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Essays, Pantheism

JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE

I have to be honest: there are times when human behavior makes me want to spend the rest of my days on the moon. Certain news events clearly have no good guys. The recent explosion of deadly mayhem in Paris by Islamic militants over an unflattering image of Mohammed in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is one of these events.

charlie-hebdo-cover-paris-shooting-012

At least they know they are irresponsible and incendiary

It’s such a strange feeling to empathize with both sides of such a volatile issue, while also feeling so much disgust with the actions of both. Not equal disgust, but no one comes out of this looking admirable nor heroic.

Killing people because they made your prophet-of-choice the butt of a joke? That’s straight-up insane, and cannot be tolerated in any society. I doubt that needs much elaboration. Instead, I’m going use this space to take a position that I’m sure is very unpopular among the privileged balcony seats of post-colonial power in the West –I’m going to call out the jokers at Charlie Hebdo.

You might expect a self-described heretic writer to come out in strong support of freedom of speech, and I do, wholeheartedly. So much so that I’ll use it without reservation to criticize its abuse. My heroes (to borrow from Abbie Hoffman) are those who yell “Theater!” in a crowded fire, not who do it the other way around and expect the authorities to rush to their defense.

Freedom of speech is essential to education, and education is the main ingredient in the prevention of atrocities like what happened in Paris. Satire can indeed be a vibrant and effective means of education…but there is a fine line between intelligent satire and ridicule, and the editors at Charlie Hebdo barreled right through that line.

Sure, we can ridicule anyone we want. We can single out any group of human beings and say “I am not you, and look how stupid you are.” O joyous freedom. But to actually exercise this freedom is to continue a chain of stupidity that didn’t begin with one’s enemy and probably won’t end with their retaliation. It’s as futile as punching oneself in the nuts.

So what did Charlie Hebdo accomplish by ridiculing Islam on their magazine cover? They reinforced identity politics for another extended news cycle. (And by “identity politics” I mean the opposite of what pantheism and the mystics of each religious tradition teach us: that what we are is defined exactly the social labels given to us, and our purpose in life is to improve the lot of those who share our labels at the expense of others. Religion is very susceptible to identity politics because our faiths can define not only what we are now but, supposedly, what we will become in an indefinite posthumous future.) They made the militants dig in their heels and respond the way they were taught to respond to heresy. They’re like the idiots who bomb a McDonalds to get their rocks off at corporate America –in the name of “freedom,” they’ll say– only to watch McDonald’s get rebuilt with a dozen security cameras.

Here’s the thing, folks: It has never been about the religion; it has always been these “us vs them” political agendas cloaked in the robes of religion. There are many, many Muslims living peacefully among us in the West. If it’s all about the religion, why isn’t Dearborn, Michigan a center of jihad activity in America? Because Muslims there are well-established community members (many Muslim families in Dearborn go back to when the Ford Motor Company actually made cars and employed people there). Because they are comfortable. They didn’t grow up in hopeless cyclical poverty, in societies rendered utterly dysfunctional by colonialism followed by despotism. They didn’t have fire-breathing imams stoking the flames of identity politics, arousing resentment of the First World. If any one of you reading this were raised in the hellacious environment of these militants, you’d want to blow shit up too, and don’t even try to argue that because it’s pointless. I sure as hell would.

Apologists for islamophobia like to mention that Christianity is subject to far more ridicule than Islam (and indeed, one of CH’s covers features, in reference to opposition to same-sex marriage, a depiction of the persons of the Trinity engaged in a gay menage a trois; it makes the Mohammed cover look like a valentine to Islam by comparison), yet we don’t see Christian militants retaliating with violence.

freedomofexpression

This is a valid point, but on closer inspection it speaks to the one I’m making. Identity politics is an enormous problem in fundamentalist Christianity, but a problem of a different kind –everywhere that Christians exist in large numbers, they are part of or are closely aligned with the ruling class. They have everything to lose by destabilizing their society with violence. If conservative American Christians were part of a chronic underclass and not actually floating somewhere among the world’s wealthiest 1%, you might see more of a militant response. As it is, they “turn the other cheek” and pray to their God to lift them away and kick off a period of unmitigated torture of the infidels. Isn’t it fairly obvious that identity politics and a deep-seated resentment of the freedom of heathens is behind the passive-aggressive and completely unbiblical belief in the Rapture? Clearly we’ve fanned some flames there too. It’s just difficult to convince a guy making $30,000 a year as an assistant manager at Chik-fil-A to strap a bomb to his chest and walk into a magazine office or movie studio.

Want to fight identity politics disguised as religion? How about a cover showing Muhammad and Jesus and Abraham and Buddha and a scientist  (and maybe Spinoza for the pantheists) standing together, arms locked in solidarity, all being held in the hand of Mother Nature, with a caption like “We’re All In This Together”…..

Oh, but that won’t sell as many magazines, will it?

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE

  1. I have learned so much from God
    That I can no longer call myself
    a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.

    The Truth has shared so much of itself with me
    that I can no longer call myself
    a man, a woman, an angel
    or even pure soul.

    Love has befriended me so completely
    It has turned to ash and freed me
    of every concept and image
    my mind has ever known.

    Khwajeh Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi, 14th-century Persian mystic and poet, demonstrating the opposite of identity politics

    Posted by J. Pierre Reville | January 18, 2015, 12:15 pm
  2. It had to be said!
    I’m still formulating what I think about the whole shebang…
    But I do get a little chuckle out of the arm locked world leaders “marching in protest.”…I wonder if they will ask good ol’ CH to illustrate their re election campaigns.

    Posted by Fred Bowman | January 18, 2015, 1:41 pm
  3. Good article. There is a fine line, becoming increasingly apparent to me at least . You can’t fight violence, period. The only answer that makes sense to me these days is love. Peace. You have to embody these ideas/ideals. The more you can live from this space, the more love and peace are created. It sounds naive and kinda stupid in its simplicity, yet I keep coming back to it. Looking at the world thru the filter of my heart, it softens anger and judgement and colors my world with love. I had a lesson pointed out to me clearly last weekend. I was in the presence of a person who was abrasive and bossy and I judged her accordingly and so did my love. We spent a car ride pointing out her faults, the next thing we knew we were in one of the nastiest fights between ourselves. Erupted from no where, simmered overnight to spew its ugliness the next day. It felt like a nightmare and passed like a nightmare. We both “woke up” to reality, love. There is no doubt in my mind that our casting judgement smacked us both in the face. When you start realising what and who you are, and then become forgetful in the illusion, the lessons come quick, and are sharp, designed to snap you out of it!! All you have to do is remember. ❤

    Posted by tobie szelagowski | January 18, 2015, 3:35 pm
  4. This article was posted to my Facebook page in response to my piece. It is an outstanding perspective, and I felt moved to include it here along with my response to it, as together they add new dimensions to the original piece that make for a more constructive discussion.

    https://ricochet.media/en/292/lost-in-translation-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-and-the-unilingual-left

    That was a fascinating article; I honestly hadn’t even considered Charlie Hebdo’s political milieu, and I suppose the reason I hadn’t is that I would have felt the same way regardless of where they fall on a political spectrum I don’t believe in (although it did give me another reason to admire Noam Chomsky). Still, it is interesting to see that dimension added to the picture so intelligently and without Marekinesque polarity.

    But, I do have to say that it still misses the point. This isn’t really a pure freedom of speech issue. This isn’t the city of Cincinnati trying to shut down the Mapplethorpe exhibit, or 2 Live Crew being prosecuted by a county in Florida for obscenity. As far as I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong) no one in the French government tried to shut down CH or prevent publication of this issue. Move their office to Riyadh or Tehran and this becomes a very different story, but in Paris, they ARE free to publish whatever they choose. The point of my article had nothing to do with politics or racism, and it didn’t argue that CH should not have *been allowed to* publish the Muhammad cover –it just used the speech of one man’s opinion to argue that CH should not have published the Muhammad cover; that it added nothing of value to the tricky relationship between Islam and the Western world; that ultimately it was an abuse of free speech, to the degree that it pawned the intellectual equivalent of a cheap trinket to purchase a very expensive martyrdom for Charb and his staff, and a hero status for the magazine that it hasn’t really earned, just as attempted censorship made Mapplethorpe and 2 Live Crew more famous than they ever needed to be.

    Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from the consequences of that speech. Here’s a less charged example: I have every right to walk up to a Hell’s Angels gang and call them all pussies. Later, as the police are scraping me off the ground with a stick and a spoon, and I’m complaining “why weren’t you there to protect my freedom of speech?!?” they’ll probably shrug their shoulders and say “Sorry, we can’t be everywhere at once.” It’s the law of the playground extrapolated to adult life: stand up to the bully if he bullies you, but if you provoke him on purpose, don’t go crying to the teacher when he punches you in the nose. I like that the author of your article challenged the security hysteria that does want to assure freedom from consequences of speech by putting a cop on every block so to speak. But that leaves us with an imperfect state in which those who will speak with their fists instead of words seem to have impunity. It’s important to show them that they don’t, that violence against any human beings crosses the line of what can be tolerated –though it’s hard to take the high ground on this matter when smart bombs and armed drones are flying over their homelands…

    It’s a muddled issue for sure, and I go back to my opening paragraph: there are no good guys here nor easy solutions. We just have to keep our own noses clean and unbent, respect others and hold them in the dignity that God does, and hope for a sea change in our lifetime that will lead others to do the same.

    Posted by J. Pierre Reville | January 19, 2015, 12:55 pm

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