This morning, I discovered the Grauniad was running a blog post in their Comment is free section, entitled I admire Charlie Hebdo’s courage. But it does not deserve a PEN award. It is signed by somebody rejoicing in the moniker of Francine Prose. Yeah, I thought so too, but apparently it’s her real name. As far as I can tell, her forte is writing constipated verbiage reminiscent of the more indigestible 20th century French authors… and indeed, she won a prize for translating Marguerite Duras’s L’amant in 1988. However, whatever her writing talents, we glean from this that her understanding of written French is considered to be pretty hot.
The subheader to her post is:
The award is for writers and journalists who tell us the truth about the world in which we live, not drawing rude caricatures and mocking religion.
Where to start? For somebody who is supposed to be a high-flying professional wordsmith, she shows abysmal lack of understanding of what constitutes satire. For someone who is supposed to be bilingual, she displays appalling ignorance of French culture. Needless to say, she also exhibits all the characteristics of never having read a single copy of Charlie Hebdo in her puff.
Most of her Guardian piece is taken up with a list of names that she would have preferred to win. On this subject, Ms Prose, neither Chelsea Manning nor Edward Snowden have ever been journalists. Their inclusion is a red herring, no doubt to try and give your own complaint more apparent validity. It’s also a pity that you go on and further scuttle yourself with moronic pronouncements like this:
But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government. Our job, in presenting an award, is to honor writers and journalists who are saying things that need to be said, who are working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live.
Yes, dear: satire is one way of presenting things that need to be said, and Charlie Hebdo is one of those rare publications – like Private Eye – that report stories not covered by the mainstream media. Incidentally, governments can’t fight terrorism if they’re being undermined by simpering idiots who fixate on a couple of cartoons and parrot the “oh noes, we mustn’t upset the [insert religious group here]” bollocks. Fighting terrorism is a group effort. Don’t whine that it’s the government’s job and wash your hands of it.
If journalism’s job excludes denouncing terrorism, racism, or religious bullying, then what’s left? Surely, surely, this can’t be an enormous case of snit on the part of Ms Prose simply because Charlie Hebdo often expresses itself in a far earthier manner than her own middle-class, white heroes?
I have looked upon Charlie Hebdo – I’m a subscriber – and found it amazingly well written. Prose that would not disgrace a prizewinning novel (we begin to see the origins of Francine’s sour grapery) describes the misery of a Rom camp wandering from eviction to eviction, unable even to get a decent burial for their dead. The current edition contains an extract from an essay by Charb which neatly nails Ms Prose and her ilk, making the point that those who say “islamophobia”, when the real problem is racism, are abetting the racists. It’s a 2-page spread, beautifully argued and eminently readable, whether or not you agree with the conclusions.
The final paragraph of Prose’s monumental hissy fit begins:
The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists…
White Europeans like Mustapha Ourrad and Ahmed Merabet? Straight guys like Stéphane Charbonnier, aka Charb? Monuments of the patriarchy like Elsa Cayat?
White Europeans like the nice chap who picked up my dropped copy of Charlie in the Metro last week and handed it back to me with a huge, conspiratorial Senegalese wink?