Stéphane Charbonnier, the editorial director of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo who was assassinated by Islamist gunmen in Paris in January, is proving as defiant in death as he was in life.
In a book finished just two days before his death and published Thursday, Mr. Charbonnier defends his newspaper, which had been criticized for publishing provocative caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the years before the attack.
The book, “Open Letter to the Fraudsters of Islamophobia Who Play Into Racists’ Hands,” argues that all religions, including Islam, are fair game for ridicule in secular Republican France. The weekly newsmagazine L’Obs published excerpts from the book this week.
In the excerpt, Mr. Charbonnier said the Charlie Hebdo caricatures previously published by the newspaper “do not target all Muslims.” In 2012, Mr. Charbonnier aroused anger and criticism when he published caricatures showing Muhammad naked and in sexual poses. The newspaper’s offices were firebombed after it published a spoof issue in 2011 that it said had been guest-edited by Muhammad.
Warming to his theme that the fight against Islamophobia had backfired, he argued that a misplaced fight against Islamophobia led by white elites had stifled free speech and paradoxically encouraged the mistreatment of Muslims by singling out their religious identity.
“If tomorrow all the Muslims of France convert to Catholicism or abandon all religion, that would change nothing to racist discourse: These foreigners or French citizens of foreign descent will still be singled out as responsible for all problems,” Mr. Charbonnier wrote. He added that “being afraid of Islam is most likely stupid, absurd and many other things, but it isn’t a crime.”
In the 120-page book, which does not contain any new caricatures, Mr. Charbonnier criticized the media, politicians and some civil society groups for what he called “disgusting white, left-wing bourgeois paternalism.”
“By virtue of what twisted theory is humor less compatible with Islam than it is with any other religion?” he wrote. “Saying Islam is not compatible with humor is as absurd as claiming Islam is not compatible with democracy or secularism.”
He placed special blame on the media for creating a climate that allowed Charlie Hebdo to be targeted.
“It is because the media decided that republishing the Muhammad caricatures could only trigger the fury of Muslims that it triggered the anger of a few Muslim associations,” he wrote in reference to 2006, when the newspaper reprinted cartoons of Muhammad that had first been published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
In keeping with the spirit of Charlie Hebdo, the book does not shy away from harsh jabs at religion. “The problem is neither the Quran nor the Bible, sleep-inducing, incoherent and badly written novels,” Mr. Charbonnier wrote. The problem, he said, is the faithful who read the holy books “like instructions for assembling Ikea shelves.”
Overall, it seems a social and political sound reading, although there are some remarks with which I do not agree. For example, being afraid of Islam is not stupid at all because, of all irrational beliefs, religions are number one when it comes to being harmful and dangerous. Nor do I believe that Islam is compatible with democracy — no religion is.