Cobblestone Debate: Why, today, Je suis Charlie

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It may be presumptuous for such a small, irregularily published and – in the big picture of things – largely irrelevant blog such as this to jump into the big debate following the 12 murders of journalists and cartoon artists in Paris yesterday.

I do not really believe that me raising my voice will matter much in the big scheme of things – but then, neither can I stay quiet.

This is a debate with an unimaginable level of complexity. Not when it comes to what happened yesterday – 2 people brutally killed 12. But when it comes to why, to what we can and should do about it, to what is right and wrong and is there actually one right and one wrong – then it completely unravels. This is my take on it, on the morning after. But even before I go into that: My deepest condolences to the 12 families who have been brutally robbed of their loved ones and to the Charlie Hebdo staff who have been exposed to this brutal act and seen their close colleagues slaughtered.

I haven’t seen any organisation step up and proclaim responsibility for this and present their explanation as to why this was necessary and – in their logic, at least – right. So I’ll go with the common understanding and assume that this was the act of some people who believe that any caricature or criticism directed against their religion’s books and prophets deserve only to be met with violence and death.

These people obviously have no clue about what the message of Charlie Hebdo is and was and think no further than the outrage they feel when they see a cartoon featuring what they see as holy. So let me try to get that message out – even if it probably requires a level of understanding and an ability to grasp concepts such as freedom, democracy, and rights of the individual that they don’t possess. And what better way to do that than in the words of Gérard Biard, the editor of Charlie Hebdo:

We did not want to insult Islam, but to bring a political comment. In our context, the Qur’an is not so much a holy book as a political agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood itself expresses this unmistakably with their catchphrase: “Islam is the solution, and the Qur’an is our constitution.” For Islamists, the Qur’an is more than a religious work, more than one ‘guidance’ to the inner life of faith. They see it above all as an instrument of political and social control, and so does the Gulf kings and emirs and Iran’s mullahs. The Qur’an is their counterpart of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
(translated from a Danish article, Information Oct 10 2014)

To make this even more clear:

  • When a religion and the sayings of its texts is used to control what people in a country are allowed to say and write, it goes beyond religion and becomes political.
  • When a religion and the sayings of its texts is used to control where individuals are allowed to go and who they are allowed to be with, it goes beyond religion and becomes social control.
  • When a religion and the sayings of its texts is used to dictate what certain people can wear and what they are allowed to see and read and hear to enjoy, educate and enlighten themselves, it goes beyond religion and becomes both political and social control.
  • When a religion and the sayings of its texts is used to limit the rights of people of different or no religion – or, worse, punish them with fines, imprisonment or death – it becomes a violation of human rights.
  • When a religion and the sayings of its texts is used to try to dictate what people living elsewhere, having different laws and different religious beliefs, should think, say or do, it becomes political in the extreme.

And understand this: by doing some or all of these things, some religious – at least, that is what they call themselves – movements call upon themselves to be met with criticism and, as part of that, ridicule. It doesn’t matter if you claim that your religion mandates what you do – if your words and actions or your use of the religion take you into a political arena, you must be prepared to face the political music.

So to those killers in France who probably are busy congratulating themselves and to all those around the world who have expressed support for their action and their cause and to all of those who seem to be saying that we should of course, all of us, be cautious not to say anything that someone else might see as criticism: No! The ability to openly criticize what you believe is wrong, also if doing so involves making fun of your opponent, is fundamental to freedom. If you are criticized, answer by stating why the things you do are the right ones and show us the arguments in favour of your viewpoint, not by claiming that you should be exempt from criticism.

And if your only answer is that of violence and killing – then, in my eyes, your version of your religion is not worth the paper it is written on.

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