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Garry Trudeau: Charlie Hebdo “wandered into… hate speech”

Last week Doonesbury creator Garry Trueau was honored with the George Polk Awards – the first cartoonist to ever be so honored. His speech as has created a stir in cartooning circles (and anyone in the larger free speech circle) because he laid the blame of the attack at Charlie Hebdo on the magazine’s cartoonists.

Here’s the quote:

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny?it?s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila?the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The Atlantic has posted the full speech. It’s definitely worth the time to read it.

The issue (free speech and when it’s employed) is not as clear cut to me. I certainly get his point and I think it’s well articulated and reasoned. I disagree that Charlie Hebdo was ‘punching downward.’ The cartoons featured in the magazine were not making fun of the common Muslim practitioner – punching downward as defined by Garry. The cartoons made fun of the founder of the religion – a religion which subjugates its adherence into a world view that is oppressive toward women, other religions and cultures and condones violence as an acceptable way of dealing with others. That IS punching upward.

What do you think?

Community Comments

#1 jeff Darcy
@ 9:39 am

He’s right. I made a similar comment in January in one of the written commentaries that are posted with my cartoons on And in a later column, our art critic compared Hebdo’s cartoons to Nazi propaganda cartoons

On Jan 13 I wrote:
“There’s a line between satire and gratuitously insulting hate
speech that Charlie Hedbo regularly and recklessly crosses with self-righteous arrogance. Their forte is provocation and sophomoric shock”

In the two commentaries I wrote on the topic I compared Hedbo’s cartoons to bathroom stall doodles and the cartooning version of shock-jock radio.

It reminded me of the Falwell vs Flynt suit in which cartoonists felt compelled to hold their noses and supported Flynt in defense of free speech.

Our art critic at the Plain Dealer, Steve Litt, compared the Hebdo cartoons to the anti-semitic Nazi propaganda cartoons. At the time, an exhibit of anti-semtic cartoons were on display at Cleveland’s Maltz Museum. The similarities between the two were striking and readily apparent.

Ridiculing Muhammad in cartoons for the actions of ISIS is like
ridiculing Jesus for the actions of the KKK or the Crusaders.

The return issue of Hedbo included a cartoon about famous deceased French Nun and oral sex. If such cartoons got as much media exposure in the U.S. as the anti-Muslim cartoons,public reaction to Hedbo would be much different in this country.

Hedbo had a small circulation before that attacks for a reason. And it wasn’t because they were publishing well drafted high-minded sophisticated cartoons.

Jeff Darcy
Editorial cartoonist
Northeast Ohio Media Group
representing The Plain Dealer,, Sun News

#2 Mike Gold
@ 11:57 am

True freedom of speech — freedom of expression — protects all expression and not just that which is polite. We have no right to remove Mein Kampf or Huckleberry Finn from libraries and bookstores, People are entitled to express their opinions, and if they can find publishers who are willing to provide the platform, that’s that.

Please don’t lecture me about how speech can cause harm. I’m well aware of this — my cable provider runs Fox News. Surprising thought and expression causes even more harm.

And don’t lecture me about shouting fire in a crowded theater. Schenck v. United States is usually misquoted, and besides, it was overturned in 1969’s Brandenburg v. Ohio.

Freedom of expression does not relieve the utterer from responsibility for his or her actions. If you FALSELY shout fire in a crowded theater and there are people who suffer injuries because of that, then the weight of liability is on you. But the First Amendment guarantee allowing you to say it remains in place.

In other words, allowing you to stop from saying something you don’t like suggests that others can stop you from saying something you like.

#3 Mike Peterson
@ 3:50 am

And what do you say to the people in Zinder burned out of their homes, and the families of the 10 killed there? Thanks for supporting free speech? By the way, the town’s only library was destroyed, so freedom of expression will have to be put on hold there for awhile.

The cartoons offended all Muslims in a nation where Muslims are disproportionately among the disadvantaged (“punching down”), but were specifically intended to offend the most extreme. They worked wonderfully. A triumph indeed.

And, yes, the same could be said of the cartoons in Der Sturmer — though they didn’t act as fast, they did a more dramatic job of creating response once it began. Another triumph for free speech, as long as you don’t impose your own arbitrary, subjective values on “response.”

And, yes, no different than the impact of Fox News if you consider it objectively.

(BTW, I didn’t feel like suppressing my free speech in order to confirm to your demand that I not lecture you.)

#4 Mike Lester
@ 12:00 pm

First, congratulations to Mr. Trudeau on his award and while I personally believe the minute you include the word “but” you don’t believe in free speech -I get it. What hasn’t been pointed out is a free society provides the freedom to be stupid, wrong and even mean. (example: turns out polar bears are not drowning. They’re multiplying) As Mr. Trudeau points out self-censorship and restraint kicks in for most of us but in the 21st century death shouldn’t be the result when it doesn’t. That was the 7th century.

One more elephant in the room: Charlie Hebdo’s #1 target was/is Jesus Christ and yet bands of head chopping, self detonating Christians continue NOT to cage burn, stone, dismember and honor kill non-believers. Today Muslims are killing Christians. Not the reverse. (btw: today is the one year anniversary of Boko Harum’s kidnapping of 250 Nigerian school girls to which the US responded #bringbackourgirls. facepalm.

Fact is as comic fodder goes Mohammed’s not on anybody’s drawing board anymore. And that’s a shame.

#5 Carl Moore
@ 8:14 pm

“Ridiculing Muhammad in cartoons for the actions of ISIS is like
ridiculing Jesus for the actions of the KKK or the Crusaders.”

The KKK “hijacked” Christianity – that is, it used Christianity to soften the KKK’s message of racial hate. They were doing the opposite of the New Testament’s call for a loving and open attitude to all human beings. The Crusaders, too, were not obeying anything called for in the New Testament. Nowhere did Jesus call for Christian armies to go forth and kill non-believers.

ISIS, on the other hand, is not “hijacking” Islam, it is practicing Islam. Everything they are doing – the beheadings, the executions of infidels, the establishment of a caliphate, the destruction of historic monuments and artifacts, etc. – is called for by Mohammed in the Koran. Ridiculing Muhammad for the actions of ISIS is dead on.

#6 Mark Juhl
@ 10:38 pm

So the take away I get from Trudeau and some postings here is if you are willing to resort to extreme violence then you get to dictate what people say, write or draw. On top of that you’re not responsible for your actions if something someone says, writes or draws offends you, the artist is.

#7 Mike Peterson
@ 3:18 am

So it’s okay to ridicule Islam because ISIS practices Islam as the Prophet intended and that the 90 percent of Muslims who do it differently are simply heretics.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t call out Christians for the actions of the violent predators among them, because that group doesn’t represent the whole.

So how do we define “all bigots”?

#8 Keith Brown
@ 4:43 am

Oh yeah? Well….MY Santa Claus is better than YOUR Santa Claus!

#9 Mark Juhl
@ 6:24 am

It’s okay to ridicule any religion for any reason, whether someone is offended or not is irrelevant. I’d apply that to any subject. Someone taking offense should not be a justification for censorship.

Along with that as long as the people who are offended have the right to protest, non-violently and express their view then there’s no problem.

#10 Darrin Bell
@ 7:19 am

“It?s okay to ridicule any religion for any reason, whether someone is offended or not is irrelevant. I?d apply that to any subject. ”

Really? ANY subject? Is it “okay” to ridicule someone for being mentally retarded? For being handicapped? For being poor?

It’s *legal* to ridicule anything. But that doesn’t mean it’s “okay.”

#11 Tom Richmond
@ 8:10 am

“ISIS, on the other hand, is not ?hijacking? Islam, it is practicing Islam. Everything they are doing ? the beheadings, the executions of infidels, the establishment of a caliphate, the destruction of historic monuments and artifacts, etc. ? is called for by Mohammed in the Koran. Ridiculing Muhammad for the actions of ISIS is dead on.”

Carl- Please list the passages of the Koran where this is said. If you are referring to the “sword verse”, most Koranic scholars interpret that as self defense. The Koran, in fact, forbids the killing of innocent parties, women and children, and the taking of one’s own life in pursuit of Jihad. It specifically says you cannot know the place and time of your own death.

Extremists twist religion to suit their own purposes. Cherry picking passages from whatever religious source they follow and ignoring others or minimizing their significance. If you don’t think Christians do it even today, you don’t watch the news much (re: Westboro Baptist Church and others waving a bible to justify hate speech about others, or who firebomb abortion clinics). religion has been used to manipulate the masses since there was religion. That does not make religion evil, just those who twist it for their own ends.

#12 Mark Juhl
@ 5:15 pm

Darrin, anything is fair game. No one and nothing is too good or too sacred. If you can find a reason to exempt one group or subject then you can find a reason to make anyone or thing a sacred cow.
The individual artist can set his or her own personal limits but those limits shouldn’t be dictated by anyone else.

#13 Mike Peterson
@ 3:41 am

Mark, who is suggesting legal limits on free expression? Anybody? I didn’t hear that in this thread. Darrin specifically differentiated between what is legal and what is morally justifiable.

Trudeau did point out that France has laws against inciting violence but not against hate-speech, but he didn’t advocate the latter, simply that the line be drawn in a fair manner.

The topic is common sense and taking responsibility. Yes, you have the right to be an ignorant, hostile Islamophobic bigot and to spread hatred.

And if the people in Zinder get burned out of their homes, well, you know what we say about people who can’t take a joke.

#14 Carl Moore
@ 3:29 pm

@Tom Richmond

Google “Koran verses of violence.” There are numerous websites that point out these calls to violence in the Koran. Here is one:

Whether Islam is a religion of peace or violence is certainly controversial. A good case can be made on either side of this question, but the peace case is unpersuasive. On top of that, it is clear that Islam spread, starting in the 7th century, not by persuasion but by military conquest. In addition, if you compare the life of Muhammad with that of Jesus, the contrast of Muhammad’s legacy of war and the killing of his enemies (non-believers) with the sacrificial taking on of the sins of all men by Jesus is stark. One is a warrior. The other is not.

It’s true that the vast majority of Muslims are not violent and they abhor ISIS and what it is doing. But they also know that what ISIS is doing has roots that go deep in the Koran, the example of Muhammad, and sharia. Sharia – Islam’s code of law and conduct – with its call for the death of apostates, the cutting off of the hands of thieves, the stoning of adulterers, the imposition of a special tax on non-Muslims, the second-class status of women, the death of homosexuals,etc. – is clearly incompatible with Western values. (Some 60% of all Muslims want sharia imposed around the world according to some polls). Islam is a backward, aggressive, intolerant, supremacist religion that flies in the face of the live-and-let-live values of the West. Cartoonists, being truth-tellers and BS detectives, are doing their job when they ridicule Islam and Muhammad.

#15 Mike Peterson
@ 3:32 am

“Cartoonists, being truth-tellers and BS detectives”

If the universe were just, that sentence alone would have caused an implosion.

#16 Mike Lester
@ 4:09 pm

?By what twisted logic is humour less compatible with Islam than with any other religion? ? If we let it be understood that we can laugh at everything except certain aspects of Islam because Muslims are much more susceptible than the rest of the population, isn?t that discrimination?

?It?s time to end this disgusting paternalism of the white, bourgeois, intellectual ?left? who seek to exist among the ?unfortunate, under-educated poor?,? -Stéphane Charbonnier

#17 Dave Stephens
@ 3:30 am

Cartoonists make images.

Images are considered FORBIDDEN or CONTROVERSIAL, especially by Sunni Muslims.

From Wikipedia: Aniconism in Islam is a proscription in Islam against the creation of images of sentient living beings.

The most absolute proscription is of images of God in Islam, followed by depictions of Muhammad, and then Islamic prophets and the relatives of Muhammad, but the depiction of all humans and animals is discouraged in the hadith and by the long tradition of Islamic authorities, especially Sunni ones.

The proliferation of photographic and filmed images today has led to controversy, with some religious authorities stating, for example, that all television is un-Islamic; but this is not a widely held position.

#18 Keith Brown
@ 5:08 am

Well….it’s official. We’re basically just animals. On second thought we’re worse because animals don’t kill over flawed ideologies.
It’s often very hard for me to fathom the depths in which we seem to be moving backwards as a species.
From the environment to religion, this willful suspension of logic and reason is literally killing us. It’s frightening and I feel helpless so I fight back the only way I know how and that is with satire. We might as well go out laughing.

#19 Karsten Schley
@ 11:11 am

@Mike Lester – I couldn’t agree more.

If I get Mr Trudeau right, we should ask some religious extremists or other fascists what they allow us to draw before we sit down in front of the drawing table.

Supporting terror attacks is at least an act of crime and has got nothing to do with freedom of speech. The French government did absolutely right to arrest those who supported the attacks.

Freedom of speech means the right to express an opinion even if it’s as stupid as Mr Trudeau’s.

#20 Tom Richmond
@ 11:28 am

@carl mooore

Google “Quran against terrorism” and you’ll find verses from the Quran that specifically forbids most of the actions terrorists take in the name of Islam, like this one:

But thanks for proving my original point which was that it is not the religion that is evil, it is those that twist it for their own purposes. Look hard enough and crazies will find ways to interpret any religion’s “laws” to their own ends. And Christians have done/do the same thing.

#21 Mike Lester
@ 9:07 am

“And Christians have done/do the same thing.” Ironic that today is the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. Tim McVeigh is dead but he’s still pretty much all you got.

But back to free speech, there exists a sympathy for, rationality of behavior along w/ a false equivalency that is frankly astounding. I don’t understand the rush to protect a religion that has members who clearly engage in barbaric acts and a refusal to criticize it.

Christians didn’t go room to room at a Kenyan Univ. last week and ask if the person was muslim or Christian before shooting 147 people. (African lives matter too) Christians didn’t throw muslims off a boat three days ago. Christians aren’t throwing gays off buildings. Christians aren’t lining up muslims on the beach demanding they convert to islam before slitting their throats. (this is the second mass beachside slaughter this year)

I don’t disagree there exist live and let live muslims but to ignore that on religion is held to a protected double standard isn’t an honest assessment. Two weeks ago America went batsh*t over a Christian pizzeria in some podunk midwest town. Try to get a gay wedding cake at a muslim bakery. Even better, try to get an editor of an American newspaper to run a cartoon that ISN’T sympathetic to muslims. You’re wasting your time.

#22 Dave Stephens
@ 2:57 am

If HALF of all Christians worldwide were WESTBORO BAPTISTS, that would be the equivalent of the problem Muslims have….

Muslims have a HUGE problem. It is not a teeny, tiny minority of Muslims who are killing non-stop. It is HUNDREDS of millions of Muslims who actively or passively support murder… Not all Muslims. Of course not. But that doesn’t matter – what matters is Imams preaching hate and murder and jihad to hundreds of millions…

#23 Mike Peterson
@ 3:25 am

“Actively or passively”

Nice weasel words. Implies that the majority of all other religions and groups in general have a history of standing up in times of crisis.

The way Americans rushed to defend the world against the Nazis when Hitler rose to power, for instance.

The way Christians in America rise up and support the position of Jesus on the death penalty.

The way Christians in the South rose up to oppose the Klan and dismantle Jim Crow the moment it was imposed.

I’d like your fantasy world more if it contained a six-foot talking rabbit rather than harboring a festering hatred of people you have never met and do not know.

#24 Terry LaBan
@ 8:11 am

I wonder how Carl Moore and Mike Lester got so familiar with the teachings of Islam. You guys been spending time studying with the local imam or just surfing
More to the point, do you really think that the teenage girls I see wearing hijab on the streets of Philadelphia, the dudes selling halal sandwiches out of lunch trucks, the cab drivers , the small shopkeepers–all those people are just waiting for the chance to blow up buildings and cut off heads? And that the right and moral response is to relentlessly ridicule them in the name of “truth-telling”? Because that’s sure what it sounds like.
Y’know, I personally am not a huge fan of Islam. Whatever most Muslims think of ISIS–and I’m pretty sure 99.9% find them as odious as Carl Moore does–I know the vast majority would be thrilled to see my people’s country, Israel, wiped off the face of the earth. But Muslims aren’t going anywhere. There’s a billion in this world, including millions quietly living productive lives in the USA. Common sense and experience indicates that, whatever verses you can selectively pull out of the Koran, almost none of them are rooting for Boku Haram. Insisting that they are, insulting and denigrating them, spouting off about their core beliefs as if you actually knew what you were talking about, isn’t telling “truth”. It’s inciting hatred. A mistake, by the way, not made by Charlie Hebdo.

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