• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Charlie Responds To Harvey

September 2017

Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical news publication, displayed on its most recent cover an image at once both odious and grotesque. On it, those provocateurs and scribblers from Paris drew an image of some victims of Hurricane Harvey submerged in an expanse of water. Breaching the endless scene of blue were limbs (clearly of the Caucasian variety) locked at the elbow in a synchrony of Hitler salutes. Around them, also emerging from the water, were Nazi flags. This striking image was sandwiched in between a title that read, in French, “Dieu Existe!” and a subtitle that clarified, “il a noyé tous les néo Nazis du Texas!”. In English, the text translates to say, “God Exists! He Drowned All the Neo-Nazis of Texas”.

Provocation, often for provocation’s sake, is nothing new to Charlie Hebdo’s agenda. It is, in essence, the paper’s ethos. Charlie is known to be insolent, caustic, and on occasion, piquant. It’s daring and unapologetic, and it’s these herbs and elements that have combined to stir up so many controversies for as long as the paper’s been in print. In the past, it has irreverently and rather effectively brandished on its covers images that have ruffled all the feathers of all the sensibilities of polite society. Usually, the subject of their satire has been religion in general and Islam in particular. It has approached its study of Islam dauntlessly.

But, such indolence and derring-do have their consequences. Islamic fundamentalists threatened and ultimately attacked its headquarters in 2015. Even so, in the aftermath of this carnage, the paper endeavored to depict and desecrate the image of Mohammed whenever it suited its fancy.

Charlie’s insistence on doing that was not only defiant—that much was clear—but it was absolutely essential. Charlie, unlike any other news publication the world over, had taken the necessary albeit precarious first steps to scrape away Islamic censorship of the press. It’s a censorship rather by intimidation than by official decree. Charlie, for perhaps the first time on a large scale, was able to wrestle away from the Islamist’s stranglehold his immunization to promulgating illiberality in the West. Nothing short of this has been for many years the Islamic demand. Although Islam is most deserving of the treatment that Charlie prescribes, other Western religions are targets just the same. It has gone after Catholicism and Judaism—in effect tossing scorn and sanctimony in the direction of all Abrahamic creeds.

It has also made secular its satire. Charlie has attacked politicians from former president Sarkozy to president Hollande. In all of its aforementioned attacks, there was at least a thin veneer of justification for what it had to say. Yet none such justification could be found with its latest depiction of America and Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

First, the paper depicted as the victims of Hurricane Harvey a gaggle of white supremacists. In reality, the hurricane was indiscriminate; it descended on a diverse demography in Texas and Louisiana. Harris County, which houses Houston and its accompanying suburbs, contains in its socioeconomic make-up a heterogeneous mixture of wealthy, blue-collar, and impoverished citizens. Not surprisingly, the county’s ethnic composition is reflective of its proximity to the southern border. The most recent county census tallied 29% of its population to be non-Hispanic white, 18% to be black, and a majority 44% to be Hispanic or Latino.

Harvey didn’t discriminate based on ancestry, bigotry, or the pigmentation of one’s skin.

Melanin, language, and country of origin are, in the face of natural disasters, irrelevant things. White, black, and Hispanic all were affected. Everyone sought shelter together as one colorless mass, identifiable only by the group’s collective need. They all went into Houston’s convention center when their homes—whether in ramshackle downtown apartments or opulent mansions at the city’s edge—were destroyed by the winds and rains.

I have no knowledge of the neo-Nazi population that existed in the Houston metro area before the storm, but the statistics above provide some context. Based on the simple addition of percentages, the majority of those affected by Harvey were black and Hispanic, as they constitute a combined 62% of Harris County’s demography. While this figure is easily calculable, so too is the likelihood that these “minorities” were neo-Nazi sympathizers, the likes of whom appear on Charlie’s cover; surely, weren’t.

For Charlie Hebdo to portray Hurricane Harvey as being some sort of divine justice for the presence of white supremacists in America is inane. Beyond that, it disrespects the memory of the nearly sixty lives lost because of the storm and the likely thousands more livelihoods lost. There was a time when the world claimed in solidarity, je suis Charlie after the paper was so wantonly attacked. Today, we say, je ne suis pas…Charlie.

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