Book Review: WHO IS CHARLIE? Emmanuel Todd (Polity, 2015)
The targeted killing of staff at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris took place on 7th January 2015 and on the 11th of the month a mass protest demonstration in the city attracted between 1.5 and 2 million people. The march had an impeccable pedigree, headed as it was by the likes of Angela Merkel, François Hollande, David Cameron, Jean-Claude Juncker, Nicholas Sarkozy and Donald Tusk. ‘I am Charlie’ became synonymous with ‘I am French’ and when the now state-subsidized satirical magazine was relaunched its cover showed Muhammad with a penis-shaped face and wearing a turban from which hung two round shapes like testicles. For protestors a pencil on a poster became a symbol of liberty, forgetting the way caricatures of Jews had been a stock part of Nazi anti-Semitism.
The people on the protest march did not represent a cross-section of French society: the less well-off from the suburbs, whatever religion they did or did not profess, were not on the streets of Paris; nor were the working class of provincial France well represented. It was a largely middle-class affair with its roots in the old Catholic substratum of France and not in the secularism of the country’s republicanism. Emmanuel Todd sees his country lying to itself, provoking the thought that Charlie is an impostor, and reminds readers that two years earlier Paris had witnessed another huge demonstration, between 340,000 and 800,000 people, protesting at the legalisation of homosexual marriages. Such large numbers did not characterise reactions to the spread of anti-Semitism in France that resulted in the killing of three Jewish children in Toulouse in 2012 or the killing by a French citizen of four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014.
Religious beliefs and practices have dramatically declined in France, just as elsewhere across Europe, with the proportion of children born out of wedlock increasing from 5.5% in 1960 to 55% today and the numbers of practising Catholics falling from 33% to 6%. Such a change can destabilise the group psyche of regions where Catholicism was deeply rooted, creating metaphysical anxiety, and Todd’s term for the anthropological and social fallout from this is ‘zombie Catholicism’.