Who Promotes Islamophobia?

Former editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier shares his final thoughts on the rise of Islamophobia days before his murder at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.


| June 2016



Islamophobia

Fear sells well. Scary Islam sells well. And scary Islam has become the only Islam there is in the eyes of the public at large.

Photo by saiyood/Fotolia

On January 7, 2015, two gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They took the lives of twelve men and women, but they called for one man by name: "Charb." Known by his pen name, Stéphane Charbonnier was editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo, an outspoken critic of religious fundamentalism, and a renowned political cartoonist in his own right. But in a twist of fate befitting Charb's defiant nature, it was soon revealed that he had finished a book just two days before his murder on the very issues at the heart of the attacks: blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the necessary courage of satirists. Open Letter (Little, Brown and Company, 2016),by Stéphane Charbonnier, is an essential book about race, religion, the voice of ethnic minorities and majorities in a pluralistic society, and above all, the right to free expression and the surprising challenges being leveled at it in our fraught and dangerous time.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

Journalists Promoting Islamophobia

The term “Islamophobia” could never have achieved such wild popularity without the — mostly idiotic — complicity of the media. Why were they so eager to co-opt Islamophobia? First out of laziness, then for the novelty of it, and lastly out of commercial interest. Their contribution to popularizing the term “Islamophobia” has never been motivated by the least impulse to combat racism. On the contrary.

To put it simply, any scandal containing the word “Islam” in its headline sells copy. Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the media have placed a fascinating and frightening character at center stage: the Islamist terrorist. Any terrorist can scare the hell out of us, but if you make him Islamist to boot, we all shit ourselves. Fear sells well. Scary Islam sells well. And scary Islam has become the only Islam there is in the eyes of the public at large.

Because the Islam that the media shovel down consumers’ throats is by necessity radical and bearded. When the mainstream media present a report on Islam it is very often a caricature, yet it provokes little open protest from the pressure groups that track Islamophobia. So long as they’re invited to put in their two cents on the rise of Islamophobia, everybody’s happy.

On the other hand, when a cartoon of so-called radical Islam is presented as a genuine and deliberate caricature, the Islamophobia-busters lose their cool. If you want to thrive in the media ecosystem, it’s far safer to take on a little newspaper like Charlie Hebdo than to attack major television channels and news-magazines.