Love to be a Cabu?

Cabu, whom French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard described as the “the best journalist in France”, was killed in 2015 in Paris aged 76

I really cannot think of writing again about Maltese politics for yet another Sunday. I know foreign news does not really sell, and I also know that we are rather insignificant to global happenings. But we should really start realising how irrelevant we become when we ignore what is happening around us. More so, when we have to witness so much pain around us.

Now, instead of leaving this thought for later in this opinion, I would like to make it here.

All religions are intolerant and threaten freedom. I have nothing against Catholics or Muslims, whether black or white. But I disagree that we should accept fundamentalists, whether they are Christian or Muslim. Religions suffocate freedom of expression, they do not build on it. And I also find Islam to be more significantly brutal when it comes to respecting the opinion of others. And the reaction of Muslims when Mohammed is taken for a ride belongs to the stone age.

So having said this, I have to write about one man, whom I knew rather well through his cartoons, though of course never personally.  

When I first started buying Charlie Hebdo in 1991 I wondered who Cabu was.  

I sort of felt some affinity with him; he was a part-owner in Charlie Hebdo and at the same time a contributor.

But there is a Maltese angle to this opinion. A poll or survey in Malta published today by MaltaToday shows that the vast majority of Maltese are against depicting Mohammed in cartoons.  

I guess it is because most do not want to have Christ taken for a ride. Or better still because they are afraid of reprisals. The truth is that an equal percentage of Maltese, that is around 80%, disagree with poking fun at Mohammed or Jesus Christ.

The Pope, the present Pope, has made it very clear that he thinks on the very same line. But religions can never be lanterns for freedom of expression.

Paris is not only 2 hours 55 minutes away by air, we are in fact centuries apart when it comes to intellectual freedom.

Cabu, whom French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard described as the “the best journalist in France”, was killed in 2015 in Paris aged 76. He was a cartoonist who earned the angst of most Muslims with a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006. And that February, Charlie Hebdo republished 12 drawings that had appeared the previous year in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Some of the drawings represented Mohammed.

Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons as a sign of solidarity with the Danish newspaper and to make a point about freedom of expression in France. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. Interestingly, the publication of the same Danish cartoons by the French conservative newspaper France Soir led to the dismissal of its editor, Jacques Lefranc.

Here at MaltaToday we would not dream of doing such a reprinting.

The original publication of the drawings had provoked a backlash in the Muslim world and kick started violent protests, resulting in the deaths of at least 50 people.

Charlie Hebdo published the original drawing by Cabu of Mohammed showing the Prophet with his head in his hands, saying, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots’’ and a caption “Mohammed overwhelmed by fundamentalists”.

That depiction of Mohammed by Cabu became the subject of a unique court case in 2006.

When the Mohammed cartoons were published in Charlie Hebdo the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France sued the editor, Philippe Val, stating that the Cabu cartoon and two of the Danish images linked Islam with terrorism. They accused Val of “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion’’ and requested €30,000 in damages. The charges could also have resulted in a six-month prison term.        

In March 2007, following court hearings seen as a test case of freedom of expression, a Paris court acquitted Val. The ruling was hailed as a victory for freedom of speech.

The downside was that Charlie Hebdo was now in the sights of radical Muslims. Emails and telephone calls threatening the journalists on the newspaper were relentless and the offices were firebombed. And this when the newspaper published a special edition featuring the Prophet Mohammed as a “guest editor”.

Cabu studied art and produced cartoons in his early days for an army magazine when he was in the army, and also for Paris Match. His war experiences in Algeria turned him into a virulent anti-militarist. He became a relentless campaigner for non-violence and a critic of the French political establishment.

Years before I was born, that is in 1960, he became one of the founders of Hara-Kiri, a satirical magazine. It was banned by Charles de Gaulle’s administration in 1970, and the magazine changed its name to Charlie Hebdo. Cabu was a prolific cartoonist, his best known character was Mon Beauf (“My brother-in-law”), an incarnation of bovine French provincial complacency. The notorious Gaullist mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin sued Cabu for libel on the premise that the character Cabu drew resembled him. Médecin was later convicted for corruption.

Cabu will be remembered like all artists, writers and musicians. The two French Muslims who attacked at Charlie Hebdo were typical Jihadi profiles – picked from the suburbs of big French cities, broken families, criminal backgrounds, abused and forgotten. 

They turned to religion, like most people do who seek solace and serenity.

For the first time in that court case, the State defended the cartoonists who strove to express and ridicule a religious figure. Charlie Hebdo became the face of France. Years before, Charlie Hebdo journalists were threatened with incarceration. Times are changing, but we still have a long way to go. At least we have come as far as getting politicians, not religious figures or icons, on trailers during the local Carnival parade.  

A modest, stunted beginning!


1.     Just a simple question, where is the evidence that Adrian Hillman has been bribed by Keith Schembri? Or has the bile blogger lost her precious notes?

2.     What a pity Andrew Borg Cardona will not be writing on Saturdays in The Times. I will miss that precious news-page, as I won’t have them to put under the chunks of mackerel for my cats. He will be missed as my weekend apologist for all things that should never really matter.

3.     The Times last week cited companies registered in Panama under the name of Kasco, one of which was registered in the late 1970s and the other before 2008. A basic act of journalist decency should have followed: telling readers who the directors of those companies are, all of them evidently foreign and unconnected to Keith Schembri. More attentive editing would have removed the spin.

4.     If Marlene Farrugia sacrifices herself for a third political force, she would do well to calculate the impact it would have on the future electoral success of her partner Godfrey. I am sure he matters for her.