In the City of Light Last Week

By Joel Hutton

Ten staffers were killed at the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, apparently by Islamic extremists as a response to cartoons it had run over the years depicting the prophet Muhammad. America’s mainstream media corporations largely chose not to display images of these cartoons in its coverage of the attack, while some smaller independent media resources did show them. European media offered these images in their reporting somewhat more frequently.

While the Quran does not forbid depictions of Muslim prophets, doctrine intended to discourage the idolatry that was rampant in pre-Islamic Arabia does. Some observances of Jewish and Christian faiths have also maintained similar doctrines at times. Observant Muslims of many a stripe would avoid these depictions, but it is only a small minority of fundamentalists that subscribe to the jihadi worldview expressed by such groups as ISIS and al-Qaida that encourage the killing of people they see as infidels. It is notable that some Muslim faiths include depictions of Muhammad’s grandson, which is not approved of by other sects. 

This newspaper has sympathetically profiled Corvallis religious groups ranging from pagan, secularist and Christian to Muslim over the years, so it seems anathema to run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons you will find in this week’s issue. In other words, you would not generally find cartoons of this sort in The Advocate, but it is concerning that without these images in the room to speak for themselves, our media has raced to create a narrative about these attacks arguably spurred more by needing to fill a 24-hour news cycle than to offer any actual perspective.

CNN did not even take a full day to start asking if the Charlie Hebdo staff had brought the attacks on themselves – even hitting French President Hollande with this question. Jarring as that was, Fox News and others tried to take 2012 comments from President Obama about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as some sort of weakness or even approval as concerns the attack on the magazine.

Print media offered a thrush of cartoons as commentary featuring pencils, blood and bullets in various poses – some have made good points, but on balance they are largely sentimental and not the sort of thing the staff at Charlie Hebdo died for.

But all this is an aside. In the City of Light last week, people were killed over cartoons. The staff at Charlie Hebdo had previously been threatened and had their office firebombed and knew they may be killed. Yesterday, only a week later, the magazine published yet another depiction on their cover of the prophet Muhammad.

Our American media is not offering this latest image either, but they are still filling time.