The Slatest

The New Charlie Hebdo Editor’s Letter Is a Passionate Defense of Secularism

The new edition of Charlie Hebdo at a newsstand in Paris.  

Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

This week’s issue of Charlie Hebdo has drawn tons of attention and also criticism for its cover, which depicts the Prophet Mohammed holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign. But the editor’s note on the flip side of the cover is almost as provocative: Under the headline “Will There Still Be ‘Yes, But’s?,” Charlie’s surviving editors have published a spirited defense of their own work and of secularism, one of France’s core national values.

The editors begin by joking that Charlie Hebdo has “accomplished more miracles than all the saints and prophets combined” in the last week—chief among them putting out a newspaper despite losing eight of their staffers to a terrorist attack. The editors then thank everyone who has supported them, those “who are truly on our side, who sincerely and deeply ‘are Charlie.’ ” And to those who aren’t: “We say fuck you to the others, who don’t give a shit anyway.”

That might sound like a joke, a throwaway line, but the editors are just warming up for an impassioned rebuttal against everyone who, in the wake of the attack and before it, has criticized them for publishing provocative and blasphemous work:

Still, a question keeps gnawing at us: Are people finally going to banish the dirty words “secular fundamentalists” from their political and intellectual vocabulary? Are they going to stop inventing clever semantic convolutions to qualify assassins and their victims as somehow equivalent?

These last few years we’ve felt a little lonely in our attempt to push back, with the stroke of a pen, against the pure crap and pseudointellectual criticisms that have been thrown in our faces and in the faces of those who firmly defend secularism: Islamophobes, Christianophobes, provocateurs, irresponsible, throwing fuel on the fire, racists, had it coming. Yes, we condemn terrorism, but. Yes, sending cartoonists death threats isn’t good, but. Yes, burning a newspaper is bad, but. We heard it all, and our friends did too. We often tried to laugh about it, since that’s what we do best. But now we’d really like to laugh about something else.

Charlie Hebdo’s surviving editors seem furious about reactions to the attack that comprise anything less than a full-throated defense of free-speech rights—and they’re especially angry that some people have sought to use the attacks to justify their own radical political beliefs.

The blood of Cabu, Charb, Honoré, Tignous, Wolinski, Elsa Cayat, Bernard Maris, Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Franc Brinsolaro, Frédéric Boisseau, Ahmed Merabet, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, Philippe Braham, Yoha Cohen, Yoav Hattab, and François-Michel Saada, wasn’t even dry when [political activist and 9/11 truther] Thierry Meyssan explained to his Facebook followers that this was obviously a Jewish-American-Western conspiracy. We were already hearing, here and there, pursed mouths in front of the assembly last Sunday, drooling out of the corner of their lips those eternal arguments aimed at justifying, openly or quietly, terrorism and religious fascism.

It is clear what the editors hope will come out of this mess, which is what they say they have been arguing for all along: a return to secularism. It’s worth mentioning that laïcité—secularism in the public sphere—is a traditional core value in France, so much so that it’s sometimes tacked onto the end of the national motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Of course, certain manifestations of laïcité—most famously, the ban on wearing burqas—have functioned to exclude certain immigrant communities, but as far as Charlie is concerned, secularism must be defended at all costs.

We are going to hope that starting January 7, 2015, a firm defense of secularism will go without saying for everyone, that people will finally stop—whether because of posturing or electoral calculus or cowardice—legitimizing or even tolerating communalism and cultural relativism, which only open the door to one thing: religious totalitarianism. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a reality, yes, international geopolitics is a series of dirty tricks and maneuvers, yes, the social situation of “populations of Muslim origin” in France is profoundly unjust, yes, racism and discrimination must be fought relentlessly. Fortunately, there are several tools that can be used to try to resolve these serious problem, but they’re all useless without secularism. Not positive secularism, not inclusive secularism, not whatever-secularism, secularism period.

Read the rest of the editor’s letter, plus the other features from Charlie Hebdo’s best-selling issue in history, when the newspaper releases its English version on Thursday.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.