Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo attack & murders

I'm not entirely sure what to write in response to the murderous attack by Muslim gunmen on the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical paper, that killed multiple civilians and police officers.

Anger, disgust, mortification...It's all been said.

I could observe the cowardice of such an act, the transparent fear of fanatics who are so unnerved by criticism that they must silence it, permanently. 

I could note that the usual players are responding in predictable fashion. Fox is upset at Obama (shocking, I know), Salon was deeply troubled by what Richard Dawkins had tweeted after the attack, and the Catholic League's Bill Donohue thinks the cartoonists really had it coming for offending religious sensibilities.

I could point to the absurdity of those like CJ Werleman, when tweeting nonsense like the following:
(Maybe it's me, but cartoonists are a funny target if you're mad at the military/government...)

But I guess the points I feel really drawn to make are these:

+ First and foremost, I would join the swell of condolences to the families and friends of the deceased. The work of defending free speech is as near sacred as anything I can think of, and those who died did so in defense of that cause.
Charlie Hebdo faced years of threats, lawsuits and attacks, culminating in a murderous rampage. Because a pack of fanatics thought that their prophet was so feeble that he would be threatened by a few lines on a page; because a pack of fanatics thought their god was so feeble that he needed them to act in his stead, to punish those who had defamed his prophet.
Whatever people thought of the cartoons before, this final act of depravity illustrates the tragic importance of defending free speech...because there are those who will silence it at any cost.
I hope that the solidarity of freedom loving people, of all (and no) faiths, will be of some comfort in these terrible times.

+ Secondly, I want to note that the gunmen were Muslim, and they openly acted in defense of their beliefs. And so are the many, many people making their voices heard -- in condemnation of this attack. I don't say this to downplay the problems in some Muslim communities that can lead to this sort of radicalization. I'm not going to pretend for one instant that this had nothing to do with Islam. Of course it did, in the same way that the Klu Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist have to do with Christianity. But for all the Knights of Klan, there are millions of Christians -- Christians who range from agreeable, kind-hearted people intent on doing good, to judgmental, acrimonious people bent on self aggrandizing shows of piety: people we may disagree with in varying degrees, but who nonetheless are not trying to harm anyone. The same is true of the Muslim community, and -- even in anger, even in shock -- it is wrong to lose sight of that fact.

+ Finally, I want to emphasize what I alluded to in my first point...freedom of expression is a defining principle of any free state. Speech, even if you feel it is offensive speech, is a right, and it must remain protected.
A few years back, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo addressed those who would silence them with this cover. The extremists' sentiments have not changed, but got bloodier and more violent.

"Charlie Hebdo must be veiled!"

Whether they win depends on us.


  1. Well said. To a point. But I would say that there is not one Muslim country in the world tonight where it would be safe to raise the sign "Je Suis Charlie". So much for "moderates".

    1. Alex, you are right about the countries being repressive. There are Muslims within those countries who do and have stood up for minority rights (and plenty who would and do oppose them), but the theocratic direction of most Islamic governments does its best to squelch moderation.
      I guess I see that as an issue w/religious systems of government (since the same problems tend to be evident in theocratically inclined states, regardless of the faith involved) in general rather than specifically Muslim ones.