On not being Charlie

A dissent by  Jeremy Warner in the LRB:

A lot of things the magazine has run are very funny but not much of it is harmless fun. French culture understands the power of the sign. Paris built much of its (dwindling) reputation as an intellectual centre on a prolific study of ‘discourse’: during the heyday of structuralism and its long, creative decay, language and representation were teeming sites of intellectual labour, so it isn’t as if cartoonists reach for their pencils like angels reaching for their harps.

And there’s more than freedom of expression at stake if you decide to depict Muslim women at prayer with their buttocks exposed; or ridicule the Prophet; or commend the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, collaborator of Theo van Gogh, for his drawings, which run from Islamophobic sexual insults to crass generic defamation (an idle Arab on a cushion announcing that ‘the Koran doesn’t say we have to do anything to draw 30 years of unemployment and social benefits’). Don’t we worry that somewhere in all this, the racial stereotype is looming, even if it’s operating behind the shield of secularism, an honourable Republican tradition?

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