Charlie Hebdo highlights US ‘moral fundamentalism’

the flag flown on US warships for the duration of the US 'war on terror'

This is no cartoon – it’s the flag flown on US warships for the duration of the US ‘war on terror’. Shame about the missing apostrophe

This image may look like a cartoon, but it is in fact the flag currently being flown on US warships. As Graham Bartram at Flags.net explains:

This historical naval jack has been re-introduced for the duration of the war against terrorism. It replaces the traditional US naval jack which is dark blue with 50 white stars, arranged as in the national flag.

The flag was adopted in 2002 on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York. The secretary of the US navy ordered all warships to raise the Revolutionary War jack with its rattlesnake – a symbol of resistance to the British dating back to the late 1700s – and the motto ‘Don’t tread on me’ to mark the ‘war on terror’. September 2014 marked the 12th year the historic jack has been flown.

I was reminded of the image with all the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, many showing illustrations of ‘weaponised’ pens and pencils. And much of the commentary has been about war – or avoiding one – as so many people take sides after last week’s brutal killings. In all, 17 people lost their lives. Today, France has put 10,000 troops on to the streets to guard potential targets as well as an extra 5,000 police. Yesterday, 3.7m people across France took to the streets to show solidarity with the victims.

This week’s print run of Charlie Hebdo has been raised from its usual 50,000 or less by a factor of 20 – to a million. Truly an example of war-like mobilisation. French newspapers have chipped in with office space and computers and the cash comes from a €60m fund for digital publishing innovation set up by Google at the behest of the French government after demands from publishers that the US search engine company pay for displaying their news in its results.

There’s a certain irony here in a US company being dragged in to fund a French satirical graphic magazine because one of the biggest US companies has spent years censoring such titles to such an extent that the director of the Comics Art Museum in Brussels dubbed Apple ‘fundamentalists of globalised morality’. A blog at the gallery explains:

In the summer of 2013, Apple, one of the most modern companies in the western world, imposed a ban on the online sale of some 1,500 Franco-Belgian comic strip albums for reasons of ‘pornography’. Needless to say, the pornographic nature of these albums is entirely questionable and exists mainly in the eyes of the fundamentalists of globalised morality.

Roman graphic novel Murena by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby

Roman graphic novel Murena by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby

The publisher, Dargaud, was forced to censor its own artwork and produce an edition of Les épines by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby for sale on Apple’s iTunes, alongside the usual edition for sale in Franco-Belgian bookshops.

J.C. de la Royère, the museum’s curator, said that as ‘a great defender of freedom of expression’, he was ‘more than happy to join the fray by exhibiting the complete version of Les épines by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby’.

Such ‘bandes dessinées’ (drawn strips) have been popular since the 1960s in France and Belgium. I first came across them when I dodged into a bookshop on the Left Bank in Paris to avoid a riot in the street! My eyes were popping as I rifled through titles such as Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal, editions of which have been published in English in the US for many years now). The strips portrayed sex and violence – beyond anything in underground magazines in Britain that I had seen – and it was in one of these that I first saw the work of Swiss illustrator HR Giger, who a few years later would burst on to the world stage with his designs for the creatures and spaceships in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

The irony has also not been lost on the web newspaper  The Daily Dot, which has commented on ‘The hypocrisy of Facebook and Apple supporting Charlie Hebdo.‘It points out:

Apple — the king of US technology giants — has a #JeSuisCharlie banner on its iTunes store. Not only does Apple regularly engage in censorship on its various platforms and stores — it used to be against the rules to even ridicule public figures on the iTunes store — it has actually specifically censored Charlie Hebdo in the past.

It seems that, although the US tech giants are flying the flag for Charlie Hebdo, in reality their attitude to censorship means: ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’.

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