Archive for January, 2015

I’m Charlie…are you?

At first I couldn’t figure out what to say or do in the immediate aftermath of the mass killing of the French staff members who were guilty of publishing satirical Charlie Hebdo cartoons that took aim at the prophet Muhammad.

My initial reaction to the CNN morning news was something like “catch and kill the bastards who did this.  Slowly.”  Then I became more sophisticated and said “the world’s peace-loving Muslims have got to do something about their radical brethren.  Maybe like catching and killing them.”  Beyond that I was at a loss for words or clever thoughts.

And then the French police took  my best two ideas and surrounded and killed the bastards.  I thought “good, that’s done.”  But after a moment’s reflection I felt sort of empty with no place to go.  Later, thinking a bit more clearly, I realized that these unforgivable crimes could and probably would happen again.  It’s far too difficult to prevent the random actions of driven lunatics who obviously were ignored during their childhood, abused by their elders and successful at nothing as adults.

Even two-year olds can get the drop on us.  Witness the infant in Hayden, Idaho’s Wal-Mart who playfully snatched a pistol from his gun-savvy mother’s purse and promptly shot her to death.  Probably because she wouldn’t give him another Tootsie pop.  So who are we to think we can stop some nutcase, believing in life hereafter, complete with virgins, from hurling himself and his dynamite overcoat into a Jewish preschool.

Since the Charlie Hebdo holocaust I’ve read articles and watched talking head interviews that have wrestled with whether we’ve crossed over some line in publishing satirical or offensive stuff about religion and its proponents.  Certainly it’s pretty clear to most sane people that some stuff is beyond just being “offensive” and probably should never see the light of day.  I’m reminded of the Jewish comedian who some years ago regaled us with Jesus jokes in a social hall rented from the Catholic church for a community fund-raiser.  Jesus stared down accusingly from one of the social hall walls at what could only be called a major act of gross stupidity.  But, did the offending moron delivering the painful lines deserve to die?

Short of cartoons and articles that call for the destruction of innocents, I’m not sure where the line is to be drawn.  Personally, I take a major exception to stereotypical anti-Semitic depictions of Jews as Shylocks, political manipulators, and killers of small Christian children on Passover.  While I’d like to see bad things happen to such portrayers (like Mel Gibson, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh) I probably would restrain myself from seeing their movies, buying their cars and asking for their autograph.  Maybe I’d even write a blog about it.

So here’s what I think about the Charlie Hebdo assassins.  They are not heroes.  Heroes don’t wear masks, carry automatic rifles and without warning gun down innocent people who cannot defend themselves.  And they are without a doubt not representative of the overwhelming majority of Muslims.  But the larger Muslim community needs to do more.  It’s not good enough to say “they are not us.”  Separation, denigration and condemnation of murderous Islamists must become the everyday watchword of their faith.  Taught relentlessly to their children in their schools, their faithful in their mosques and, most importantly, in their conversations at home.

Like other faiths over the millennia, Islam is at a crossroad, fought for by competing factions.  Murderous factions.  Factions that are only interested in naked power, subjugation of women and death for those innocents who oppose their will.  It’s not so much a war between East and West.  It’s a battle for the heart of Islam.  One that none of us can afford to lose.

We undermine the support we should provide to moderate Muslims who are waging this battle when we broadly condemn their religion.  Right wing factions in France and elsewhere in Europe see a golden opportunity in this battle.  As the New York Times put it…The French are frightened — or more precisely, they are being frightened. The National Front has made fear its credo. It demonizes millions of immigrants as invaders who feast on welfare benefits while putting others out of work.  Capitalizing on fear and promoting  xenophobia are tools that could catapult them to power, along with their own extremist and exclusionary vision of the world.  A vision that may rival that of Isis, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Finally, what’s to be done about Charlie Hebdo and other cartoons that poke their fingers into Islam’s nose?  There’s little doubt that the continued publication of Muhammad cartoons that negatively portray Islam will exacerbate the already fragile tensions with the Muslim world.  But offensive though it may be to those offended, putting a lid on free speech is a slippery slope fraught with unwelcome consequences.  And, most importantly, It is quite simply unacceptable to condone mass murder in retribution for offensive language, cartoons or speech.  The civilized world has developed a variety of highly successful non-violent methods of dealing with such matters.  The murderers’  failure to use these tools highlights their Neanderthal immorality and inexcusable barbarity.

Freedom of expression trumps the sensitivities of organized religion.  To think otherwise is to invite less debate and more murders in the name of God.

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