Charlie Hebdo is very concerned about our flaky pastry. In its recent editorial on the Brussels attacks, "How Did We Get Here?", the magazine presents the great cultural contest of our time as being fundamentally a question of what to do with baked goods, an exterminationist war fought for the sanctity of bits of meat packed between bits of bread. The Muslims, they tell us, want to forbid any criticism of their religion, and they're doing so through the medium of patisserie.
First they write about the liberal scholar Tariq Ramadan, currently lecturing on Islam at Sciences-Po, a prominent French university. But because Ramadan is himself a Muslim, the author writes, he shouldn't be allowed to teach anyone about the subject; his students will somehow mysteriously "not even dare to write nor say anything negative about Islam." He is like "a Professor of Pies who is also a pie-maker," "judge and contestant both."
But Ramadan, with his insidious plot to teach people about his area of expertise, is only part of a vast conspiracy, involving the entire Muslim population, to follow their religion.
The editorial goes on to talk about an entirely imaginary bakery, a beloved local institution that makes really great croissants, but whose new Muslim owner won't put ham or bacon in his sandwiches. The fake baker has no intention of gunning his clients down with a Kalashnikov or blowing them up during their morning commute, but thanks to him they're getting used to the idea of a sandwich without any dead pigs in it. "And thus the baker's role is done." It's a small role, but it's part of a grand production that ends in bodies on the streets and sharia law ruling over all of Europe. Somehow—it's not entirely clear how—this baker is fighting a culinary jihad.
But if you're going to have a Professor of Pies, shouldn't they at the very least know how to make one? It's a very strange argument, especially when you try to extend its logic: If it holds, shouldn't professors of literature be forbidden from ever trying to write a novel? Shouldn't doctors be banned from commenting on public health? Charlie Hebdo seems to be objecting to Tariq Ramadan and to its devious baker not because of anything they've actually said or done, but simply because they dare to make pastries or lecture while being Muslim.
There have been plenty of people pointing out, with a kind of myopic shock, that all this sounds a lot like racism. And it is: It's racism of a very old sort, the type that we could almost pretend had gone away forever; not just a vague personal antipathy, but properly genocidal, eliminationist racism.
What Charlie Hebdo is afraid of is not the idea that Muslims can never fully integrate into western society, but the fact that actually, they can. Not all Muslims are terrorists, Charlie Hebdo admits, only a vanishingly tiny percentage—but all of them, every single one of them, are Muslims; nasty, scary Muslims. They're scared of the baker they invented precisely because he's well-integrated into the community around him, because he's helping his neighbors understand that Muslims are just ordinary people. For them, this is far more dangerous than any act of terrorism. And there's nothing the baker can do. What if he started offering bacon and ham in his sandwiches? Then it's even worse: He's lulling people into a false sense of security, cynically aping French traditions while remaining unbearably other. What if he renounced his faith entirely, and turned into an already-lapsed Catholic? The secular guard dogs at Charlie Hebdo would almost certainly start going on some paranoiac rant about taqiyyah. Charlie Hebdo won't say it themselves—that's for the others—but what can you do with a population that's congenitally evil, that's a threat by the simple fact of its existence? Imprison them all, expel them all, or kill them all.
Of course this stuff is racist; it's deliberately, proudly racist, and pointing out that it's racist doesn't achieve very much. It'd be far more useful to think about exactly what this racism is and where it comes from; that way there's a better chance of fighting it. And in the end it really does all come back down to the pies.
At the end of the editorial, there's a very strange line: Charlie Hebdo complains about the "bakery that forbids you to eat what you like" and "the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil." As far as I'm aware, Muslim-owned bakeries in France are not hiring gangs of thugs to snatch the ham sandwiches out of people's hands—pork products are still widely available and often delicious. Nobody should be obligated to serve every conceivable type of meat at their local bakery; nothing is being forbidden from the charcuterie-eating majority. The idea that bacon is being somehow banned comes out of the same mindset that thinks Jeremy Clarkson was "banned" from the BBC, or that people disapproving of catcalling is a restriction on free speech. It's a narcissistic fury, in which not getting everything you want whenever you want it, and not being immediately applauded for everything you do, is the worst kind of oppression. But there is a movement in the opposite direction: schools across France are being forced to remove pork-free options from their lunch menus, directly victimizing Jewish and Muslim kids in the name of secularism.
Similarly with the veil. The magazine insists that it's forbidden from finding the veil troubling. But in fact the French state itself finds the veil so troubling that it has actually, literally banned it. Not in the sense of a bakery "banning" pork by not serving it—if you wear the veil in public, a policeman will come along and give you a fine. And the idea that it's somehow become impossible to criticize the veil is somewhat contradicted by the fact that this idea has been printed (in English, for maximum exposure) in Charlie Hebdo—a magazine that, let's not forget, has become almost the official pseudosatirical wing of the state, with the government directly financing its print run after the attack on its offices last year. The racism of Charlie Hebdo isn't a difference of opinion, it's an absolute inversion of reality. And while Muslims across Europe are terrorized by street fascists, smug satirists, and the state, Charlie Hebdo knows where real travesty is, it screams, a greedy child with sticky fingers and a pig-eyed indifference to the suffering of others. Where's my ham sandwich? Where's my pork pie? I want my ham sandwich. I want my pork pie right now.