It was just reported in the news that the two alleged gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo massacre have been killed by police, after a standoff with a hostage in a printing shop. The hostage has survived, but three others were killed in another hostage-taking at a kosher market; all of the gunmen have gone to what they believe, at some level, to be their reward, 72 virgins and life of paradise. They are in for a rather rude awakening when they come face-to-face with the one true God, Who I hope is more merciful than their own version of ‘Allah’, and certainly more merciful than they were to the cartoonists and other victims.
On the CBC over noon hour, there was a debate over whether or not news outlets and magazines should display the Muhammed cartoons. As readers may know, images of ‘the Prophet’ , as he is known, are forbidden, not just to Muslims, but to anyone, according to Islamic law and tradition. Violations of this proscription are made worse when the images make fun of the founder of Islam, especially with biting and often crass French humour.
A number of callers argued that we should not deliberately offend others, especially their religion. Other said that we should avoid ‘offense’ when the penalty is being the victim of one or another form of murderous jihad. That was, apparently, the opinion of David Studer, CBC’s ‘director of Journalistic Standards and Practices’, claiming that his decision was not based on censorship, but on ‘respect’. Hmm. That is curious coming from the CBC, which has declined to show such ‘respect’ for, say, Christianity over the years in any number of articles and shows. A number of Quebec newspapers did print them, along with the National Post.
Is this deliberately provocative? Well, it depends on one’s intent. What is the purpose of printing the cartoons, or doing anything in itself not wrong, but that may ‘offend’ another? If the purpose is simply to give offense, then it may be best to avoid it. This is compounded by the imminent threat of death. Would you walk down the streets of Mecca, wearing a large crucifix and preaching to the Saudis that they must accept Christ and repent? Saint Francis did something like that 800 years ago, but, well, he was Saint Francis, and survived with the good will of the Sultan, taken with the slightly crazy (in a good way! un fou pour le Dieu) guileless figure clad in poor robes who was brought before him.
However, if the purpose is to demonstrate that one will not be cowed into submission, or, more to the point, to teach others the truth, well, a stand sometimes has to be made. I am not sure of the motivation of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo; probably, it was a mixture of many, but poking self-important figures in the eye seemed to be their specialty.
Whether right or wrong, such perceived satirical ‘insults’ to religious figures should not be illegal, as one imam is already calling for. We should be permitted to question the actions and motivations of any person, religious or not. Why should the image of Muhammed not be presented? Was he invisible? Would his visible image make him seem too ‘human’? Should we not criticize aspects of his life? What of his marriage to the nine-year old Aisha? (to be fair, she may have been twelve, and one disputed source even claims nineteen) Should he have engaged in forced conversion, pillage and the capture of women and children as the booty of war? Let’s not stop at Islam, but should we not question the polygamous doctrines of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, the weird, alien fantasies of the Scientologists, the witchcraft of Wiccanism, and so on.
Of course, the ideal is to engage in thoughtful and reflective give-and-take discussion, preferably after prayer, then over some single malt Scotch and a cigar (if one’s religion permits, that is). Although satire has its place, and is sometimes an effective way of initially getting the truth across, I would rather Charlie Hebdo had ‘provoked’ Islam in a different, more objectively charitable and rational way. That may not have changed the outcome (see my last post in quoting Pope Benedict), but it may have changed their own dispositions towards the truth, for which we should all strive.
That said, we, in what remains of Christian civilization, should stand in solidarity with what is good in their intent, each in our own way.
For if we do not make a stand in little things, we will never do so in the larger things that radical Islam, or any group overly-sensitive to ‘offence’, may demand.
January 9, 2015