“BOKO HARAM’S SEX SLAVES ARE ANGRY
DON’T TOUCH OUR BENEFITS!”
- Boko Haram is a militant and self-professed Islamist movement based in northeast Nigeria with additional activities in Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
- Pregnant and veiled women, sex slaves of Boko Haram, complaining that their benefits are being removed.
The cover of this issue of Charlie Hebdo features “news mixing” of two events in France and a swift play on the infamous stereotype about welfare queens in the United States:
- Following the kidnapping of school-girls by Boko Haram, it was reported that many of the victims were likely to end up as sex slaves in Nigeria.
- The French government proposed a change in the way “allocations familiales” [child benefits] were distributed. The proposed change would substantially decrease the child benefits allocated to families. Traditionalist families [including Catholic women] often have a greater number of children than non-traditionalist families. The stereotype in France however is that North African and Middle East immigrants have more children and often benefit from child benefits.
- In addition, since Charlie Hebdo has a wide American appeal, these cartoons also poke at the longstanding Republican[or conservative, Tea Party] stereotype of African American mothers as Welfare Queens.
Yes, this cartoon shows Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram depicted as sex slaves. Further, as if that wasn’t enough for Charlie Hebdo, they equally and formally situated the unfortunate circumstances under which these girls are now living, carefully within the context of America’s racialized politics, which is staged dramatically against poor African American mothers.
What you see in this Charlie Hebdo cartoon is a conscious attempt at mocking the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram as welfare queens!
Most sociologists and political scientists have explained the intent behind these images and the welfare queen stereotype is not new. It is entrenched in the American psyche after decades of painting African Americans as lazy and sitting on welfare.
These attitudes about Black people, especially in America, have their roots in classism, racism and sexism, all bigotry – an intersection where poor African American mothers find themselves terribly placed through no fault of the own on the rich American landscape of extreme wealth in the hands of a few whites.
Much like the Nigerian Muslim women who were abducted by Boko Haram – a force that continues to grow in size and violence as Nigeria continues to step into her new role as the largest economy in Africa – these women too were taken hostage through no fault of their own.
The confluence of those two events in Nigeria – her newfound economic success and the surprise emergence of a violent Boko Haram – are not new, sociologically and politically speaking. They have much in common with African American communities during a short-lived but sustained period of economic advancement.
That did not last long!
Much of the African American plight in recent memory, especially after slavery – mass incarceration of Black men for absolutely no law enforcement reason, disruption of the African American family through widespread Rockefeller-like laws and poverty, Jim Crow, and disenfranchisement – have also quite curiously coincided with moments where we have shown a verve for prosperity.
So why would Charlie Hebdo and his ilk mock both brutal experiences by Black women by juxtaposing Muslim women experiences in North Eastern Nigeria and the racially-stereotyped welfare queen in the United States?
There is but only one conclusion. Charlie Hebdo is a racist organization. It is a racist newspaper cartoon publication. It is that simple.
It is for this reason that the argument about Free Speech and Charlie Hebdo has been thoroughly rigged to the extent that we are no longer discussing Western Values or Democracy or Free Speech. What we are caught defending in the process for Charlie Hebdo and its entourage is the chance to mock, stereotype and impugn the integrity of whole races of people, whole religious groups and whole continents.
Defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.
The defenders of Charlie Hebdo need to take a painful look in the mirror. Such heinous stereotyping of people who do not in any way pose a threat, or an existential threat, either in Nigeria, France or America is plain wrong.
It smacks of the very dogmatic vituperation that Charlie Hebdo purports to eradicate from French society.
Hence, it is in this backdrop of political history that Charlie Hebdo and his insensitive cartoons must be examined.
While poor women of all races get blamed for their impoverished condition, African-American women are blamed for the most egregious violations of American values according to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. That line of storytelling taps into stereotypes about both women (uncontrolled sexuality) and African-Americans (uncontrolled sexuality and laziness).
All of this uninformed laughter perhaps, according to political scientist Martin Gilens, has led to the American public dramatically overestimating the percentage of African-Americans in poverty for example. By 1973, in magazine pictures depicting welfare recipients, 75% featured African Americans even though African Americans made up only 35% of welfare recipients.
So, what’s in it for Charlie Hebdo? To continue in this diatribe against Africa? Against African Americans? Against who and for who are these cartoons directed? What really is the point here?
It is in this light that these cartoons, by even the most generous assessment, are incredibly racist. Hebdo’s goal is to provoke, and these cartoons make it very clear who the white editorial staff is interested in provoking: France’s incredibly marginalized, often attacked, Muslim immigrant community, Nigeria’s abducted girls and African American women!
Even in a fresh-off-the-press, glowing BBC profile of Charb, Hebdo’s murdered editor, he comes across as a racist asshole.
“Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,” he told the Associated Press in 2012, after the magazine’s offices had been fire-bombed. I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.”
Yes, I would call Charlie Hebdo himself and his friends ‘racist assholes’ even after their murder, and I don’t do it lightly. This isn’t ambiguous, though: the editorial staff of Hebdo consistently aimed to provoke Muslims. And in this cartoon the aim is to racially abuse Blacks and African American women once more in the media.
[quote_box_center]With all due respect to the great cartoonist Ann Telnaes, it is simply not the case that Charlie Hebdo “were equal opportunity offenders.” Like Bill Maher, Sam Harris and other anti-Islam obsessives, mocking Judaism, Jews and/or Israel is something they will rarely (if ever) do. If forced, they can point to rare and isolated cases where they uttered some criticism of Judaism or Jews, but the vast bulk of their attacks are reserved for Islam and Muslims, not Judaism and Jews. Parody, free speech and secular atheism are the pretexts; anti-Muslim messaging is the primary goal and the outcome. And this messaging – this special affection for offensive anti-Islam speech – just so happens to coincide with, to feed, the militaristic foreign policy agenda of their governments and culture. ~Glenn Greenwald.[/quote_box_center]
Charlie Hebdo want to take the stereotype of the welfare queen global.
They ascribe to the same edgy-white-guy mentality that many American cartoonists do: nothing is sacred, sacred targets are funnier, lighten up, criticism is censorship. And just like American cartoonists, they and their supporters are wrong.
White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire. No! That needs to be called out. People getting upset does not prove that the satire was good. And, this is the hardest part, the murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good. Their satire was bad, and remains bad.
Their satire was racist, and remains racist.