The French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, made headlines earlier this week for publishing a caricature of Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan wearing a white T-shirt and pair of underpants sitting next to a woman wearing a hijab. The image has been viewed by Erdoğan and many others in Turkey as both derogatory and insulting, specifically towards Islam and its related moral codes. These recent events have exacerbated the already complicated and difficult relationship between Turkey and France. After the fatal terrorist attack against Samuel Paty in Paris last October, President Macron expressed Islam as a religion in “crisis” resulting in protests across the world amongst Muslim communities.
Macron’s words have been condemned by many, including Egypt’s president who stated that “freedom of expression should stop if it offends more than 1.5 billion people.” Ultimately, it is important to consider and reflect on Macron’s comments in wider context. There is no doubt that the October terrorist attack should be condemned, but it is wrong to suggest that it is the result of Islam entirely. Alternatively, Macron’s claim can be viewed as a reflection of a broader and more complex situation in France and Europe more generally. This kind of belief system located in the West doesn’t bring different religions together, but instead places them in opposition.
Cultural racism towards Islam, in particular, has increased over the years after 9/11. In a survey by Ipsos, 74% of French people believed that Islam was “incompatible” with French society. This is not to suggest that everyone’s viewpoint in France aligns in this way, but more to raise awareness of cultural racism within the country as a considerable problem. The type of imagery relating to Islam that has been produced by Charlie Hebdo, gestures towards the need for interrogating whether it is ethical to publish these kinds of representations. It is important to reconsider these images, since so many tragedies have occurred in response to them. This type of exercise would work towards preventing terrible events, such as the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015, from happening in the future.
In a Jadaliyya article written by Jeremy F. Walton, the importance of interrogating Charlie Hebdo imagery of Muslim communities is endorsed. In Walton’s article, the author discusses the 2015 Charlie Hebdo tragedy where published images of the Prophet Muhammad – forbidden in Islam – initiated an enraged response in terrorist figures. Walton describes these abstract insults as “uniquely modern political phenomena” and suggests that we contextualize these images in the current socio-political landscape.
For example, it is important that we continue to contextualize the Charlie Hebdo caricatures in the aftermath of 9/11 and its resulting rise of cultural racism across the world. This permits greater understanding of the reasons why we experience Muslim communities resisting the image of themselves that is placed onto them without consent. Erdoğan’s recent response to the Charlie Hebdo caricature reflects the need to continue this kind of interrogation so that we bring different cultures and religions together rather than position them against one another other.
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