for the jihadists.  In France, this is what they reject the most.

Charlie Hebdo re-published the Danish cartoons in solidarity with the Danish cartoonists who were threatened with death in 2006.  It is a paper in the skeptical tradition and it makes fun of all religions, so it decided to show these drawings that had not been shown elsewhere. They had not been published in the US for fear of attack, or because of the fear of shocking religious sensibilities. Re-publishing these drawings was our way of defending freedom of expression when faced with fanatics.

We published a cartoon that tried to differentiate Mohamed from the fundamentalists and showed how upset he was with the stupidity of their violent response to the Danish drawings.  (Interviewer’s note: The cartoon in questionshows the Prophet Mohamed holding his head in his hands, crying, and saying “it is hard to be loved by idiots.”  It is most relevant this week.) Since the time we published those cartoons, we have received death threats at Charlie Hebdo. We faced a court case brought by a Muslim organization which we won.  Charlie continued to draw against all religions. We drew against the Pope.  But there was more of a polemic when we drew Mohamed.  The headquarters of the paper was burned in 2011 in a criminal arson attack. So Charlie Hebdo took refuge in another location where there was a lot of security. They did not even have the name of the newspaper displayed outside. My former colleagues and comrades who were killed on January 7th had been under police protection since 2006.  Their lives were never the same since this affair. They knew they were hated by the fanatics.

KB: What are the best ways for the international community to respond to this attack, and what are the best ways for progressives and secularists elsewhere to stand in solidarity with the victims?

CF: Make drawings to support freedom of the press. Support the right to make fun of religions, and of extremists.  Make fun of the fundamentalists. Continue to have a sense of humour. Continue to smile when they want to prohibit us even from smiling.  Support the press.  Journalists today are on the frontlines because they defend something which is elementary to our democracy: Our freedom to breathe and to laugh.

Stand up to incitement on social media.  Beyond the mentally ill people who committed this crime at Charlie Hebdo, there have been years of incitement against the journalists of Charlie Hebdo online.  They were accused of being Islamophobic simply because they claimed the right to laugh at all religions.  It must never be allowed to happen again, this way of designating someone as a target. It must never be accepted again.  Such rhetoric must never again be excused.

Racism must not excuse fundamentalism.  And fundamentalism must not excuse racism. We have to unceasingly fight both at the same time.

KB: In the Anglophone media, some are resorting to a communitarian analysis and blaming the attacks on France’s failure to integrate Muslims.  How do you reply to such an analysis?

CF: It is really the day of idiotic rhetoric.  That is what the jihadists expect. The jihadists carry out terrorist attacks to make us idiots.  Many countries in the world face terror attacks. We can make a sociological analysis if we want to, but it was not “the Muslims” who attacked Charlie Hebdo.  It was three mentally ill people.  Those fundamentalists who killed in Algeria in the 1990s , were they Muslims who were not well-integrated in Algeria?  Those who resort to such an analysis do not understand that we are facing a political threat, a totalitarian Islamist threat that manifests in terrorism.  This analysis is another way of falling into the trap that the extremists offer us.

We had people born in Normandy who are blond with blue eyes who went to fight with “Islamic State”.  There are Muslims who killed many other Muslims, many more Muslims than Westerners. Today there are all sorts of flags flown by fanatics that are used to rally people without humour, without hope, without spirit.

In fact, secularism is actually working very well in France.  90% of French people are very attached to secularism, including its citizens of Muslim culture. I can tell you that for ten years at Charlie Hebdo, those who sent the most solidarity messages, those who fought on our side the most were of Maghrebin background, whether Muslim or not Muslim.

KB: As someone who has worked with Charlie Hebdo, as someone who has courageously fought fundamentalism for many years, what are you feeling today?

CF: I feel an even greater responsibility to continue.  I keep with me the images of the faces of my colleagues who have fallen on the front lines of freedom of the press today. I have friends who have been found in their blood, and others who are in shock.  The survivors said to each other that we will all meet tomorrow for an editorial meeting. We will make sure the issue will come out next week. We will not have the same sense of humor we used to have, as they killed all of the best French cartoonists in one massacre.

But, there is no way they will make us put down our pens.

Translated from French by Karima Bennoune.


About the authors

Karima Bennoune is a Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis School of Law, and former Amnesty International Legal Advisor. Her book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism, won the 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.Karima recently gave the TED Talk: When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism 

Caroline Forest is a journalist and an expert on religious fundamentalisms and the far right in France.  She worked at Charlie Hebdo when it re-published the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed. Follow her on twitter@CarolineFourest

French News Online is grateful to the Open Democracy website for this article, republished here under a Creative Commons License.

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7 Responses to In The Aftermath of Atrocity Is This The New Face of Europe ?

  1. Donna January 12, 2015 at 4:05 pm This is the real Charlie Hebdo.

  2. Larry Stewart January 13, 2015 at 7:38 am

    This American Stands with My French Friends:
    The lack of attention of our President Obama during this difficult time is not a reflection of the American people. Viva La France! – Larry Stewart

  3. Carol Grant January 14, 2015 at 7:29 am


    My ancestry comes through a French line of Epplers and Girardets. One of the Epplers was a top General of Napoleon, who served his country even on campaigns to Egypt, and died in his 40’s worn out from the wars he fought in, beginning at age 10 when he joined the army. My French great grandmother Girardet, was born in Le Harve, France, just before her parents immigrated to America. They became farmers in the midwest state of Nebraska. Therefore I have strong attachments to the people of France not only through my ancestors, but also from visiting your fair country a few times. Most recently in 2013.
    As a part of a US Air Force family, my husband was stationed in Zweibrucken Germany in 1976 when our country celebrated our 200th Birthday on July 4th that year. At one time, that city was a part of France, by the name of DuPont, which sent a Regiment to America. They helped us in our struggle for Freedom from the crushing pressure of England upon this new (then) country, so Zweibrucken (formerly DuPont) happily celebrated that 200th birthday with parades and fireworks with us. It gave me great pride to be a part of that event, even though that city was now a part of Germany (painful as that may be for France) I do think that France was represented also as there was a French Casern in Zweibrucken.
    Therefore it is with great shame that I watched as millions of Frenchmen and women, and world leaders of over 40 countries march through the streets of Paris in a show of solidarity with France, over the horrors of being attacked by Islamic Terrorists with loss of life. Shame, not for the French, but for the President of the United States who was a “no show” for that great event. Had I been living in Zweibrucken now, I would have made that trip, at age 75 to Paris and joined in the march. My thoughts of why our president or someone else of greater stature than our measly ambassador didn’t come, are not hard to decipher. I did not vote for this charlatan, and I disagree with ALL of his policies and I suspect more serious reasons why he didn’t show up, but have no proof. I’m simply an old citizen of America, proud still to be an American, as I love my country, just as much as you love yours. But still feeling such deep shame as do a multitude of other Americans about this disgusting show of disrespect, whatever else this president of ours is guilty of. I AM SO SORRY!! – Carol Grant

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