‘Charlie Hebdo’: A united front against murder and violence needed
‘What is best in religion must now be mustered to defeat peacefully those who represent the worst of religious extremism’
‘Ironically, moderate Muslims are likely to suffer most in the fallout from the Paris murders, and were also most likely to suffer in the aftermath of the publication of provocative cartoons or commentary.’ Above, Hassen Chalghoumi (left), Imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris, leaves flowers and prays near the Charlie Hebdo offices on Thursday. Photograph: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images
In the wake of the murders of the Charlie Hebdo team, it is imperative that there is a united front in condemning murder and violence as a response to satire, no matter how crude, vulgar and provocative the satire may be.
Charlie Hebdo is equally scathing about all the major world religions. In one illustration, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are depicted as rolls of toilet paper, with the instruction to dump them in the bowl.
Does the fact that the editorial team went out of their way to mock religion, very often targeting Islam in the most provocative way, give murderous individuals a justification for violence and bloodshed? The answer is no, and must always be no.
However, it is often forgotten that the majority of victims of extremist, violent Muslims are other Muslims, along with members of other religions, usually minorities such as the Yazidis or Christians.
Ironically, moderate Muslims are likely to suffer most in the fallout from the Paris murders, and were also most likely to suffer in the aftermath of the publication of provocative cartoons or commentary.
The harder question to answer is while you have the right to face death for yourself, do you have the right to ask people thousands of miles away and living daily with violent religious extremism, to also face death for your right to shock and offend?
They are told that this is necessary in order to preserve freedom, and yet, while the world is rightly outraged at the deaths in Paris, are they less outraged at the deaths that occur further away, the deaths of Muslims, and the deaths of members of religious minorities like Christians?
On the same day as the Paris attacks, dozens of people died in a car bomb attack attributed to al-Qaeda in Yemen, but minimal coverage ensued.
Ross Douthat, a columnist with the New York Times whose work I often admire, states that in the face of murderers, we need more of the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo specialised in.
He says, “Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offence for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offences are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.”
There is merit in this. Appeasement of the most violent elements of any grouping inevitably leads to disaster. But writer Will Self, who was once a satirical cartoonist, has another take.
“. . . the test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken’s definition of good journalism: It should ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’. The trouble with a lot of so-called ‘satire’ directed against religiously motivated extremists is that it’s not clear who it’s afflicting, or who it’s comforting.”
He continues, “This is in no way to condone the shooting of the journalists, which is evil, pure and simple, but our society makes a fetish of ‘the right to free speech’ without ever questioning what sort of responsibilities are implied by this right.”
These imams are more than brave, and face the same threats as the staff and contributors of Charlie Hebdo. They will also face the fallout from the actions of extremists who kill unarmed people in the name of Islam.
It will be ironic indeed if we fail to support people like the British imams. They need support from every quarter, including leaders of other world religions.
Pope Francis has joined in the condemnation of the murders. He himself had featured on the cover of the satirical magazine, in a phone call to God. The image is a riff on a video that went viral in France, of a participant in a reality TV show who was stunned that another competitor had failed to bring shampoo.
Shallow and irrelevantCharlie Hebdo
In recent times, Pope Francis hosted a very successful conference on human trafficking in the Vatican, where representatives from all the major world religions met to bring about an end to slavery, and trafficking in humans and in organs.
A similar coalition seeking to bring about an end to violent attacks in the name of religion would be brave and timely. What is best in religion must now be mustered to defeat peacefully those who represent the worst of religious extremism.