Question by Rudolph Bush
The murderers of 12 people in the office of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo justified their actions as revenge for offenses against their Islamic faith. The magazine’s cartoonists reveled in their role as secular provocateurs in the tradition of Voltaire. There is no question that their cartoons were offensive, and not only to Muslims but to devout Catholics and Jews as well. Their murders cannot in any way be justified and their murderers’ justifications were condemned by people around the world, including many Muslims.
Mustafa Riad of the Union mosque in Montpellier, France said this: “To a cartoon you reply with a cartoon, to a drawing with a drawing, to a newspaper article with a newspaper article… But you don’t reply with guns.” But surely, when any of us sees our deeply held faith and beliefs held up for ridicule it offends. As Pope Francis said: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”
Is that so? Is there a limit to what we can express about one another? What is the moral responsibility of the offender? What is the responsibility of the offended? How do we defend our faith against provocation while respecting the freedom of another?
AMY MARTIN, Director Emeritus of Earth Rhythms and publisher Moonlady Media
My religion is kindness. Can you imagine how many times a day I am offended? I’d be happy if those that defiled my religion were just terrorists or satirists. Instead, offenses to my faith are staples on television and film. They’re institutionalized in political parties, corporations and other religions. War is waged on kindness every day in a multitude of ways.
Demands for respect are quixotic attempts at the impossible task of controlling others’ thoughts. Offended by what someone says about your religion, leader, political party or whatever? Pay them no mind. To react is to give your power away and allow them to control you.
That said, poking a wounded bear with a stick is neither kind nor smart. Paris has large ghettos of unassimilated Middle Eastern and African immigrants that run 40% or more unemployment. They felt humiliated by Charlie Hebdo and the French intellectual elite. So it was less about religion and more about economic disparity and the residual effects of French colonialism. The satirists were aiming at the powerful Muslims, whose immense oil wealth deflects all barbs.
Those of us on organized religion’s sidelines marvel at a God that is so insecure it needs people to intercede on its almighty behalf. Such a God is much too small. Indeed we live on a polytheistic planet. There is a God of the Christians, a God of the Muslims, a God of the Jews. Peace will come only when we accept there is but one God and it is for all of us.