Tag Archives: France

Charlie Hebdo – The Laugh of Anarchism

26 Jan
This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.Translation from:
http://www.jeyamohan.in/69893Translated by: Gokul
J sir,
When the attack on Charlie Hebdo happened, Louis was at the Paris airport; He was returning to Kenya after Christmas holidays and was waiting at departures after checking in.
The airport had become tense and security had been tightened.
Louis works in Kenya for a rose breeding company.  The company has leased a 2500 sq. meter greenhouse from us. He comes once every two weeks to supervise.
When he came this time, after conveying regrets, I was conversing with him for a few minutes. Some of the things he said were surprising.
When I asked what would be the population of muslims in France, he said the government doesn’t perform census religion-wise.  He said that it is a crime to inquire someone what his religion was and if someone asked it, one can file a case in court against him.
I asked him intentionally – ‘Louis, is the Government rethinking this after this incident – that such a census is necessary?  Are people distrustful of Islam?’.
He immediately replied – ‘No, there is no connection between these people and Islam the religion.  These are groups with a nut loose in their heads!’  He spoke with pride about the Paris parade.
Dear Venkatesh,
I am a bit frozen after reading all the stuff written on the Internet about Charlie Hebdo. Hence I haven’t said much.
European nations are not like us.  They have spilled blood for centuries to reach modern democracy, secularism and freedom of speech etc. They know the strength and value of these ideals.
Two hundred years of serious experiment in democracy can be considered as Europe’s contribution in civilization terms.  Europe’s politics which is focused on commerce, with an objective of ideological domination should not be considered along with this.  Many people commit this mistake.
In truth, there are two Europes.  At the same time when we oppose imperial Europe, we have to respect the Europe that was the cradle of modern democracy.  Each one opposes the other.  It is with the thoughts that democratic Europe offers us that we oppose imperial Europe.
It is my opinion that democratic Europe is the primary ideal for the modern world.  Even today, the writers and thinkers whom we worship come from there. We may disagree with them. Oppose them. We can confront their prejudices. But they are our pioneers.
In the course of such developed democracy, there are several levels.  There are two aspects which we haven’t still grasped.  One – extreme individualism. Two – anarchy.  It may take us even a century to reach there [At the current pace, it seem unlikely].
Anarchy can be said to be the height of an outlook of individual freedom.  The first principle is that every individual has the complete freedom to pursue his happiness, to quench his intellect and to fulfill his soul.
What stops an individual from completing himself thus are groups which identify him through caste, religion, race, language, culture, morality and government. They should be present adequately. Otherwise, the individual will not be safe.  But if they are not stopped and controlled by equivalent forces, the individual cannot be independent.
That is the reason why Anarchist thought is strong there.
Anarchism is a very sacred outlook.  It is a state of opposing everything that is established.  It is a state of renouncing everything that is organized.  This is not feasible for everyone.  One can see many who pretend to be anarchists.  But when their beliefs are hurt, their anarchism will fumble.
[For example, the devotees of EVR.  They call him an anarchist. And call themselves using the same epithet. They will garland the idol of Ram with slippers. But if a religious fanatic says he is going to hit EVR with a slipper, they will boil over with anger.  These are another sort of religious zealots. They worship another deity, that’s all.
A true anarchist lampoons everything.  Please underline the word ‘everything’ three times.  Its language is always mockery.  One who pokes fun at others will permit the same to be done to him.  He will upset everything that is holy. He will shock.  [The reason why we find many Charlie Hebdo cartoons atrocious is because the boundary of shock over there is several feet over our heads]
Travesty without any restrictions or boundaries alone can qualify as anarchism.  Because, once we admit restriction or a boundary, there is a necessity for an organization or principle which applies it.  Once it is accepted, anarchism ceases to exist.  Advanced democracies permit such a right and defend it.
This is the unavoidable peak of democratic civilization.  We have not been introduced to it yet.  Even our constitution has not permitted it yet.  We haven’t come together as a democracy yet.  Here we have very few ‘individuals’.  We are ruled by mob mentality.  That is the reason why modern anarchism is unfeasible now.
Hence we go up to anarchists and preach them to ‘maintain basic courtesy’.  We request censorship. We state that social harmony should not be harmed.  We do not even realize the simple fact that merely doing these will make them non-anarchists.
Many artists I respect are anarchists.  Great thinkers have been anarchists too.  Gandhi had a tinge of anarchism always.  That was the reason why many people considered him a madman who talked about impossible things.  Gandhi had direct contact with many anarchist thinkers who were evolving then.
I would rate M. Govindan as an anarchist.  That characteristic of his was present in P.K. Balakrishnan as well as Aatroor Ravivarma.  Govindan and Balakrishnan were alienated and were sent to private hells. Aatroor lives within his cave of cynicism.  Only this much is possible in India.
But it was possible for Nataraja Guru and Nithya Chiathanya Yati to live with their anarchism within Hindu religion.  The Hindu heart accepted all his jests and lampoons. It also took in his student Vinaya Chaithanya, a complete vagabond and even an international vagabond like Gary Davis.
It is because of the philosophical mindset here that has lasted from ‘The whole world is our village and all our brethren’ [a quote from an ancient Tamil text] to ‘We are kin and kith to everyone’.  Its the life of sitthars [ascetics] who live among us.  There exists a world around us whose inhabitants think that even getting an identity card or purchasing a bus ticket is not done.  It is an enlightened state which summarizes Indian civilization.  Our hearts permit this only in the realm of religion.  ‘They are all sitthars’, we say and move on.
In my fiction, I have created such completely anarchist characters.  Sudukattu Sitthar in Vishnupuram, Neeli in Kottravai, Ayyar in Kaadu.
Charlie Hebdo is an anarchist magazine.  There is nothing that has not been lampooned there. Not only racism, even righteous anger against racism will be lampooned there. Both right-wing and left-wing are ridiculed.  Everyone will brand it as the voice of their opponent.  It ridicules not only France’s secularism and democracy but also its anarchism.
Like many in Tamilnadu, I didn’t come to know about this magazine through this incident.  In India, the only state which permits anarchism and its outlook of complete ridicule, at least to an extent is Kerala.  Or it did till the 90’s.  Even though Bengalis have a better intellectual environment than the Malayalees, there is no space for ridicule there – due to left-wing brutality.
In the 1980’s there was a magazine in Kerala called Pakkanaar.  Complete satire.  Left, Right, Center, Across, Vertical – none were spared.  I remember a cartoon in which it mixed two important slogans of Kerala at that time.  With a sacred irumudi [Translator’s note: head gear of devotees on pilgrimage] on his head, a pilgrim shouts ‘Inquilab!’.  Behind him, with a red flag another man echoes ‘Saranam Ayyappa!’.  Many of its parodies were below the belt.
When the thorn of Pakkanaar stitched them personally, sermons like ‘The best satire is that which doesn’t hurt anyone!’ came up.  At that time, Charlie Hebdo was pointed out.  But Pakkanaar stopped.  But even today, its legacy continues on in television.
Even the name Pakkanaar can be stated as an example.  He was one of the twelve sitthars of Kerala.  The heroes of Kerala’s civilisation, they are called the twelve offsprings of a Paraichi [a low caste woman].  He is the second among the twelve.  A malayalam word ‘Thanthonti‘ fits him perfectly  – [he who behaves as he chooses]
Two sorts of stories exist about him.  High quality stories with philosophical content. For example, he made four beautiful winnowing fans. The villagers asked him ‘Why four?’.  He said ‘One, for selling and repaying his debts. The second, for selling and purchasing food. The third, for use by his wife and self. The fourth, for throwing away.’  The funny part is that story about winnowing fans is performed as a ritual for Pakkanaar in some Bhagavathi temples.  Out of four winnowing fans, one will be thrown away with a laugh.
Another sort of story revolves around in folklore. Bhagavathi manifested to bless Pakkanaar with three eyes, sixteen hands with a garland of skulls in a dreadful spectre. ‘Hey you devotee, what boon do you desire?’ she asked. ‘I haven’t seen a perfect girl till now. Show yourself with genitals surrounding your entire waist’ said Pakkanaar. Devi ran away in shame. [In folklore, they call this ‘araikkum suttrum pooru‘.  Village fables state that all women have it though only one is visible to the eye – and that for Bhagavathi all are visible. The learned of Kerala refer to this as ‘ACP’.]
The magazine that named itself ‘Pakkanaar‘ marked a beginning correctly.  Even Keralite society hadn’t matured that much yet.  But it was possible for an utterly anarchist comedian like V.K.N to arrive in Malayalam literature.  Had there been such a writer like VKN, Tamilians who always exist in an emotional state would have killed him with blows.
Charlie Hebdo is a magazine which exists in the far distance which we have to reach yet. France is a magnificent peak which it has reached through great experiments with democracy.  We are evaluating it from within an under-developed democracy, wandering with half-tribal mindsets. We lecture them.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo is an attack on the peak of humanity committed by the most backward section of humanity.  Indians like us [Hindus, Muslims, Christians alike] are living in this dark space.
Today, those who call themselves orientalists, like Tariq Ali write many things.  An important word which apologists for fundamentalism use is ‘But’.  There is nothing more double-faced than ‘I condemn, but…’
‘There are over fifty lakh muslims in France, they get offended’ is one argument.  It is only justice to say that they should realize the history and civilization of the country they live in and reach its heights.  There can be nothing more nonsensical than to expect that France should sacrifice the heights that it has reached shedding blood and tears during its two centuries of experiments with democracy.
I saw another ugly article. It extolled the muslim security person who was killed in the terrorist attack and that he as a hero died to protect the freedom of speech of Charlie Hebdo even though it offended his faith.  That security person was doing his job and was killed on duty.  He himself may not have realized what was happening. They are denouncing French values by deifying him.
Through what sort of deceptions does our mind work!  Maybe we do not achieve many things merely because most of the food we consume goes to provide for such deception.
Even now the magnanimity with which they say that census by religion should not be conducted, is an expression of their belief in democracy.  Gandhi himself would have said the same thing.  It may cause temporary complexities. But it can only be called noble. It can never succumb to defeat.
European societies which stood with Charlie Hebdo offer a great hope for the world. It is equal to the promise that modern Europe offered in the seventeenth century to the rest of the world.