Millions demonstrate in Paris
Millions demonstrate in Paris after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo

From inspirational to embarassing

| After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, people by the millions took to the streets of Paris to demonstrate and show their support for freedom of expression, with world leaders marching arm-in-arm. The event was positively awe-inspiring.

World leaders in a photo posted to Facebook by Benjamin Netanyahu
World leaders at the head of the march, as shown in a picture posted to Facebook by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

But as things work out more and more often nowadays, it did not take long for some to use the event to score political or ideological points. A tempest in a teapot soon erupted over the fact that President Obama was not among the assembled leaders heading the march. He was widely and wildly condemned for not going himself or sending some other high-level official, like Vice President Biden or Secretary of State Kerry. He was called everything from "embarassing" to being less interested in going to Paris than Adolf Hitler. In editorial cartoons Obama was portrayed as "leading from behind," "missing," and "clueless" (see slideshow below).

The same Republicans who a few years ago were renaming French fries "Freedom fries" and French toast "freedom toast" and who assailed presidential candidate Kerry in 2004 because he was "too French" suddenly could not get to the microphones fast enough to insist that Obama had gravely insulted the French by failing to go. Even Ted Cruz got into the act, insisting that "we must never hesitate to stand with our allies."

All the clamoring conveniently overlooked the months of planning that go into any presidential trip. No one stopped to think before castigating, apparently, of the implications of putting the president in the middle of a million-plus rally in a foreign country that had just been attacked. Not to mention what a president's motorcade and support contingent would have wreaked on the already crowded streets of Paris. And if he had gone, and if the unthinkable had happened, then he would have been pillored in death for having tempted fate by his arrogance.

A proper perspective was struck in the Washington Post "Plum Line" blog: "But let's be honest: practical considerations aside, the world wasn't waiting to see whether Barack Obama would participate in this particular march. As shocking as this idea may seem from our perspective, sometimes it's not entirely about us" (WashingtonPost, Jan 12, 2015).

There's more!

The Israeli newspaper Ha Mevaser published a front-page picture of the march leaders, but photoshopped all the female leaders out of the picture!

World leaders at the Charlie Hebdo rally as published by Ha Mevaser
World leaders at the Charlie Hebdo rally as published by HaMevaser

Supposedly removing the women has to do with Jewish beliefs about modesty of women, and so forth, but my personal opinion is that this is ridiculous. It's like the old Kremlin pictures after political shake-ups when fallen comrades were air-brushed out of the photos.The resulting 'shopped picture is full of anomalies — note the man on the left wearing a parka and glasses: he has one gloved and one bare hand. Other faces are disfigured or discolored. The fact that the photo posted to Facebook by Bibi Netanyahu (above) includes the women shows just how extreme this ultra-Orthodox newspaper is.

The Irish satire site Waterford Whispers News photoshopped all the men out of the picture
Turn about is fair play

Giving their own response to the preposterous alteration of the picture, the Irish satire site Waterford Whispers News turned the tables and removed all the men from the picture!

Meanwhile

Cover of the new edition of Charlie Hebdo
Cover of the first Charlie Hebdo published after the murder of its editor and cartoonists

In the meantime, the remaining editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo labored to put out a new edition of the paper, choosing as their cover a cartoon showing a weeping Mohammed holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign while a tear runs down his cheek. Instead of the usual 30,000 impressions, this edition had a press run of 3 million copies, most of which sold out in early hours after its release.

For myself, I have a hard time understanding how I'm supposed to know the figure is even Mohammed and, if it is, what's so bad about it. It seems rather mild to me, and I'm sure Mohammed is saddened by the whole affair anyway.

Here's where it gets weird. Virtually every news outlet in the US carried a story about the new edition and the cartoon but did not show the image! NBC News (and MSNBC) described it fully, but did not show the cover. The New York Times clung stubbornly to their editorial policy of not showing the cartoon, but they obviously recognized the value of having readers see it — they embedded in the article a link to the photo at an external website!

The Washington Post, did publish the picture, but in the Comic Riffs, a blog hosted by the paper. Not exactly a profile in courage.

That is the height of ridiculousness, akin to all the stories about so-and-so said such-and-such, scandalizing and insulting the sensibilities of civilized people without ever publishing the actual statement. Think back to when Vice President Cheney told Patrick Leahy on the floor of the US Senate to "Go fuck yourself," an incident Cheney often recounts as one of his greatest hits.

Sublime to ridiculous

If the cartoon gracing the cover of the latest Charlie Hebdo is sublime in portraying a character who has been used, all the while invoking the original cartoon that got Charlie Hebdo firebombed (Slate.com), a Saudi cleric has taken it to the ridiculous by issuing a fatwa banning the making of snowmen in an area of Saudi Arabia that recently received snowfall. Not only does the ban apply to snowmen (or Allah forbid snowwomen) but to any representation of anything that might have a soul. That would include the gingerbread cookies you served at your Christmas party. But never mind, there is a workaround: leave off the head!

Respect is fine, but

It is all well and good to respect people for their beliefs and views, but we cannot allow those people to impose those views on us. That is just as wrong as if we imposed our views on them. Frankly, it's time for the fundamentalists to join the 21st century.

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Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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