Charlie Hebdo: Understand, Everyone Doesn’t Get The Joke

Charlie Hebdo has been far harsher with Christianity than it has with Islam.

charlie-hebdoWithin 24 hours of the killing, £195,000 ($300,000 USD) had been earmarked to support Charlie Hebdo by the Digital Press Fund, paid for by Google.

French media groups including Le Monde, France Télévisions and Radio France, are also understood to be working on a plan to contribute a similar amount, urging other media outlets to join in offering humanitarian and financial support.

They’re coming out with a million copies of the satirical weekly and even those who didn’t know it will see it, feel a belligerent few echoing the impromptu sentiments of those hurt and rightly so by the violent response of terrorists to the cartoons. The Washington Post, which reprinted the controversial cartoon was, simply speaking, publicly lauding the French publication’s Liberty and one of the media to express an opinion. After all, Liberty has always been ballyhooed as a French concept even forming an integral part of its national motto Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.


Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of Muhammad saying, “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing.”

The world’s leaders, powerful and peaceful, called upon the French to express solidarity. Here was an act of violence that simply couldn’t be justified by any stretch of imagination. So, the French government also reportedly pledged nearly $1.2 million to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine.

For the record, Charlie Hebdo began publishing in 1969 and often stirred a hornet’s nest with the cartoons that appear on its covers. Known for its caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and critical depictions of Catholics, Jews and French politicians, the magazine drags itself in the eye of a storm as a rule.

Back in 2006, the magazine portrayed a sobbing Muhammad, under the headline “Mahomet débordé par les intégristes” (Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists).


In 2006, Charlie Hebdo depicted a sobbing Muhammad, under the headline “Mahomet débordé par les intégristes” (“Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists”).

Inside, it published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, bringing unprecedented condemnation from the Muslim world. The French Council for the Muslim Faith eventually sued the weekly for the cartoon.

In 2011, a cartoon was headlined “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter” and the issue invited Muhammad to be a “guest editor” for the weekly. The Charlie Hebdo offices were firebombed following its publication. The publication’s website was hacked following a 2011 cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad as gay. And it received backlash in 2012 after publishing a cartoon criticizing religious Muslims and Jews. More recently, the magazine published a cartoon depicting a member of the Islamic State group beheading Muhammad. All in the name of freedom of speech and liberty.

The rationale being offered freely here by most is that over the years, Charlie Hebdo has been far harsher with Christianity than it has with Islam. Catholic organizations have sued the magazine 13 times, and only once by Muslim groups. That the magazine was both firebombed in 2011 and its staff attacked and killed now 2015 by Islam’s adherents suggests it’s not the religion that’s the problemthough there’s that toobut its most extreme adherents. Quite illogically, being sued often by Christian groups is propped as a defense by the magazine as being more anti-Catholic and concurrently, the inability to initiate, lesser still win a legal process by a smaller Islamic community, to indicate the magazine’s sympathetic stand towards Islam.

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Somewhere, I feel, we’ve lost the plot. The media, the world over, is synonymous with objectivity. It is this objectivity that fetches it the respect and trust from across masses all over the world. Well, at least, most of it. And, there is a distinct tendency to dole out subjectivity in the guise of objectivity.

If you were to examine the right to express oneself against the right to dissent, you’d realize that there is a distinct and almost inherent inequity. While the right to express free opinion, speech and that sort, is upheld by law, guaranteed and supported holistically across the globe, the right to dissent has been stifled almost into extinction by the seemingly “free thinking” media, democratic community and world leaders.

Now, we all know that music for one could be noise for another and, concurrently, humor for one could be lack of taste for another. Permitting free and unbridled demonstration of the freedom of speech and expression is almost always associated with the risk of hurting someone’s sentiments.

In stark denial of the violation of the right to dissent in the fervent attempt to seem “liberal” and uphold values of democracy, it’s the minority who loses, almost always. The modern world and its leaders have, in their attempt to pander to populist masses, failed to detail the extent and draw limits to free speech which urgently needs to be moderated and controlled lest it trample upon another’s rights.

Abusing Prophet Mohammed or, for that matter, a lesser known God or Avatar IS infringing upon another’s rights and hurting public sentiments. That has to stop. We must learn to be non-violent, both in action and in thought. An act of terror is wrong by any stretch of imagination. That doesn’t take away from the fact that we need to sit up and curb acts of insensitivity, bullying or insulting particularly so in the guise of freedom of speech and expression. In our loud proclamations of free will, we trample upon another group’s with aplomb and then, gang up on them to silence dissent. Isn’t that having your cake and eating it too?

What we’ve actually done is perhaps managed to spark dissent within a group who will be simmering with anger and within their own lot. A dissent that could go on to blow up straight into our own faces, bring a security system on its knees and crash into our towers of democracyonce again. We need to introspect. Now!

Gajanan Khergamker is an independent editor and legal counsel with over three decades of experience. He heads DraftCraft – an India-based media-legal think tank. His areas of expertise include policy, inclusion, foreign affairs, law and diversity. His firm’s website is and he can be reached at gajanan@draftcraft.inRead other articles by Gajanan.