Humour vs fundamentalism: a reflection on Charlie Hebdo


Humour and fundamentalism are at opposite points of the psychological spectrum. It is no coincidence that the worst terrorist outrage on French soil occurred because some cartoonists offended the sensibilities of violent Muslims. Recall the world-wide furore over the Danish cartoons that preceded it.

The essential qualities of fundamentalism are rigid thinking and a literal view of things. By contrast, humour relies on flexibility and a non-literal approach. Whereas paradox is one of the chief motors of humour, it is intolerable to the fundamentalist. This may be why humour is the ultimate insult for the Muslims.

I also speculate that even the most ardent fundamentalist has a tiny compartment hidden way down in his psyche, where lies doubt that his certainties may be no more than fantasies. Jung wrote, "Fanaticism is nothing but over-compensated doubt". If so, then it is understandable that such a person would over-react to any criticism, and especially to ridicule. See the attached cartoon.

Do satirists and fundamentalists have anything in common? Probably just one thing, the belief that the pen is mightier than the sword. The fundamentalists are idolators, who worship the words of the Koran. The satirists use words to fight idolatry.

The print-run for Charlie Hebdo used to be 60,000. The first issue after the massacre sold out 3 million copies within hours, and four million more were printed. Although 12 innocent people were killed, the terrorist mission was a spectacular failure. It catapulted Charlie from being an obscure magazine most French people had not even heard of to the most famous magazine in the world. The satirical message the fundamentalists sought to eradicate bounced back with a million times more power.

The pen is mightier indeed.


Tad Boniecki
February 2015

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