Extremists Attack Charlie Hebdo and Golgotha
Extreme it may seem but a provocative play – Garcia’s Golgotha Picnic — and an equally provocative weekly paper Charlie Hebdo have something in common – as indeed does wider French society where fundamentalists are bent on curbing freedom of speech and artistic expression.
French Catholic fundamentalists — Lefebvrists or integristes – have been on the march for months now against manifestations of what they regard as blasphemy. Recently they bared their teeth in anger at two religiously themed plays in France — Golgotha Picnic by Argentine playwright Rodrigo Garcia, and Sur le Concept du Visage du fils de Dieu (“On the Concept of the Son of God’s Face”), by Italian playwright Romeo Castellucci. In the latter case they have picketed the Paris Theatre de la Ville since the play opened Oct. 20.
Earlier just before Easter this year they vandalised a work known as the ‘Piss Christ’ by Afro-Cuban artist Andres Serrano while it was on show in Avignon, City of the Popes.
The latest clash between fundamental belief and the arts occurred at Théâtre Garonne in Toulouse when Golgotha Picnic premiered to street protests by the Civitas group, ahead of its scheduled run at Théâtre du Rond-Point in Paris from December 8. Police kept pro and anti- Golgota demonstrators apart as fundamentalists announced a “crusade against Christianophobia” and particularly “this sacrilegious play”. An hour before the start of the first performance, a hundred people kneeled in front of the theatre chanting hymns and prayers in French and Latin.
Security forces were on the alert – given the history of integristes activism in France. In 1964, Michel Piccoli and Antoine Bourseiller, actors in the play Le Vicaire (The Vicar ) were physically attacked. In 1988, Espace Saint-Michel cinema was burned down in protest at the screening of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.
France faces fundamentalist threats against press and artistic freedoms and freedom of speech from two directions. The most militant and dangerous is Muslim fundamentalism which has amply demonstrated its intolerance and propensity for extreme violence (Twin Towers, murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh) and the second is Catholic integristes.
Early in November the editorial offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo –whose avowed editorial policy is to attack all religions — were firebombed after it published a Charia Hebdo issue “guest edited” by Muhammad. (“100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” said the cartoon Muhammad on the cover.)
The magazine’s website was taken over shortly after that by a Turkish hackers group, which left a threatening message reading, “You keep abusing Islam’s almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech…Be God’s Curse On You! We Will be Your Curse on Cyber World!” Politicians and the media came out in strong support of the magazine’s right to free speech, while French Muslim groups decried racism. The firebombing reflected the latest battle between the French ideal of laïcité (secularism) and Islam’s role in France.
As The Gawker website noted Charlie Hebdo was not about to be cowed by the destruction of its offices : “Amidst it all and against all odds, the newly homeless Hebdo got its next issue out on schedule. And… as you can see (when you visit The Gawker site), with your own, God-fearing eyes, it features a cartoon likeness of the magazine’s editor engaged in a sloppy, drool-y, open-mouthed kiss with — well, you know who. … Above the two reads the headline: “Love is stronger than hate.” Which is very true! But hate typically makes for more spectacular acts of retribution.”
Charlie Hebdo publishes weekly and has been an iconic soapbox for the French far left since its creation in 1960. Prime Minister François Fillon, said that “all attacks on the freedom of the press must be condemned with the greatest firmness.” (Loonwatch a website which tags anti-Muslim media reporting, has its own rather po-faced take on this serious attack on press freedom here The Politics of Provocation: What the Firebombing of Charlie Hebdo Magazine Means. While another US blog has quite a different perspective).
The clip shows French Interior Minister Claude Gueant outside the firebombed newspaper offices:
For ten days, says 20 Minutes more than a hundred Catholic fundamentalists demonstrated in Paris against the Romeo Castellucci play labelling it blasphemous. The charge of “blasphemy” is common to both sides of the fundamentalist spectrum. Similar objections were, says 20 Minutes, made against Charlie Hebdo. So it asks, who are the Catholic protesters? Mainly Lefebvrists – excommunicated traditionalist supporters of the Mass in Latin – but also members of the Renouveau Français a small reactionary, nationalist Catholic group and the Jeunesses Nationalistes or Young Nationalists, a new right-wing radical movement.
It quotes Fiammetta Venner, a writer on Catholic fundamentalists as noting: “The rising activism is not an isolated eruption but occurs in the run-up to elections and at a time of European crisis. Many fundamentalists have left the Front National. They want to prove that they are the truly radical group, not Marine Le Pen’s FN. They also want to show that they are more legitimate than the Church of France, which has not condemned the Castellucci play. Odon Pierre Maurice Marie Vallet, a specialist in religion told 20 minutes that “the argument of these fundamentalist groups today is that if the Muslims act resolutely to protect themselves whenever their religion is attacked, so they, the Lefebvrists must, with similar forcefulness, do the same and for the same reasons”.
There are concerns that the two fundamentalisms – Catholic integristes and political Islamists could in time find increasing common ground in France.
The Riposte Laique website, which claims to be the voice of the national secular movement, published an analysis in 2009 by one ‘Lucie Martin’ (probably a pseudonym) warning of the potential threat that Catholic fundamentalists pose for secularists in any event.
(Riposte Laique is a leftwing group which aims according to its website: “to denounce the sub-estimation and lack of clarity — if not complicity– of many political activists, regarding the serious offensive mounted by political Islam in France and many European countries, backed and encouraged by other religions. This offensive against secularism and gender equality is a boon for all obscurantists who want to end the separation of church and state, who want to do away with democracy, who try to suppress freedom of expression”.)
Among issues raised in the article :
- Many secularism activists rightly closely monitor Islamic fundamentalism. But because it is less visible, they tend to overlook Catholic fundamentalism which could become a major problem, not least because it could ally with radical Islam.
- Catholic fundamentalism is highly active in France, with an estimated 120,000 followers while as a proportion of practising Catholics their share has risen from 0.5% to 10% over the past 40 years.
- Catholic fundamentalists have copied the methods of the Muslims. Fundamentalist Catholics have an explosive birth rate. According to a report by website 20 minutes, the birth-rate is 7 children per woman — the French average is 3 births per woman. Catholic fundamentalists marry only among themselves.
- Fundamentalist Catholics believe in total cultural self-sufficiency: they have their own newspapers, books, publishers, radio station, websites and discourage any external input.
- The third generation of Catholic fundamentalists has turned its back on the jingoism of their parents who were often supporters of the Front National. They even dream of an independent state called Tradiland. The younger generation admires Putin’s Russia and Iran, is viscerally hostile to the United States and to Israel, and advocates an alliance with Islam against a degenerate French society. There is even here and there a defence of radical Islam on some integriste websites.
Story: Ken Pottinger
UPDATE: For a more detailed analysis of the issues raised above, written by Frederik Stjernfelt a professor at the Center for Semiotics at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, see here: “Why is Islamism not seen as rightwing extremism? asks Frederik Stjernfelt reviewing the media reaction to the arson attack on Charlie Hebdo”. – the Sign and Sight.com website
- Love is stronger than hatred (arunwithaview.wordpress.com)
- Charlie Hebdo front cover depicts Muslim man kissing cartoonist (guardian.co.uk)
- Charlie Hebdo’s War: when satirising Muhammad prompted terrorism (again) (thecommentator.com)
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