Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine, is back in the news again. The terrorist attack in January of this year that killed 12 people, including the magazine’s editor in chief Stéphane Charbonnier, garnered Hebdo some sympathy. But the magazine isn’t doing its job unless it’s offending someone, somewhere, sometime.
Such is the case with the Russian airplane crash that killed 224.
A couple of over-the-top cartoons about the crash have the Russians up in arms and everyone else asking, did they go too far?
Charlie Hebdo’s drawings of a Russian plane crash that killed 224 on Oct. 31 – an apparent act of terrorism – have been called “pure blasphemy” by Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin.
“This has nothing to do with democracy, self-expression or whatever,” Peskov said, according to the New York Post. Several other Russian officials echoed the tenor of the comments.
Charlie Hebdo has generally been open to mocking all political, cultural and religious figures. Its practice of pressing the boundaries of socially-acceptable parody and taste, however, has led to tragedy. Illustrations of one of Charlie Hebdo’s most visible past targets, the Islamic prophet Muhammad, inspired terrorists to stage a deadly terrorist attack on the magazine’s headquarters in January.
In one of the most recent cartoons to generate outrage, a black-and-white illustration shows an ISIS fighter covering his head as plane and body parts fall from the sky. A caption above the image reads: “The Islamic State: Russian aviation intensifies its bombardments.”
Another cartoon is a full color drawing of a skull lying on the ground, with a dislocated eye fallen to one side and the burning fuselage of a plane in the background. The caption reads: “The dangers of Russian low-cost airlines.” A word bubble emanating from the skull declares, “I should’ve flown Air Cocaine.”
Charlie Hebdo editor Gerard Briard didn’t seem to be affected by the Russian condemnation.
“We are a secular, democratic and atheist newspaper,” he told a French radio station, according to The Moscow Times. “The term blasphemy has no meaning for us.”
The Russians continuously demonstrate they have no clue what free speech is all about, so their criticism can be dismissed out of hand.
As for the rest of us, many would agree that the cartoons are in poor taste, insensitive, and — maybe they lose something in the translation — not very funny.
But “going too far” is Charlie Hebdo‘s job. It’s hard to criticize the magazine for following its mission statement. Besides, as with all good satire, there’s a germ of truth in both cartoons. Russian airlines are notorious for flying planes that are poorly maintained. And giving the Russian government a poke for its bombing campaign is called for, if not in this specific way.
We await the magazine’s next opportunity to garner headlines for offending someone else.