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  • on 09.01.2015
  • at 11:40 AM
  • by Kevin

Charlie Hebdo. Damien Glez: “Ready to take up our pens and get back to drawing” 0

The internationally renowned Franco-Burkinabe cartoonist Damien Glez knew the Charlie Hebdo’s colleagues killed two days ago well. “They were key figures in the French press, brilliant cartoonists who would not want to see us cry, but instead fight for freedom.”

Cabu, Wolinski, Charb, Tignous, Honoré. Whenever he hears these names, Damien Glez shudders. “I knew them well, some of them like Tignous, very well. This is an immense loss, but knowing them, none of them would like to see us commiserating, making their deaths even more tragic. “The following words uttered by the famous African cartoonist sound like a warning: “People’s tears, though sincere, should be dried quickly to continue Charlie Hebdo’s fight for freedom, each in their own way.”

In this interview with Afronline, the director of the Burkinabé satirical newspaper Le Journal du Jeudi and cartoonist of international fame offers a polished and passionate look on a profession in shock.

Damien, you knew some of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists well and others like Tignous, very well. What was your first reaction when you heard the news about their deaths?

A feeling of absolute shock. We are still stunned by what happened, silent even. It’s true that cartoonists aren’t used to talking a lot, but the tragedy is of such an extent that I don’t really know what to say.

We also know that Charlie Hebdo didn’t like and still doesn’t like, sentimentality. The victims wouldn’t have wanted for us to cry over their fate, so we’d rather stay silent. But cartoonists are harbouring strong feelings of anger with respect to this attack, which bears no precedent for our profession. Today, we’re willing to carry on with our work because the terrorists’ greatest victory would be for us to be scared and cry. It is necessary for us to take up our pens and get back to drawing.

How can cartoonists pay tribute to them?

Evidently, each cartoonist has their own style, although choosing to draw about Charlie and for Charlie is an effort to adapt a little to what Charlie would have liked to have published, to what Charlie would have done, and to what Charlie will surely do next week on the topic. We try not to be tearful. We try to make cartoons that are caustic and pithy; some tributes are affectionate, others tackle the issue head-on to tell the Islamists they haven’t won the war, they haven’t even won a battle. On our end, we will pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo because Le Journal du Jeudi shared a special relationship with the magazine. In the 90’s, a portion of the editorial team came to Ouagadougou to produce a joint-special issue. Among them, I would like to mention Luz, who survived yesterday’s attack.

In your eyes, what does Charlie Hebdo represent ?

Charlie Hebdo was truly a hard-hitting newspaper. The deceased cartoonists were fantastic drawing experts, who considered themselves stupid and malicious, when in reality that was absolutely not the case.

What memory do you keep of the murdered cartoonists ?

With regards to their professional lives, it must be said that these men were cultural pillars of French satire, and we know for a fact that France was at the forefront in terms of caricature, as early as the 19th century with Daumier. Cabo and Wolinski in particular made a mark on the history of the press, and on that of caricature specifically. These are real landmarks that have collapsed.

They were also people that you knew…

I knew Tignous well, he came here to Ouagadougou. I also met Cabu, in the context of the group Cartoonist for Peace, and also met Wolinski during a collective exposition. What is really striking is the huge paradox between their horrible deaths and the fact that as people, they were filled with tenderness. They have been accused of being irresponsible and malicious, yet they had extreme human and intellectual sensibilities, and infinite tenderness. Cabu, who was 77, still looked like an old teenager, permanently smiling and nice with everyone. His cartoons could be fake, but never aggressive. The goal of his provocations was to make people react, to make them think, rather than to be nasty.

Do you share their approach to Islam ?

Each cartoonist has a different approach, depending on their identity, the editorial policy of the newspaper in which they work and the country they’re in. There are many schools of thought, that don’t confront themselves much. Many consider it’s best to bypass the taboos and attack the Islamists indirectly by going for those who represent this movement instead of the prophet, because drawing him leads to a mental block for a portion of the Muslim population, which is sometimes counterproductive. Others, particularly those who belong to the French culture, say their country has an ancient satirical culture of over a century, and thus they have to tackle these issues head-on.

In Africa our press is much younger, in the francophone areas it’s barely 30 years old and must take into account an audience partly made up of believers who are extremely sensitive to religious topics. So our tendency is to avoid offending them, because that’s not the aim of a cartoon.

However, in terms of Charlie Hebdo’s position regarding Islam in general, it’s the representation of Mahomet which caused a problem, and in this case they were completely defendable. Mahomet is evidently a historical figure before anything else; as such each can claim ownership of him as they choose, and a cartoonist is totally allowed to portray a historical figure under any form and circumstance.

Have you ever drawn Mahomet ?

I’ve had some of my cartoons not published in Burkina because people would have found them hard to accept. I don’t think I would be scared of drawing Mahomet, because there isn’t a religion problem in Burkina Faso, and I’ve never been threatened by Muslims. As surprising as it may sound, I’ve drawn cartoons of Jesus and for that I’ve received very aggressive letters, threatening ones even, from a segment of the Christian community. I am convinced that today, drawing Mahomet would not be a problem; I’ve done it in other pan-African and European newspapers.

And what approach did you use ?

The issue of drawing caricatures of Mahomet is a topic that exceeds that of the representation of Mahomet. Consequently, I drew cartoons about the fact of representing Mahomet.

By Joshua Massarenti et Eva Donelli (Afronline)
Translated by Sophie Blais

 The interview was also published (in French) on Mutations (Camerun), Les Echos du Mali, Le Calame (Mauritania), L’Enqueteur (Niger) and spread on Radio Top Congo, Horizon FM (Guinea), Sud FM (Senegal), Radio Anfani (Niger), Radio RPA (Burundi).

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