I had never heard of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo before today. Glancing at some of their more outrageous covers, it seems they spared no one: The Pope, Mohammed, political leaders, even Christ Himself, all were fair game in their lampoons. I hesitate to provide a link to these images, for as readers know, I hold Christ as God, and a blasphemous representation of One I believe to be the Son of God is offensive.
Yet, although one may argue over the rightness and prudence of their images and captions, the brazen massacre of the editor, a number of the cartoonists, two police officers, and other staff members today is a tragedy. The primary and immediate grief is over the needless loss of life, and the sorrow of their families and loved ones.
We must be aware, however, that the reverberations from this yet-another act of Islamic violence du-jour will extend for some time to come. As Mark Steyn has expounded so well, free speech, a cornerstone of any free society, is on the decline. Even the President of the United States decreed in a speech to the United Nations that the ‘future does not belong to those who insult the name of the Prophet Muhammed’. Would Mr. Obama say the same for Christ? Why is a 7th century Arabic prophet given special consideration?
One reason is that Christians and Jews, as a rule, do not murder and firebomb those who disagree with them, nor even those who denigrate their own prophets. Mr. Obama is covering his own rear-end. Or perhaps he is more sympathetic to Islam than to his own professed Christianity.
The unique protection afforded to the name and image of Mohammed also extends to his supposed book of revelations, the Qur’an, the only work of literature now given specific protection by law. One can do what one wants with a crucifix or Bible and the law does nothing, but woe to you if you desecrate a Qur’an, as one British man found out, after chewing and then throwing a Qur’an into the toilet, posting the whole thing on YouTube. Dumb and disrespectful? Yes. Should it be illegal? No. Yet, he was charged, and also moved to a ‘secret location’ to protect his very life.
British police have now come out publicly, stating that they are monitoring the internet for any evidence of similar ‘hate speech’. We all know what that means: Any speech directed against politically protected groups, specifically Muslims and ‘homosexuals’, two groups that do not often overlap. What happens, I wonder, when a Muslim denigrates a homosexual, or vice versa?
The limits of free speech have always been a contested point in society. We all agree that there should be some limits. One cannot spread malicious and damaging lies about another; confidential information must remain secret; yelling obscenities in a movie theatre, and so on are socially and legally unacceptable.
These limits, however, must be very carefully circumscribed, for the weight should be given to freedom, not to the censorship. Following Saint Thomas, we should limit the proscriptive power of law only to those things that are to the ‘harm of others, without which society could not function’.
Any religion, any society indeed, should be able to withstand criticism, the denigration of its policies, its members, and, yes, even its founders. The Truth will win out in the end. To shut down debate with violence and murder is to give evidence, to put it mildly, that one is not entirely comfortable with the truth of one’s own claims.
This perhaps, in part, explains the violent nature of Islam, at least in its historical origins, and in some of its modern manifestations (usually termed as’ radical Islam’, which literally means ‘to go back to the root (radix)’. Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his ever-more prophetic Regensburg Address in 2006 declared, even Islam’s own holy book reads: “There is no compulsion in religion” (surah 2, 256). To understate the case, Mohammed and his followers did not exactly follow this principle. As Benedict continues, quoting the 13th century emperor Michael II Paleologus, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. As Mohammed, so his followers…
Benedict declares forcefully that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”. Faith, and the love which follows upon it, must be free, or it is not faith, and it definitely is not love. Until Islam formally renounces violence as a means of propagating its faith, and chooses to engage in peaceful and rational dialogue, it and its members will and should be viewed with extreme suspicion, and any utterances or postings supporting such violent behaviour be subject to the requisite proscriptions of law.
Mr. Steyn claims to be ‘Islamed-out’, and I sympathize, but we must never give up the fight. Even if they are not willing to engage in reasonable debate, we can live our lives undaunted, and keep the door open for their return to sanity. In the meantime, we should not be cowed into submission (as the very name of ‘Islam’ implies).
I would disagree with much of what the editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo wrote and drew, but I admire their courage to stand up to the threats made by those quite willing and ready to carry them out. As their editor said after receiving one such fatwa a few years ago, “I would rather die standing than kneeling”. I would qualify his statement that it depends to whom one is kneeling, for we all must choose our God, but I agree with him that I would not bow the knee to Islam.
It is a sad irony that his unwitting prophecy was fulfilled. May their souls find the mercy of the God they perhaps did not believe in, but Who finds the good in all things, and in all men.
Requiescant in pace…
January 7, 2015