Five years on from the horrific Charlie Hebdo massacre in which a dozen people lost their lives, politicians have been busy showcasing their sanctimony. Socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo urged people ‘never to forget’ the price the cartoonists paid for the courage. Yet only last week, Hidalgo used Twitter to express her ‘profound shock’ at a small publicity campaign on the Paris transport network opposing assisted medical procreation for lesbian couples and single women, an issue currently under discussion in the Senate. Once she had recovered her equanimity, Hidalgo ordered ‘that the posters be withdrawn immediately’. But what did Charlie Hebdo stand for if not the freedom to publish things others might vehemently disagree with?
I was one of a million people who assembled for a solidarity march through the streets of Paris in January 2015, just days after Islamists punished Charlie Hebdo for publishing cartoons of the Prophet. The procession was headed by a succession of world leaders, among them Angela Merkel. Eight months later, the German chancellor was caught apparently asking Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to censor negative messages about the migrant crisis.
None of this cant has been lost on Charlie Hebdo, which this week published a special edition to mark the fifth anniversary of the attack. In a stinging editorial headlined ‘The New Face of Censorship’, Riss, who survived the shooting, excoriates the intolerance of our age, which has included cancellations of a play about one of the dead cartoonists because it was considered ‘Islamophobic’.
‘We thought only religions desired to impose on us their dogmas. We were wrong,’ he writes. ‘Today, the politically correct impose on us their gender spelling, discourage the use of words deemed to be upsetting, order us not to eat this or not to smoke that. All in our interests, obviously.’
In recent months in France, this ideological tyranny has encompassed calls for the deplatforming of philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, cancellation of screenings of Roman Polanski’s latest film J’accuse and the refusal of numerous prominent figures to appear on a news channel because it employed right-wing commentator Eric Zemmour.
Riss blames this new wave of censoriousness on the ‘Anglo-Saxon left’, which suggests he’s familiar with the Guardian. Five years ago, the newspaper was ardent in its support of Charlie Hebdo. But there was soon a shift in this stance. A year later, the paper ran a piece condemning the ‘bigotry’ of Charlie Hebdo. It was noticeable that the Guardian did not mark the fifth anniversary of the attack.
The Guardian‘s French equivalent, Liberation, did commemorate the anniversary with a front cover in black and the words ‘Toujours Charlie’. But is the left ‘still Charlie?’ Liberation believes it is before warning that Islam must be accorded ‘respect’ because “to be ‘Charlie’ must not serve as a pretext to authorise Islamophobia’. But who decides what is respectful and what is ‘Islamophobic’?
When I walked down the Boulevard Voltaire on 11 January 2015, I was surrounded by Parisians holding ‘Je Suis Charlie’ placards and brandishing pens. But the terrible truth, five years later, is that the West is no longer Charlie and the pen has not proved mightier than the sword.