Je Suis Et Ne Suis Pas Charlie Hebdo

I got a chance to see those "Charlie Hebdo" cartoons that are so controversial, and seeing them had the effect of allowing me to formulate my thoughts about recent events surrounding them.  I want to go through some of the concerns, the pessimism, that I have about the conduct of extremist Muslims and the effect they inevitably have on the relationship of the West with Islam, and I also want to go through my more optimistic views of what I think (or rather what I hope) the future holds for Islam and the West.

One issue obviously broke a serious faux pas among Muslims by inviting a fictional Mohammed to be a guest editor.  The cover of the issue featured Mohammed with a smile on his face saying "100 Coups de Fouet, Si Vous N'etes Pas Morts De Rire!", or "100 Lashes if You Don't Die of Laughter!".  To write in the name of Mohammed is a pretty daring thing to do, and the extremists responded by firebombing the "Charlie Hebdo" offices, burning them to the ground.  The "Charlie Hebdo" editors didn't let that stop them... the next issue issue showed an image of Mohammed making out with a "Charlie Hebdo" editor, with the caption "L'amour Plus Fort Que La Haine", or "Love Is Stronger Than Hate".  "Charlie Hebdo" has always pushed the line here, even in the face of very real threats.  It is famous for a show of solidarity with Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Poste" by re-publishing the cartoons originally published by that paper which depict Mohammed as posing for nude pictures, along with other intentionally offensive illustrations.  The original publication in Denmark caused a firestorm of threats against the paper as well as violent riots in countries with large Muslim populations which led to many deaths.

What surprises me in all of this is that while we hear a lot about the Muslim cartoons, which are indeed brutal satires, they are hardly only hard on Muslims.  They accuse Christians and Jews as well, and even Buddhists, other religious types, and apparently even atheists.  In one cartoon it shows an Imam, a Priest, and a Rabbi yelling "Il Faut Voiler 'Charlie Hebdo'!", which means "'Charlie Hebdo' Must Be veiled (i.e. Censored)!"  A third one was titled "Intouchables 2", and had a Rabbi pushing around an injured Muslim in a wheelchair, with both saying in unison "Faut Pas Se Moquer!", or "Must Not Mock!", which clearly implies that both Jews and Muslims have become politically "untouchable".  Just to show how broadly they operated, one of their covers featured a Rabbi making out with a Nazi soldier.  There was probably a verbal outcry from Christians and Jews over these, but notably there wasn't a violent one.  It would be nearly impossible for me not to recognize that while there have been similar Christian reactions to these types of representations, the likelihood of an extremist Muslim group being responsible for such acts seems to be far greater, and much more hair-triggered.

For instance, you might think that the more provocative cartoons are the ones that really upset the extremist Muslims in France the most, and certainly all of them have to a great extent, but the one that really raised the ire of moderates and extremists alike was very mild by comparison -- it featured the Prophet Mohammed covering his eyes with his hands while shedding tears, saying "C'est Dur D'ĂȘtre AimĂ© Par Des Cons", or "It's Hard to Be Loved by Jerks!"  This one certainly seems very tame by most Western standards, and even depicts IMO what is claimed that many moderate Muslims say privately about their extremist cousins, but it was this cover that bothered the largest moderate Muslim organization in France, the French Council for the Muslim Faith, so much that they sued the "Charlie Hebdo" publishers, claiming that they were attempting to incite riots.  One is tempted to consider them as not so moderate after all, and perhaps mentally classify them as an organization that doesn't properly represent French Muslim opinions and ideology, until one realizes that this is a national organization elected by French Muslims to represent them before the French Government, and is the de facto group which takes on this task.

When looking into this group, and looking into French politics around Islam in general, I was surprised to find that in France, some jurisdictions are actually under enforced sharia law, under the blessing of the French Government.  In those areas, French law is secondary to sharia.  I realize that a privately owned commune can be under any law it wants really, even a harsh religious law, but even in a country of religious freedom like the United States, someone under such rules willingly can appeal at ANY TIME to US Law and shirk enforcement of a religious law.  In France apparently, that is not the case within specific jurisdictions.  A few years ago, I remember when some US State legislatures passed laws against the establishment of sharia law in any of their respective States' jurisdictions.  At the time I balked at that as an unnecessary show of arms, or even a rather stupid erection of white middle-class Christian tail-feathers.  I have to apologize for that now -- I have to admit that I would never, could never, abide jurisdictional sharia law being enforced as a primary within the United States, and if I were a French citizen or resident, this arrangement would certainly ruffle my tail feathers more than a little.  Now that I know that this scenario can exist in a Western country, I can certainly understand the rationale of States enacting this kind of restriction.

Before it sounds like I've sided with Western knee-jerk reactions given some of the pessimistic concerns I've listed, I want to state this outright: I am convinced that a great many Muslims are in fact moderate, and many others are in fact also very liberal.  But let me be equally as frank in stating that the only thing that leads me to believe this so strongly is my firm friendships with several Muslims who are in this vein of thought, and their frank admissions to me.  If I were to rely on the very seemingly public voices of Islam and not these private ones, I certainly would not have firm legging to hold that opinion.  In fact, I wonder sometimes why some of these people I know don't more openly condemn the violence they see, and say things like "Not in my name" or the like in more public venues.  This is, I believe, what must happen if not only the tide of public Western opinion is to be turned, but the tide of violence originating from seemingly empowered extremist Islamic fundamentalist groups.

France has the largest Muslim population of any country in the European Union.  As a result, it is a testing ground for what it means, and what it will mean, for other EU countries to allow more immigration of Muslims from countries that have a larger segment of extremists (and in this case, I must exclude European countries which have mostly moderate populations, such as Turkey).  There's certainly a strong impression among many Europeans that Muslims are trying to hijack their culture and their legal systems, and thus their way of life, not just through persuasion but through other means, legal and illegal (i.e., forceful means). Islam's future in the EU will be determined by how many moderate Muslims not only speak out against this kind of violence, but which ones openly embrace Western values, particularly those that relate to rights Westerners consider to be basic, such as Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Religion and what that latter category of freedom largely implies: Freedom FROM Religion.  It would be nice, I think, to see more Muslims embracing this Western principle, openly and honestly and without reserve.  That I believe is firmly needed to reverse these current trends.  Perception is often more important than reality, at least more important to the direction of various political actions, because perception feeds the philosophy that in turn directs these actions.  If a majority remains silent against a vocal minority, then the vocal minority will certainly be more influential on public opinion and thus political direction, though sometimes, as is the case now, in a direction that is harmful rather than beneficial to both the majority and the minority of the main minority group.

To illustrate my point from the resources of the past, there was a time when Jews were thought of as extremists in the Roman Empire mainly because of their vocal and violent extremist minorities.  Judaism was the Islam of the end of B.C.E. and the first century C.E., with factions (Pharisees, Sadducees, Netzarim), cults (Essenes), moderates (Boethusians, Hillel Pharisees), extremists (Shammai Pharisees), and even terrorists (the Zealots and particularly the Sicarii).  They were thought of by the powers that be as a respectable yet uncompromising and unpredictable religious group that was growing at an alarming rate.  Indeed, this was a time when Jews heavily proselytized and expanded, until one in ten living within the Roman Empire were Jewish either by birth or by conversion.  Like Islam today among Western sensibilities, Rome had a difficult time defining Judaism as it existed -- it ranged from very liberal views to violent extremist ones, and everything in between.  One thing is for sure though, extremists were the loudest and most noticeable, partly because liberals and moderates among them were afraid to speak out.  Rome gave Jews full religious rights, but also treated them as a group that needed to be monitored very closely.  It could be argued that by not being more vocal against these more violent minorities, the Jewish community as a whole paid a terrible price.  The Roman backlash almost led to their extinction, destroyed their religious center of worship, scattered their decimated population to the four winds, and effectively kept the majority of them out of their homeland for nearly 1900 years.

Christianity also had a period of time when it dominated religious thought with the sword during its 1200 year phase as a monolithic and all-encompassing political power, a movement that insisted on absolute adherence and devotion, and that punished its very skewed and loose interpretations of blasphemy to a degree that today would make the average Christian's neck hair stand on end.  Christianity was for all intents and purposes the Western equivalent to Islam in the East during that period, which included the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages.  What broke their power was first a Renaissance, and then the Age of Enlightenment, the latter of which began in the 17th century, culminated in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and is basically still going on today.   In between those events were several reformation movements, including the Protestant Reformation, most of which were obviously related to both of these milestone movements.

Some are saying that what Islam needs is the first of those "reformation events": an open show of force by the West to put their foot down, and stamp out extremism in a bloody show-down.  It could certainly work out that way, especially if extremist Muslims keep the upper hand as they have.  However, I certainly prefer and deeply hope and pray that this NEVER happens and that the latter route will be the path that prevails.  Islam had a Renaissance many centuries ago; what it desperately needs now is its own Age of Enlightenment, a floodgate to move the moderate and even more classically liberal views held among faithful Muslims to the forefront, so powerfully that extremism is completely overshadowed.  Like extremist groups in Judaism and Christianity, the Muslim extremist groups will never be stamped out, but with a concerted and uncompromising effort from the Muslim center and left, extremist groups can become a rather extreme minority, with an extremely minor voice.

We need an intellectual revolution, not a bloody one.  Some don't believe that such an intellectual revolution is possible given the current state of affairs and either the presumed non-existence of such moderation in the Muslim communities, or the unwillingness of moderate Muslims to speak out loudly.  It is certainly possible that it won't work out the way I hope, but to those who think it cannot, it's important to point out that that the Age of Enlightenment in the West did not see the invention of these ideas now held dear within its territories -- those merely came to the forefront during that period.  They were already secret treasures debated and grasped by many behind closed doors, which gradually came to the forefront until the floodgates irreversibly opened.  The Age of Enlightenment brought to the forefront what was already dearly held treasure within human safe houses, firmly transferring those theoretical causes from the hemispheres of the brains of thoughtful Western men into the Western hemisphere of this planet.

I sincerely hope we see that, but there are ways that we can discourage this and even sabotage it without realizing it, and we could do so with what we think are good intentions.  What will surely keep the Dark Ages upon us is if we in the West decide to operate as if we too are still stuck in our own Dark Aged past.  If we compromise our own views on Western values, by blaming the victims of these attacks for saying hurtful things, and not putting the blame solely and completely on those who not only lack boundaries in their own physical and now very bloody war against those victims, then I think we can't hope to ever see a loud and vocal moderate and liberal Muslim population willing to come forth.  Free speech is more important than hurt feelings -- because it is the one mechanism that will allow those individuals to come forward and speak freely.  Without it, they very likely won't take the risk.

It never serves the interest of justice to blame a rape victim for dressing provocatively among a group of sex offenders. It might lack wisdom, but Western values insist that it contains ZERO crime.  Many years ago, an adult magazine in the United States published a parody of Jerry Falwell, an American fundamentalist minister of a large Protestant organization based in Virginia, in which Falwell was represented to be discussing his first sexual experience as part of an ad for Campari liquors.  Falwell sued the adult magazine in question, and the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  There's no question that this was offensive to Falwell, and to most of his lay constituents, but it fell well within the rights of the publication in question because it was an obvious parody of a public figure, as the Supreme Court recognized in its decision.  There was very little question among US liberals and moderates that this was the right decision.  If some Christian minister in a similar circumstance had responded with violence, I think it would be VERY doubtful that anything other than a small minority would be rushing to his defense or claiming that the parodying sources were at fault for the violence maintained against them.  We must be consistent in this, even when we perceive these individuals to be underdogs, as I think many of us do in the case of Muslims in the West.  There can be no excuse for this kind of a reaction, and we must never condone it.

Nobody is saying you have to agree with or even like what the editors of "Charlie Hebdo" said or did.  If you consider yourself to be a stranger and a sojourner in this world as I do, then we should take the warnings of Yahuda (Jude) which he wrote in his Epistle seriously by avoiding issuance of such slander, regardless of our strong feelings and the nature of our targets:
"But Mika’el the chief messenger, in contending with the deceiver when he disputed about the body of Mosheh, presumed not to bring against him a blasphemous accusation, but said, 'YHWH rebuke you!' But these blaspheme that which they do not know. And that which they know naturally, like unreasoning beasts, in these they corrupt themselves." (Yahuda / Jude 1:9-10).   
Think on that one: being warned that even false or hyperbolic accusations against Satan himself are unacceptable for those walking in the Light of Elohim.  Imagine the fundamentalist Christian ministers who would be scandalized by such a statement if they spent the time necessary to properly understand it from their own Scriptures.  I believe that everyone should take this advice and be very careful about the accusations they issue from their lips, especially those of us who are in covenant with Elohim.

It can be perplexing for someone like me, someone dedicated to abiding by and obeying the scriptures, and thus having strong views like these about how careful we must be to choose our words, to defend Freedom of Speech so resolutely when said speech involves depiction of despicable acts in relation to their subjects and extreme hyperbole of the kind warned against.  I don't do this in the interest of promoting the offenses themselves, but because I realize that without such a resolute defense, my right and ability to say what I need to say as a watchman before YHWH my Elohim will be compromised -- to afford myself this right, I must afford it to others.  By all means be careful in choosing your words, avoid slander, and advise others to do so as well.  Be a persuader, not a provocateur.  But remember that if "Charlie Hebdo" is denied the right to say, illustrate, or publish what they did, and if we avoid supporting that right in every venue for which they had lawful means to exercise it, then we too will eventually find ourselves subject to a restriction that may prove unbearable to each of us in the execution of our individual parts in the collective mission that Elohim has given us.  We must insist on the full enforcement of the rights of groups like "Charlie Hebdo" against aggressors that would legally or violently attempt to prevent the exercise of these rights, by every institution that we have established for these purposes.  We must insist on this, from every public official who has a say in the enforcement of said rights, all the way from mail room workers and basement IT dwellers, to the guys sitting in the Oval Office and their international equivalents.  If we relent in this one iota, we will be doing more to sabotage any movement which liberal and moderate Muslims make to vocalize and thus move their ideas to the forefront.  If the editors of "Charlie Hebdo" don't have freedom to speak freely, neither will they -- and neither will we.

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