The new Charlie Hebdo cover is feeble. God with a machine-gun, looking over his shoulder, and the line ‘The Assassin is still at large’. It makes Richard Dawkins look nuanced. Religion is to blame? All religion? It feels dishonest, timid: a refusal to face the fact that it’s a particular form of religion that is the problem.
In fact satire in general is pretty feeble, when it comes to religion and terrorism. Satire is good at attacking established power, and religious terrorism is obviously an intensely marginal thing – far more marginal than satire itself. There is a wider target: Islam in general, but in the West this too is more marginal than satire. So it suits satirists to see religion in general as the problem: it can then seem like they are bravely attacking something strong.
A glance at TV satire, and most stand-up, suggests that the genre has become the home of self-righteous thickos. It is where conformist youth attitudes are displayed and reinforced, and presented as a bit daring. I can’t see why else people laugh at Russell Howard. And one of these orthodoxies is that religion is all a bit dodgy, and vaguely complicit in terror. There’s not much comedy material in noticing that it’s actually at the root of our humanist values.