As I imagine it has been for many people, it has been difficult this week not to be completely appalled and disturbed by the shocking events in Paris. It preys on the mind, the conscience. The thought of human beings going about their usual business, on a crisp sunny day, at an editorial meeting over coffee, then suddenly being massacred by masked gunmen in a bloodbath of sheer hatred, is horrific.

But while ‘freedom of speech’ is an essential tenet of Western thought, and something I believe in upholding (witness the worrying new Secrets Act by the Abe government in Japan that will curtail press and individual freedoms), at the same time I don’t believe in deliberately insulting religion in the name of satire.

Living in Japan, a country where I always feel that people are overly reverent towards figures of authority, far, far too unquestioning and obedient (sometimes almost terrifyingly so), I am instinctively drawn to the satirical, the lampooning of public figures in magazines such as Private Eye: the dressing down of the so many megalomaniac idiots across the globe who abuse positions of power ( I laughed so hard at Team America: World Police I can’t tell you, and would love to see The Interview, in which Kim Jong Un is assassinated by James Franco). Without freedom of press speech, and the wit of the best political commentators who keep things in intelligent line, the trespasses and transgressions of those who control us might go unpunished: the ability to criticize and vilify corrupt politicians and public figures keeps them healthily in check.

The same goes for leaders of groups such as The Islamic Front, for whom I have nothing but contempt for a multiple of reasons I am sure it is not necessary to elucidate here (we could start with one, though: were Shariah law to be instigated in the UK, the punishment for my sexual ‘trangressions’ would be being crushed under a toppling wall of bricks. Great. Fuck that).

At the same time, though, there is a big difference between mocking people in positions of authority, and purposefully desecrating religious images with the aim of outraging the religions’ followers. To me, doing that seems like an assault on religions, and thus even particular cultures or ethnic groups, themselves.

I myself am not religious, though I am always curious about different interpretations of the meaning of life, and think that spirituality and a questioning of what may lie beyond, are natural components of the human animal. Obviously, faiths do become perverted ; twisted by religious leaders for political aim or personal gain, and such people are ripe for mockery by such magazines as Charlie Hebdo. Paedophile Catholic priests, those who destroy the lives of children with their vile predations, deserve everything they get, as far I as am concerned. But does that mean that Christian images must also be defiled? Must we really see Jesus Christ or Mary, naked, on all fours, in a state of degraded submission? Doing so surely means a conscious effort on the part of the non-believing ‘satirist’ to upset Christians (for the sake of upsetting them, it seems, merely for the sake of childish mischief, a gleeful sense of naughtiness). And while this is something I can identify with to some extent, as I am a bit of a ‘provocateur’ myself, I do think there are limits.

If you know full well that the prophet Muhammed cannot be shown in the form of images, but then not only proceed to do so, but also in a pornographic context ( I have just looked at some of these images on the internet and found them shocking), then you are intentionally causing deep offense to millions, even billions of people (many of whom happen to be minorities in your country, a kind of underclass. Could the pictures not, then, be seen as an insidious form of racism?).


As much as I can understand that whole ‘fuck it, there are no holy cows, free speech is free speech and I will write whatever the hell I like’, ethos, I don’t see the benefit, nor even the humour, in printing deliberately ‘blasphemous’images that offend entire communities. It seems like an attack on those groups themselves, rather than  the sadistic and cruel, psychopath leaders of the terrorist groups who pollute and destroy what originally can be quite beautiful systems of belief:  blind, seething fools who absolutely deserve our derision and scorn and should be the targets of vicious cartoonists (can’t they find something better to do with their lives than shooting innocent people in supermarkets ?  Such dickheads).



I hate these extremists. I detest what they stand for (though I do also understand, where their rage originates: just seeing one of those Abu Graib images in the newspaper this morning was enough to make me remember: it was also, incidentally, what makes the series Homeland so compelling, the intricate, and relatively balanced portrayal of both sides of the story). At the same time, I hate Islamophobia as I hate any form of racism or prejudice.



This may seem incidental, but when we stayed in Indonesia one summer ago, we were staying with a lovely extended Muslim family on the vanilla plantation in West Java, and every morning would wake up to the beautiful, plaintive and soul stirring singing from the mosques that rose up from the valley below. It touched me on some deep level, not merely some Eurocentric, exoticist, ‘Orientalism’. I felt something. We were connected. And then down in the village, when I asked to be shown around the local mosque, if it was possible, the imam not only let us do so, but also took us on a tour through the religious academy at back, where we were talking to the students who were staying there, and they were the sweetest, and most friendly, and unaffected people you could imagine. They were deeply religious, but also entirely open to us, curious about England, what we were doing in Japan, and I see no reason to offend them merely for the sake of offending. Surely respect for other belief systems and cultures is one of the central pillars of contemporary liberal multiculturalism?



What happened in Paris is dreadful: those journalists did not deserve to die, and like everyone else I feel for their families. I have a terrible sense of foreboding of what is going to happen, as it feels as if the world is coming apart (despite what I have written above, religion sure does have a lot to answer for (to put it mildly). It has been the cause of so much bloodshed and hatred it is mindboggling (why do Shiites and Sunnis kill each other the way they do? Catholics and Protestants? It is so damn moronic, and directly contradicts what the religion the adherents claim to be believing teaches. I am sure that in both in Christianity, and Islam, and in any other religion, killing and murder are not generally held up as ideals). Maybe, in fact, ‘multiculturalism’ just isn’t destined to work in Europe, although I passionately hope that it will. But to me, while most of the world is parading placards saying ‘Je Suis Charlie’, I am afraid I can’t quite do the same. What I read in the newspaper this morning sums up my opinion best, on the subject of whether newspapers should reprint the cartoons :



“Some websites and newspapers did print the Muhammed cartoons. But many, especially in the U.S and Britain, did not, saying they violated editorial policies against wilfully giving offense. The Associated Press has decided not to run the images, explaining, in part, that the international wire service ‘tries hard not to be a conveyor belt for images and actions aimed at mocking or provoking people on the basis of religion, race or sexual orientation. While we run many photos that are politically or socially provocative, there are areas verging on hate speech and actions where we feel it is right to be cautious’.

To me this speaks of common sense and a more balanced way of looking at the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Must everything now become black and white? Must we all now stake out our positions so starkly, to continue to pour more gasoline on the fire?

I mourn what has happened. But I am not Charlie.


Filed under Flowers, religious hatred and death

47 responses to “JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE

  1. With infinite respect for your opinion, I see it differently. Originally, we had a bunch of juvenile cartoons,gross and in my view deeply unfunny, produced by a group of (mostly) guys who seemed to live to offend. Then there was the first death threat, and everything changed. At that point, in my view, there was no option for believers in free speech but to publish. And while I would never give gratuitous offence if the retaliation was social opprobrium, I would do so if the retaliation might be death instead. At least I hope I would. Because that is how important the right to speak one’s mind without fear of death is to me. Je suis Charlie, not because I have the faintest wish to give gratuitous offense myself, but because If you can die for doing so, you no longer live in a free society.

    • I agree with everything you say actually ( perhaps because it is so beautifully put), which demonstrates my own ambivalence, or multiple viewpoints, on the subject.

      I do admire people who have the conviction of truly standing up for their beliefs, even in the face of death, but I think those pictures were seriously misguided, racist, and stupid.

      • I agree. And I think that being killed for saying something misguided and stupid, even racist, deserves the strong response of everyone who believes in free speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean “unless I say something stupid, and then I deserve to die for it.” It means that if I say something stupid you can respond with fury, because that is your right, but you can’t physically harm me or kill me for it. If you can, freedom of speech has become a hollow shell of a concept, and needs renewal and recommitment, which is what it is getting.

      • I obviously agree that no one should be killed for what they say or publish, and I know that freedom of speech is worth defending.

        I am confused about what ‘hate speech’ constitutes, though. I mean John Galliano’s career essentially ended in a heap of ashes the moment he was caught using anti-Semitic language on someone’s camera. I am not sure, but I thought there were laws against anti-Semitic comments in France, enshrined in law (does that mean it is against complete freedom of speech?).

        It seems to me that there are different rules for different religions. Do you think that anyone should be able to say anything at all they like, at any time, no matter how taboo busting or offensive it is?

        In Thailand you can’t even make fun of the king.

      • (Sorry, I am literally confused about the whole thing and can’t quite form any coherent ideas).

      • It is because you are so exquisitely coherent that I want to pursue this one more step! If you’re sick of the whole thing, feel free to delete it; my rights are not in any way violated by you managing your blog😉. Let me apply the Galliano case to my own situation here in a part of the US that has no hate-speech legislation. If I had friends in for dinner and used the language that he used, my friends would be horrified, would probably leave my table immediately, and I would lose them. That is social opprobrium. If I used such language at work, my coworkers would be horrified, my supervisor would take steps to fire me, and my professional board, if they were informed, would censure me for unprofessional conduct and my career would end. That is also social opprobrium, and they would be exercising their own free-speech rights in requesting consequences for what I said. But in these theoretical processes, nobody would point an automatic rifle at me.
        It is in the movement from social opprobrium to threats to life and physical integrity that I feel the essence of free speech lies. Naturally, if I choose to exercise my right in a tasteless, gross, and unnecessary way, others are entitled to respond as they see fit, short of physical response against my life or bodily integrity.
        Just my thoughts. I love that you are considering this in a truly questioning way.

      • And that was the reason I put it up to begin with: to generate this kind of discussion.

        Again, I agree with everything you say, implicitly.
        In the U.S, you wouldn’t get shot for what you say (more like your skin colour).

  2. Well written and well said and I agree.

  3. Really refreshing to hear an independent opinion. I am getting so tired of seeing the assembled crowds in many cities waving a pencil and Charlie signs, and all thinking that they are doing something positive to mitigate the circumstances of whatever provoked the terrible killings. The killings, as you say, of course are to be deplored, but the West has been fucking the Middle East for a 100 years now for the sake of oil and profit, it is not surprising that we are now getting a backlash. Bravo!

    • I don’t know. I have very mixed feelings about it all, but my initial gut reaction, which I also rely on, was that they shouldn’t have published those cartoons. Does that make me more conservative than I realize?

      It seems to me that one of the central pillars of liberal, multicultural society is respect for people who are different to you. I mean if you said the word ‘fag’ as a public figure, in the US you could lose your job (so what happened to freedom of speech in that case……?) Surely that pales in comparison to outrageously offensive images, for the religious, anyway, that are like a dagger in the heart. I don’t know. I am confused.

  4. Tamara West

    I’ve been quietly reading and enjoying immensely your writing on perfume, and your life in Japan, for some time. But now I feel I must comment to agree with your opinion as stated so clearly in this post.Thank you for a reasoned, modulated response, and for expressing it so well.

    • Really? I am not about to go political commentator on here, but when I read that quote in the newspaper this morning it really chimed with what I felt intuitively and I felt I just had to express it.

      All the people who are championing the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ placards are on the one hand supporting free speech, I realize, and also commemorating those people who were so savagely murdered. But in a way they are also condoning deliberately offending the beliefs of whole swathes of society. I feel we need to look at both sides.

  5. Dubaiscents

    Thank you for so eloquently writing about such a decisive and difficult topic. You managed to put into words almost exactly what I have been feeling about all of this but, was not able to say.

    • Well I have felt the same as you: unable to quite express my inner sensations on the subject. I didn’t think this out clearly at all. In fact Duncan had to use the computer and I just had fifty minutes or something and just wrote it and pressed publish. I can see holes in my ‘argument’, not that I have one, but I know that although the murderers can earn nothing but my contempt, I certainly don’t see the Charlie Hebdo people as heroes either. It didn’t have to be like this. A bit of respect, even from a satirical magazine, wouldn’t go entirely amiss.

  6. Thank you for writiing this very well thought out post. Certainly no one deserved to be killed However, I agree that the cartoons verge on hate speech. Therefore, I can’t stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.

  7. I saw The demonstration in Paris on television on Euronews. For the first time palestinian And israeli politicians walked together in a common need for expression.of outrage.
    I would have walked as ME without a slogan as I don’t care much for them. I think I am Charlie was a slogan that people use in a wish for uniform and unification. I also saw I am Ahmed placards for the murdered french policeman, who was a devout moslim. That moved me deeply. There were many devout people, moslim, hindu, christian also walking. If your religious belief can be shattered by mockery, even crude,on paper so that you turn to violinism and violation of the deepest human right, life, well then you cross the border.
    I don’ think the fundamentalist murderers were insulted by Hebdo Charlie, I think they were bevond that, they were driven by a need to establish themselves at whatever the cost in an islamic mono-state, IS. All fanatics and fundamentalists don’t care for the cost as long as they reach their goal. Writing in blood is different from writing on paper with a pen, however deadly metaphorically.
    There was a very interesting conference sponteinously organized, where cartoonists again from Palestine, Israël, America and France walked and spoke together. They all agreed on freedom of expression. And their cartoons were also all Razorfish Sharp, as Sharp and as crude as Hebdo Charlie And as anti-american or anti-colonial. I would not buy Hebdo Charlie or any other like it. I meet with cartoons in papers or magazines. Sometimes they are funny Sometimes boring Sometimes very non-u as I can also be in one of my many moods And as we all can be. Sometimes we please And Sometimes we don’t. Just like wearing a scent. Some please and Some don’t! A friend of mine used to get off a bus, when the scents people wore offended her delicate nose …
    As Randy Newman would sing “Get of the bus, Gus, you don’t have to discuss much, Just drop of the key Lee get yourself free”.

  8. Excuse my autowriter, but Sometimes he can be funny, that’s why I keep HIM on (his italics)

  9. You express the unease I’ve been feeling for some time now about liberal western society’s response to Islam. Beautifully written and persuasively argued – thank you.

    • And yet I am not even quite sure what I am trying to say myself. I think I am basically feeling that there is a lack of respect for religion, and that even though I am not religious myself, it makes me very uncomfortable.

  10. Does anyone remember the scène in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus where all the slaves, who freed themselves, shouted “I am Spartacus”? When they were defeated by The Romans and put to the test of delivering Spartacus to certain death and thereby escaping death themselves? Moving and terrifying at The same time. When freedom is the issue versus death, people tend to stick together.

  11. The Big Nose

    I am Not completly d’accord with your comment. I find sometimes cartoons as well offensive, there are also enough cartoons about the catholics or the jews, but although I don’t like them I won’t kill somebody. I appreciate the Free speech, i think it is One of the Most Important Human rights and when some groups want to cut this right it is Important that we all togehter stand up and Show that we will not accept this and we will Not be frightend. I will Never live in a Country where somebody gets killed or flogged in public ( as now in Saudi Arabia) only because he telsl his opinion. We live in europe in constitutional democracies and I will do everythin I can that this will be as well in the Future. No Religion shall ever get the power over the Law.

    • I have to say I agree with you, ultimately, and I am glad that people are demonstrating in such huge numbers against what happened. Having said that, I still think that the magazine was very unwise to do what they did.

      • Renee Stout

        I totally agree with you. I believe in freedom of speech, but I also l know that it can come with consequences. I draw the line at offending someone’s religion just for the sake of messing with the minds of a few zealots. It just wasn’t worth it. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. For months I’ve been going through a malaise, feeling that the whole world has gone insane. At times it has become so paralyzing that it’s difficult for me to find the motivation to work. But I have to keep going as I feel that being an artist and making art is at least one way of contributing a positive balance to all of this insanity.

      • Me too. It can get very depressing, and yesterday although wholly unconnected to perfume I just had to write about it. I felt better immediately, especially having these conversations we are having.

  12. Tania

    I too am thinking very seriously about this whole thing – trying not to have a knee-jerk reaction.
    Today I saw a comment in a newspaper, in which the commenter asked why sexist and racist language was not covered by free speech, but this was?
    It seems obvious to me that the difference is choice. Freedom of speech doesn’t cover racist or sexist or homophobic speech, which direct hate against people for something they have no choice about – their sex, race, or orientation. But it DOES cover religion and politics, because those are a choice, a set of beliefs. This commenter hadn’t thought it through, he was comparing apples and oranges.

    • This is exactly what I am feeling. But is religion actually a choice? If you are born into a religious family, you have to have a very strong character to resist it. It’s almost PART of ethnicity, and as such should be respected more I think.

  13. Tania

    I got interrupted before I could finish my thought, above…
    The commenter I mention thought that making fun of religion should be unacceptable, just as the other examples of hate speech are. I don’t agree with that at all, there is no ‘right’ not to be offended. I haven’t seen those cartoons, but even if they’re horrible, I’m with Voltaire on this one:
    “I disagree strongly with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
    Can we not just have human kindness and spirituality without a religion telling us to behave like that? I wish. But it seems to me that we’re not evolved enough yet, and any ‘side’ which can be taken, because of human nature, becomes a reason to hate people who take a different ‘side’.

    • Interesting. I think in this post I have gone overboard in my idea that we shouldn’t offend people. I like that Voltaire quote. But then he came from the French tradition. I think that for people who are truly religious, certain things are so sacrosanct, and they believe them so completely, that they react with their whole being. We non-religious in the west can’t understand it: religion seems so much more two dimensional, a spiritual life choice. But for the devout I don’t think it is like that. The prophet in Islam can’t be shown in images. But in the magazine he was shown naked, with his arse in the air about to be…..

      Seriously. It was an almost unforgivable provocation in my view. So bloody reckless.

  14. YM

    As a Japanese student studying in Paris, I’m quite happy to know your ideas.

    Although I agree that Charlie Hebdo should not deserve the attacks, I do think there was no benefit for the company to offense the feelings of religious people. Many assume that freedom of speech is a sliver bullet to solve all issues today, but they are just fanatical about limitless liberty or covered cultural “racism”. By saying “Je suis Charlie”, they have to ask themselves if they can be as mindless and irresponsible as the dessin satirists.

    However, in my view, the real problem does not lie in freedom of expression because the demonstration we saw yesterday had nothing to do with it. Some undemocratic political leaders marching with european counterparts made us wonder why people gathered; in fact they just hated terrorism. French people essentially do not discuss freedom of speech this time(to be fair, Charlie Hebdo had been criticised for its satires on Islam several times in France). So I think they are angry because their country was attacked by terrorists, not because their freedom of speech was fundamentally violated.

  15. David

    I have been feeling uneasy about the whole Je suis Charlie movement. Yes, yes, I love freedom more than anything on planet earth. I always say I do whatever I want because what I do hurts no one (except probably me). But this Charlie Hebdo publication–well, it obviously hurt people. I keep wondering why the editorial board felt the need to publish cartoons that would obviously incite a huge group of people. Was it just because they could? Was there no other content available? ( I feel the same way when I watch movies that feature excessive gory violence; also when I hear vulgar language from people…. Was there nothing else available in your imagination?)
    In the USA, there is a hateful “Christian” church (I must use quotes)– the Westboro Baptist Church– that believes in picketing funerals of US soldiers and of famous people they believe to have supported gay rights. Have you seen the signs and banners they hold during these solemn occasions? Have you heard the hate that they scream? They have the right to be there, though. The U.S. constitution gives them that right. I wonder what would happen if, someday, a grief-stricken family member were to open fire on their church….. Well, I do know one thing: I would never carry a sign that says “I am Westboro”

    • Oh yes I know them well. The Westboro church.

      I actually think they should be banned. Which indicates, I suppose, that I am not wholly in favour of free speech. I have just shocked myself (so thanks for giving this example). The Westboro Fucks have caused SO much pain to people. The soldiers who come back dead from Iraq or wherever and then get told that God loves their death and caused it because of America’s tolerance for ‘fags’.

      You see in this case, I genuinely believe they should have been arrested, not tolerated. It is a form of grievously bodily harm in my view. Sod their right to free speech in this case.

      I have just opened a can of worms…..

      • empliau

        Have you ever heard of the Patriot Guard Riders? Started out as a group Harley-riding veterans who physically interpose themselves between the Westfield fiends and the mourners at the funerals (at the request of the deceased’s family). They also gun their engines to drown out the hateful chants. They rock.

      • Seriously, I fckng love them. Duncan, when I read to him about it in the newspapers, and how they were distributing the addresses of those evil fucks masquerading as ‘Christians’ (Jesus would die at the thought),thought it wasn’t quite right, but I personally was happy for their heads to be bashed in. What that says about me, and if it contradicts what I have written here I don’t know, but I don’t really give a fuck either.

        thank you so much for reminding me of them.

        Fred was the biggest bastard this world has ever known this side of Pol Pot and Hitler. His karma is going to be H U G E

      • My favorite Westboro story concerns a counterdemonstrator who used to go to their hateful protests with his terrier, who wore a sign reading “Dog loves fags.”

        I wanted to pass on this editorial that I just found from the New York Times, which expressed the complex and difficult free-speech viewpoint beautifully. And the Westboro fiends are a case in point. They are horrible and hateful but we haven’t killed them and ways have been found to drown them out without killing them.

  16. I believe these radicals want to kill regardless of the reasons. The cartoon just provided a semi-plausible reason [ in their minds] to go ahead with it and show they meant business, which they always do. The cartoon and cartoonists were just an excuse they used for venting their hatred toward western belief and to inspire more fear in westerners. This they do by killing, they are experts at it. That is why they are called terrorists, they live to inspire terror in people.
    It is the equivalent of a serial killer going out with the intention of taking a life, but blaming the person who called him a weirdo that night for being killed.
    It goes beyond religion, religion is just used as the blanket to cover all the hatred, i.e. You made sport of my beliefs, now you must die. The reality is: You must die since you do not believe like I do.
    It is a very sad and tragic situation no matter how one views it. We all must remember though: once we loose the right to speak our minds, we lose everything. If it is offensive to someone, respond in kind; do not take it as your right to kill.

    • I agree, and ultimately, obviously, I side with the west as I truly don’t want the radical Islamification of our society, as flawed as it may be. Their alternative is unacceptable. I like your example of the serial killer and the weirdo thing. That illustrates it all really well actually.

    • Good for you, Brielle. I think that your serial killer analogy is the clearest and most succinct explication of this mindset that I have seen.

      • Me too. A certain lightbulb went off.

      • Renee Stout

        I said the same thing not too long ago to a friend: Basically some like-minded sociopaths found each other and got together under the guise of religion. They are basically serial killers looking for reasons to kill again and again. They may have convinced themselves that it is about religious devotion, but I think there’s something more sinister lurking below it all.

      • I think that you are correct, Renee. Very few people would say that the Inquisition was a sincere effort to save souls, and this too is a psychopathic fantasy very thinly disguised as religion.

  17. O Brielle , my autowriter agreed with me, as he finished your name as I wanted to.
    You always think and feel and act, maybe against someone’s cherished beliefs.
    I am not religious or Anything of the kind. But violence is a poor way of showing your right to your opinion or your life. . And putting an end to someone’s life is final. An argument takes two to tango, however much they disagree. Provocation will always exist, it’s human nature.
    I blame the doctrine, and I blame the prophets and the leaders, who justify death and demolition. Religon is not a killer queen, however disguised.
    You have the right to exist, simply by being there. And who is the first to throw the stone?

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