PARIS — The late former editor of French weekly Charlie Hebdo condemns “Islamophobia” as thinly disguised racism in a posthumously published book that was completed two days before he was killed in France’s worst terror attack in years.
Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, was one of 12 people killed by gunmen in the Jan. 7 attack against the Paris office of the satirical newspaper. The two attackers, who were apparently motivated by anger over the paper’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, died in a gunfight with police two days later.
Charb’s 88-page book, whose title translates as “Letter to tricksters of Islamophobia who are playing the game of racists,” was released in France on Thursday. It criticizes those who exploit anti-Islam sentiment for their own ends.
Unlike the newspaper, the book contains only words, not caricatures — Charlie Hebdo’s signature offering.
Like the newspaper, known for lewd and often insensitive humour, the book takes on many sacred cows. He pillories the unquestioning use of the term “Islamophobia” by some journalists either out of laziness or commercial interest, and decries politicians who fan what he considers an unfair debate on national identity.
In an opening poem that targets preconceived notions, Charb writes that his intended audience includes those who “think it’s written in the Qur’an that drawing the Prophet Muhammad is forbidden … think caricaturing a jihadist in a ridiculous position insults Islam … think a drawing is more dangerous than an American drone.”
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But Charb also condemns people who demonize Muslims: “If one day all Muslims in France converted to Catholicism … these foreigners or French of foreign origin would still be seen as responsible for all ills,” he wrote.
He suggests that such attitudes should be characterized as “Muslim-o-phobia” — since it amounts to an irrational fear of people — instead of “Islamophobia,” which would be an attitude against a religion.
In what some might consider poignant prescience, Charb muses at one point about how “one day, just for laughs, I should publish all the threat letters that I received at Charlie Hebdo from Catholic fascists and Muslim fascists” alike.