It is mocking us for what we miss every single day

Maajid Nawaz defends Charlie Hebdo at the Daily Beast.

The outrage began when Arab and Turkish newspapers decided that Hebdomust be mocking little Aylan.

But soon, non-Arab media also joined the fray and eventually certain race-equality activists, such as barrister Peter Herbert—chair of the U.K.’s Society of Black Lawyers and former vice chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority—were threatening legal action, stating that ‘Charlie Hebdo is a purely racist, xenophobic and ideologically bankrupt publication that represents the moral decay of France. The Society of Black Lawyers will consider reporting this as incitement to hate crime and persecution before the International Criminal Court.’

Wow. I did not know that. That’s disgusting.

But never in living memory has a magazine been as misunderstood as Charlie Hebdo. For the truth is, Charlie Hebdo is not a racist magazine. Rather, it is a campaigning anti-racist left-wing magazine. And its cartoons, which are so often misunderstood to be promoting racism, are in fact lampooning racism.

That isn’t always obvious just by looking, in fact it often isn’t. But given all the circumstances – including the murders – people really ought to make the effort to do more than just look.

And this brings us to satire. Satire is, by definition, offensive. It is meant to make us feel uncomfortable. It is meant to make us scratch or heads, think, do a double-take and then think again. It is supposed to take our prejudices, turn them upside down, reapply them, and make us think we’re seeing something we’re not, until we stop to question ourselves.

Yes taste is always in the eye of the beholder. But that’s the whole point of goodsatire. It is not meant to be to our tastes. It is meant to challenge our tastes. Having our fundamental assumptions about life challenged is never a comfortable thing.

That reminds me of something Tony Pinn said during that panel we were both on at CFI in June – “if social justice doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.”

Not to our taste? OK. Make us cringe? Fair enough. Don’t like them? Fine. But whatever we do, let us not misrepresent these images. Juxtaposing images of a dead child next to offers of cheap food “meal deals” is not mocking little Aylan, it is mocking us. It is mocking us for what we miss every single day, hidden in plain sight, and we do not see it because this is how desensitized we have become to human suffering. No, those besieged, brave satirists at Hebdo are not mocking Aylan. They are mocking newspaper covers like this from the UK right-wing tabloid The Daily Mail in which an image of Aylan was—in a national newspaper— placed below an actual food deal. And how many of us noticed that on the day this Daily Mail cover went to print?

We have met the callous bystanders, and they are us.

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