dinsdag 27 januari 2015


“British integration means tolerance for each other’s idiosyncrasies”, says correspondent Titia Ketelaar. By that she refers to publicly exhibited peculiarities like the refusal to give a hand, or wearing a kipah or a headscarf.

Conversely, you could say: French integration means absolute equality before the law and limited tolerance for each other's peculiarities in the public space. Because French integration consists largely of agreement with the ideology of laïcité, that is, the idea that the state and the public space keep away from religion, precisely to ensure neutrality and equality. Therefore, unlike in Brittain, acceptance of public religious expressions in France is surrounded with more conditions. You keep your peculiarities indoors.

This difference between the two countries is explained by history. The French have long suffered from a sovereign regime of the Church, strengthened by the alliance of the church with the absolute monarchy of the 17th and 18th centuries. England, on the contrary, started already at the end of the 17th century its experiments with serious parliamentary and democratic institutions. Large class differences there - until today - remained, but the English have not known already for a long time the almost totalitarian repression and censorship such as existed in France.

Which difference makes it clear why dealing with satire is so different. In France there was more at stake. The regime was harsh and repressive, satirists were constantly on the run from police and censorship, and that naturally provoked the most caustic prints and texts. The liberating laughter was partly excited because it was hard against hard.

In England, says Simon Schama, satire was rather part of the political game. There was as much laughter as in France, but bare existence was not at stake. English satirists did not have to go underground - the most famous of them, James Gillray, was arrested only once.

This difference may also explain why the English, with all their satire, gave more attention to the injuries that can be caused by cartoons, such as insult and humiliation. The French waged a struggle of life and death, which not for nothing led to the French Revolution; they did not feel space to worry about manners. The British did.

On a deeper level, I believe, something else plays a role here as well. The French way of thinking, more generally taken, focuses heavily on clair et distinct, is rational, seeks the bright sunlight of reason. English thinkers – as well as tragedy writers like Shakespeare –  always gave also basic human feelings and emotions a place in their writings. These included anger and indignation - the fuel for their satires - but equally feelings of insult and humiliation.

Unmistakably Charlie Hebdo is in the French tradition.

Also see Je suis (pas) Charlie