Zeytinoglu: Satire is different from hate speech


Ekin Zeytinoglu, Columnist

When I, and probably many other teenagers, started establishing my political and social values, the work of authors, journalists, poets and cartoonists raised in the 60s — a time of protest — played a great role in my life. We embraced some of their values, denied others and tried to adapt to the understandings of the 21st century. Nevertheless, these public figures stood as influential milestones in our journey of self-development. In my case, Georges Wolinski and Jean Cabut introduced me to the world of satire.

Wolinski and Cabu — Cabut’s cartoonist name — were among the 12 victims of last week’s heinous attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, an attack I believe to be a fundamentalist onslaught against freedom of speech. Although leaders and citizens around the world condemned the act of brutality and marched on the streets of various cities chanting “Je suis Charlie” in camaraderie, satire like Charlie Hebdo is still often misinterpreted as hate speech.

Many articles and ideas circulating last week suggest that although the terrorist attacks should be denounced without hesitation, the attack does not change the fact that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons engaged in an unacceptably vulgar humor. Many arguments continued that Charlie Hebdo’s satire mocks certain sacred values — particularly its depictions of various religious figures — and is thus immoral. I feel these people misunderstand what satire stands for.

As I followed Charlie Hebdo’s work over the years, I, too, sometimes found their cartoons simply not up to their usual quality — whether because they were not humorous, or did not contribute to the newspaper’s purpose of pointing out societal flaws — but never considered the cartoons to be immoral, as others have argued. I always felt that the cartoonists believed respecting the existence of social taboos is a form of censorship. After all, if we censor everything we say because of a constant worry that others will be offended, there are few things we actually can say.

Wolinski and Cabu and other cartoonists were mainly leftists and atheists. They ridiculed the pope, Mohammed, the police and many others. However, the cartoonists were not Islamophobic or xenophobic because those views require a dislike of people because of their beliefs or ideologies. Instead, the satirists merely exposed what they considered ideological problems they found in those beliefs, but not the people.

A more accurate representation of the cartoonists’ true beliefs appeared when Charlie Hebdo’s front page depicted a character kissing a Muslim man, with the caption translating to “love is stronger than hate.” Wolinski’s friend said this week that Wolinski and Cabu were “champions of immigrants in France,” citing Wolinski’s declaration that he voted for Turkey, a majority Muslim country, to join the European Union in a referendum.

After following Charlie Hebdo for many years, I believe the satirists knew a fully functional society consists of a myriad of different perspectives, and only through satire and humor can a society embrace its differences and learn to succeed with them — a Western value we often talk about but rarely manage to describe.

There is often a subtle distinction between satire and hate. Hate consists of an offensive attitude toward a certain group simply because of its identity, whereas satire offers a humorous look at a certain identity or ideology.

Even Charlie Hebdo’s readers may not have published some of the cartoons it did because many were not as humorous as they were intended to be. However, we should understand that none of those cartoons extended towards the line of hatred, as the satire poked fun at ideas rather than people themselves.

Charlie Hebdo cartoonists tried to abolish extremism by breaking the longstanding taboos of our society. We must understand the distinction between humorous mockery and hateful persecution.

Ekin Zeytinoglu is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].