In his acceptance speech for a recent award, one of many awards he’s received in his long career, Doonesbury creator, Garry Trudeau, made these comments about the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists:
“Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.”
“Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.”
“By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.”
Trudeau is all wrong. Satire, and great editorial cartoons, are about speaking truth to power – and the most powerful people are those with guns, enforcing their will through violence. Trudeau seems blind to the threats that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists saw all around them as Islamic extremists continue raping, enslaving and killing thousands of innocents while threatening to murder even more cartoonists.
Editorial cartoonists work in comfortable safety in America, but around the world our profession has always been dangerous. Cartoonists are murdered, beaten and jailed by the powerful people with guns, who the cartoonists criticize. Editorial cartoonists outside of the USA are the bravest heroes of journalism.No personal bravery is required of editorial cartoonists in the USA, where the government we lampoon defends us against the dangers faced by our cartoonist colleagues overseas. It takes no bravery to blame a rape victim for her own rape, as it takes no bravery to blame a cartoonist for his own murder. Perhaps the rape victim wore a provocative dress, or the cartoonist drew a provocative cartoon, it shouldn’t matter. It is the violence that should be condemned, not the victim of the violence.
Trudeau’s cartoons don’t “comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable;” Trudeau simply chooses targets that he feels comfortable afflicting – targets that don’t shoot back.
Editor’s Note: After I wrote this column, Trudeau appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to answer widespread (mostly conservative) condemnation of his comments about the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. In the interview Trudeau argued that he didn’t mean to blame the cartoonists, then went on to defend his comments and blamed the cartoonists again. Trudeau’s Meet the Press interview can be viewed here.