Diana Sheets: “Charlie Hebdo”, the Paris Tragedy, and the Long War on Global Terrorism
An Interview with Diana Sheets : “Charlie Hebdo”, the Paris Tragedy, and the Long War on Global Terrorism
Michael F. Shaughnessy –
1) Diana, I am sure that you are as saddened as I am about the recent events in Paris. Your initial thoughts?
My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the French citizenry in this terrible moment. I grieve for those families whose loved ones have been killed or injured in this and associated attacks. My conviction is that France is stronger than this. Justice will be done. The perpetrators will be found and punished. France’s democratic institutions will persevere. This tragedy will make France stronger, not weaker.
The murder of twelve people and the wounding of eleven more by Islamic terrorists at the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” on January 7, 2015 represents another tragic event in what I shall characterize as the long war on global terrorism. These actions are part of a systematic effort to bring Western democracy and its social, cultural, political, and economic institutions to its knees. What Islamic terrorists are engaged in is nothing less than World War III. The West must fight “the menace of tyranny”—to use Winston Churchill’s phrase—with every resource available.
Let us recall the words of Charles de Gaulle when France was momentarily conquered by Nazi Germany in World War II.
This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not over as a result of the Battle of France. This war is a worldwide war. All the mistakes, all the delays, all the suffering, do not alter the fact that there are, in the world, all the means necessary to crush our enemies one day. Vanquished today by mechanical force, in the future we will be able to overcome by a superior mechanical force. The fate of the world depends on it. (Translation found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_of_18_June)
This is the nervous trepidation in Western societies about human cost of continuing the war on global terrorism. Most want it to be over. They long for what Neville Chamberlain referred to as “peace in our time”. But what was the outcome of his policies? They brought Britain to the brink of collapse. Had it not been for Churchill’s perseverance, all would have been lost.
Therefore, let us take strength in the words of Winston Churchill on the means by which victory, once again, will be won.
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island [in today’s terms the imperiled territory we refer to as Western democracy], whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . . . (Quoted from http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/128-we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches)
This is the determination that the West must have in its war against terrorism.
2) This “Charlie Hebdo” magazine apparently engages in a lot of satire, mocking, ridiculing, and poking fun of various political, and religious and other figures. Do you think satire has a place in modern literature?
Today’s French satire traces its roots back to the years preceding the French Revolution. According to Siobhán O’Grady, writing for “Foreign Policy”, Marie Antoinette was wickedly lampooned by political cartoons as sexually licentious and engaging in incest. These cartoons were banned. Nevertheless, they circulated underground, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/07/french_satire_will_not_be_silence_charlie_hebdo/. In contemporary times the forerunner to “Charlie Hebdo” was “Hara-Kiri”, which also was banned after it mocked Charles de Gaulle’s death in 1970. Indeed, “Charlie Hebdo” was born symbolically from the ashes of “Hara-Kiri”. Not surprisingly, it holds no subject sacrosanct, from the Holocaust to Catholicism to Islamic extremism. Thankfully, it will continue to be published. The terrorists did not silence it.
Satire is, in fact, a long established genre in literature with roots extending as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. The concept that satire is a “young man’s comedy” dates back to the Roman satirist Juvenal, whose mockery of public figures and institutions was vicious. In British literature we think of Jonathan Swift’s political novel “Gulliver’s Travels” or Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” or Daniel Defoe’s “The True-Born Englishman”. Gore Vidal referred to Waugh as “our time’s first satirist”. We have only to read “Decline and Fall” or “A Handful of Dust” or “Vile Bodies” to agree with Edmund Wilson’s assessment that Waugh “is likely to figure as the only first-rate comic genius that has appeared in English since Bernard Shaw”, http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/05/04/reviews/waugh-obit.html.
The challenge of the contemporary novel or play is that reality consistently trumps the best efforts of creative fiction or theater. Think of Paddy Chayefsky and his satiric 1976 screenplay “Network” in which television news programs degrade into obscene variety shows—“Sybil the Soothsayer”, The Howard Beale Show”, and “The Mao Tse-Tung Hour”—as a consequence of the mad pursuit of profits. When the ratings for “The Howard Beale Show” plummet, members of the Ecumenical Liberation Army featured on “The Mao Tse-Tung Hour” agree to assonate the anchorman as he delivers his live broadcast. Is “Network” satire? Or is it a timely depiction of whom we were (and are) becoming? Paddy Chayefsky, shortly before his death, suggested the later, noting, “I still write realistic stuff. It’s the world that’s gone nuts, not me. It’s the world that’s turned into a satire” http://www.nytimes.com/1981/08/02/obituaries/paddy-chayefsky-dead-at-58-playwright-won-three-oscars.html.
3) Political cartoons literally appear in just about every tabloid, newspaper etc. Yet no religious group goes into the “New York Post” or “Daily News” to kill people. Is there a message to those who would use satire or fun, mirth, frivolity in their writings?
If these newspapers and magazines feature satiric images of Mohammad, they too are likely to be attacked.
4) Political cartoons often lampoon certain physical traits or characteristics—Bill Clinton’s nose, Barack Obama’s ears, etc. Do you see anything wrong with this?
Modern Western societies are used to political satire. It’s permitted because of our principle of free speech.
5) Some of our greatest pieces of literature, were in fact, satire. I am thinking of Dante’s “Inferno”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and the writings of Evelyn Waugh. Did these writers simply avoid religion and deities?
What we have is a culture war. Islamic beliefs are in conflict with the foundational principles of Western democracies. The question is which belief system will win? Will the West succumb to the tenets of sharia law or will we insist that the principles of Western democratic institutions prevail? Many in the Islamic community are prepared to fight for their beliefs. The population of Europe, and to a lesser degree America, is aging. As Islamic immigrants in Europe became demographically more and more significant, how will Western values persevere unless the values of Western democracy are transmitted to these Euro-Islamic communities? Are we prepared to fight politically, cultural, and militarily to sustain our beliefs? Will we insist that immigrants to the West who migrate from Muslim societies adapt to Western values, in essence agree to a reformation of Islamic beliefs that are in keeping with Western democracy?
Today, this instance on Western values is scorned by progressives. To their mind it is tainted with derogatory notions of ethnocentrism, racism, and hegemonic notions of empire. But make no mistake, as Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington have noted, this is a “clash of civilizations”. Ultimately, one side must win, the other must lose. The question is, are we a decadent society that refuses to fight for our beliefs? Certainly, the Islamic extremists think so.
6) Some of the covers of this “Charlie Hebdo” magazine have appeared online, and it seems that even the Pope is satirized and somewhat mocked and ridiculed. Yet, I have not heard of any Catholics with machine guns attacking the publication offices. Is it that Catholics can take a joke or perhaps are simply intelligent enough to realize that this is part of being a public figure?
Our Judeo-Christian heritage has evolved. Jewish beliefs had to respond to Christianity, hence Rabbinic Judaism. Catholicism had to respond to the Protestant Reformation. All Western religions had to deal with the increasing secularization of society after World War II. The Islamic religion has not gone through a reformation. It has not had a fundamental change since the 12th century. Therein lies the problem.
7) Is this event going to make everyone think twice about ANY kind of public commentary about any deity, or Buddha or religious figure?
I fear it will make every Western society reluctant to challenge Islamic fundamentalism. Are we prepared to impose our values to preserve our democratic principles? The track record of late is not encouraging.
8) A few years back some Danish publisher also got in trouble due to a cartoon. I guess the folks at “Mad Magazine” and “National Lampoon” need to be careful—no?
The fate of “Mad Magazine” and “National Lampoon” rest on how we respond to these threats.
Permit me to present the recent historical timeline. Salman Rushdie, one of the greatest writers living today, has written a novel Midnight’s Children about the independence of India that has not only won the most prestigious literary prize in Britain, the Booker Award (now the Man Booker Award) and twice been honored, first in 1993 and subsequently in 2008, with the “Booker of Bookers” Prize (the best Booker winner of all time). In 1988 Rushdie wrote “The Satanic Verses”. Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwā in 1989 calling for his execution because of what was perceived as the book’s blasphemous portrayal of Muhammad. For years Rushdie was in hiding. That fatwā remains in place, although the order for Rushdie’s execution was rescinded in 1998 by the new Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Through it all the West remained silent.
In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, while working with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a documentary film “Submission” about the brutal treatment of Islamic women, was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim. Ali has been under a continuous death threat since. She spoke with Megyn Kelly on the Fox Network about the causes perpetuating Muslim extremism on January 8, 2015. Her argument was (and is) simple. Fundamentalist Islam is embedded into the very fabric of Muslim religious beliefs. The only way to stem terrorism is for the West to assert Western Democratic values and force Islamic religious and cultural reform. Ali suggests the West no longer upholds its culture and its values. Into this void rushes evil, which manifests itself as extreme fundamentalism. The only way to prevent this, she suggests, is to insist that Islamic peoples acculturate to Western values. This must be relentlessly pursued in the schools, the media, the mosques, in every aspect of society throughout the world, http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/01/08/ayaan-hirsi-ali-we-are-fighting-asymmetric-war-radical-islam.
As you may recall Michael, last June you and I discussed how Ayaan Hirsi Ali was “disinvited” as a commencement speaker to Brandeis University (a Jewish university no less!) as a result of pressure by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, http://www.educationviews.org/diana-sheets-invited-disinvited-disingenuous/. This must be acknowledged as directly associated with the ongoing acts of terrorism since the outcome was the curtailment of free speech.
In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons that mocked the prophet Muhammad. Some 200 death threats were reported. In 2010 Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonist whose cartoon was arguably the most satiric since it illustrated Muhammad having a bomb embedded in his turban, was nearly murdered by an man armed with an axe. To this day Westergaard, who is 79, is unable to appear in public without fear for his life. Indeed, the Danish Prime Minister characterized the publication of the cartoons and its aftermath as the worst international incident for Denmark since World War II, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/20/us-protests-cartoonist-idUSBRE88J0BY20120920. Nevertheless, no one in Europe is seriously talking about the concrete actions needed to acculturate resident Muslims to Western culture values. Without systematic efforts to address this, including systematic religious and social reform in the mosques, schools, homes, and cultural entities, Europe risks being Islamified and much sooner than we imagine.
Which brings us to the recent demonstration occurring in Dresden, Germany sponsored by Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West), which on Monday, January 5th had some 18,000 participants, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/opinion/the-marches-in-dresden.html. These weekly demonstrations have been drawing large crowds of supporters. Yes, the movement is nationalistic. It has neo-Nazi elements. In many respects East Germany in which Dresden is located has never had to account for its participation in Nazi Germany. But these demonstrations, which to a greater or lesser degree are occurring all over Europe, are more than just expressions of ultra-nationalism. Europeans are genuinely concerned by the Islamification of Europe. Simply put, many Muslims are not assimilating. They travel back to Muslim societies and countries to select whom they will marry. Their families are generally isolated from the rest of European culture. If this trend is not checked soon, Europe could in just one generation fundamentally reject Western democratic values. Something must be done NOW! Similar demonstrations have been happening in Scandinavian countries, even Denmark, which heroically rescued Jews and helped them escape the invading German troops in World War II. This is a culture war. Are Europeans prepared to fight? For most of them, the lessons of World War I and World War II were catastrophic. “Never again” became their mantra. So they’ve been reluctant to act. That explains their reluctance to respond to the fatwā against Rushdie, the murder of Van Gogh, and the threats against the Danish cartoonists. Let’s hope Europeans respond differently in the aftermath of the tragedy of “Charlie Hebdo”. Our future depends on it.
These stories are not abstract to me. My mother, no longer alive, was of Danish decent and proud of her nation’s efforts to help the Jews. My father’s parents, although assimilated and prominent cultural figures in Dresden, died as a direct consequence of Nazi policies. In recent years I have visited Dresden twice. I watch its recent cultural transformation with pride and anxiety, hoping that the city that both my father and grandparents cherished will flourish in the very grandest tradition of Western democracy.
9)We have heard the term “politically correct”. Do we now have to be religiously correct? Or now educationally correct?
We’re already there. Multiculturalism and social justice have eviscerated our educational system. What we need is considerably more Western Civilization and considerably less cultural relativism. Our ability to defeat Islamic extremism depends on it.
10) Hopefully, no one will come to your office or mine based on this interview—but how careful do you and I have to be? And how careful do publishers have to be in the future?
It would have been courageous if all the publishers from around the globe had united to publish the most controversial cartoons featured by “Charlie Hebdo”. Featuring satirical images of the prophet Mohammad certainly places publications at risk. The question is, will the West accept these ever-encroaching limitations of freedom, reassert our liberties, and punish our perpetrators?
11) What contemporary French writer fascinates you most?
Michel Houellebecq, a French literary writer labeled conservative or reactionary by progressives. The BBC News characterizes him, correctly, as having “by far the widest international following of any modern French author”, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-11728044. Houellebecq’s novel “The Map and the Territory” won the highly prestigious French literary award, the Prix Goncourt, in 2010. In the review of his novel “The Possibility of an Island”, John Updike, writing for “The New Yorker”, characterized this novel as follows: “The usual Houellebecq hero, whose monopoly on self-expression sucks up most of the narrator’s oxygen, presents himself in one of two guises: a desolate loner consumed by boredom and apathy, or a galvanized male porn star. In neither role does he ask for, nor does he receive, much sympathy”, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/05/22/90-hateful. Not surprisingly, Updike’s article is captioned “90% Hateful”. Perhaps the novel to begin with is “The Elementary Particles”, about post-1960s Americanized France and its culture of decadence. Then, keep your eyes peeled for Houellebecq’s newest book, “Soumission”, which was released in France the very day of the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre. The English translation—at least the British version—will be forthcoming in September. The novel’s premise: France elects a Muslim Party to power in 2020 and all that ensues. Houellebecq, I might add, is caricatured on the cover of “Charlie Hebdo”.
12) Where can our readers find your work.
My essay “The Humanities in Crisis: What Went Wrong and How to Restore Their Centrality to our Daily Lives” is in the edited collection “The Humanities in 2015” published by Nova Publishers. My novels “The Cusp of Dreams” and “American Suite” can be found at Amazon. My essays and links to my fiction can be found on my website, www.literarygulag.com. Some are also on the University of Illinois IDEALS website, https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/3459. My opinion essays can be found at Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-diana-e-sheets/.