Friday, January 16, 2015

Kalashnikov AK47s seem to be as trendy in France as iPhones

I wasn’t exactly surprised by the attack 
confesses the Telegraph's Stephen Clarke.
First of all, there have been plenty of shootings with AK47s in France recently. They seem to be as trendy as iPhones. They even have a slang name in French – “une kalache“. Most of them are apparently in the Marseille area, in the possession of drug gangs, but they also get sold on to the rest of France. A couple of years ago, only three or four kilometres from where I live, some Polish men were walking to a birthday party when they were stopped by two muggers, one of whom had a Kalashnikov. When the Poles refused to hand over their money, the gunman let rip, killing one victim and shooting his friend in the foot. The police caught them soon afterwards, after a man arrived at a nearby hospital complaining that he’d lost some of his toes in an accident. It sounds insane, but it’s true, and the surviving Poles were probably lucky that their mugger hadn’t had any weapons training.

The other reason why I was horrified, but not exactly surprised, by the Charlie Hebdo attack was that the magazine had been provoking some highly sensitive people. Of course I’m not saying that anyone deserved to be shot. I’m just saying that extreme provocation was the magazine’s raison d’être, and they knew that they were playing with fire. That was why the editor had a police bodyguard (who was also killed in the attack). Charlie Hebdo belongs to a tradition of French satire that pushes anti-establishment mockery to the edge, and beyond. Their cartoons could be viciously accurate, especially when deflating the egos of politicians, but they could also be just plain offensive. Often they had a point, but sometimes they seemed to forget the point and descend into gratuitous obscenity.

This was why the French were fond of Charlie Hebdo, even if hardly any of them actually read it until this week. Cabu, Wolinski and the veteran cartoonists were like old friends. The kind of friends you love but wouldn’t dare invite to your house because you know they’d take the pee out of your other guests, graffiti the walls, and explain to you why your whole life was a failure – while smiling charmingly. They were like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory – social misfits who felt it was their duty to broadcast their home truths loud and clear, and who couldn’t understand if anyone was offended. The sad thing is that real life is not an American sitcom.

For all these reasons, I personally am not so sure that the cover of today’s edition of Charlie Hebdo is a good idea. Why cause new offence, when what France really needs is some determined peacemaking?  …