As France deals with the suspects of the Charlie Hebdo attack I found myself reminded of a piece I wrote immediately after the bombing of The Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 .
I considered just reposting that link and then I read Ted Landau’s two great pieces in response to that attack and some of the underlying issues.
Ted is somebody whose writing I’ve read and sporadically corresponded with since the early nineteen nineties and have enjoyed spending time with at Macworld Expo over the years. I’d like to call him a friend but that might be too presumptuous.
You should read them:
He wrote his posts with far less overt rage than the one I wrote immediately after the attack on The Boston Marathon and he did it with the skills of the professional writer that he is and I’m not.
That said, his measured and artfully expressed words got me thinking even more and actually got me angrier. Mostly angry at myself for my lack of courage.
Even in the original post, I censored myself. Not just with splat-characters in lieu of curse words but by being oblique and never using the word ‘religion’.
It’s wrong that I should be cowed into timidity about that word when I speak publicly. It’s wrong that I’m afraid my comments, angry, surely, but in no way directed or even meant as an attack on any single group would jeopardize my ability to earn a living or worse.
So, I’ll not mince words now.
If your lunatic fringe commits crime in the name of your faith, your first job is not to try to tell me “we’re not all like that.” That claim deserves no air time while the murder continues. Your first job is prove it not claim it and in the claiming make the rage about their behavior seem an injustice to your innocent belief system. Your belief system is only above reproach when you can unambiguously show your entire community has effectively condemned the actions of those who do violence in professed support of your ideals.
There is no way any of these extremist groups could get the traction (money, weapons, training etc.) they are without at least the tacit approval of the more moderate majority within their own communities. This is true whether it’s Catholics not forcing the Vatican to bring abusive priests to justice, American Jews and Christian Fundamentalists supporting Israeli military aggression, Mormons not trying to ‘save the souls’ of others with baptism by proxy and in so doing, co-opting their memory, Muslims not organizing to present their Al-Qaeda or ISIL fringe to justice.
Every single major religion, yes, even Buddhists, have had a violent fringe claiming they’re acting on behalf of the religious cause. If you are a practitioner of a particular faith, your first job is to stop your lunatic fringe. Manage that first then we can talk about how ‘you’re religion is about peace’.
Clean your own house first.
With all that said, those quick to fly the ‘Je suis Charlie’ flag should perhaps look into the legacy of that publication as well. It’s not so simple as ‘they published satirical cartoons depicting Muhammad and suffered violence for it’. There has been a history of anti-Semitic (a term which the reader should note actually includes, among others, both Arabs and Jews), anti-Catholic and, damned near anti-every-other-damned-thing editorial cartoons from Charlie Hebdo for quite some time. None of this is to say the violence was remotely justified. None of this is to say Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t have every right to offend anyone they chose to with satire. The point goes right to the core of this update and the original post. Don’t be so quick to align yourself with a cause or a group without knowing what your flying their flag may say about you.
I’ll share a quote that does a pretty good job of summing up my feelings on the matter by way of apology for my prior lack of courage:
“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.” – Salman Rushdie