Let me exercise the freedom of expression everyone on the streets says they are defending: Je n’suis pas Charlie! After the mass demonstrations in Paris and other cities across Europe and beyond, I’m left unsettled and confused. What statement exactly were our leaders and the crowds trying to make?
Of course the terrorist attack was barbaric and inexcusable, and deserves global condemnation. And of course freedom of expression is a cornerstone of our liberal democracy and should be defended. Right?
But where does one draw the line between freedom of expression and hate crimes? Does the kind of satire Charlie Hebdo known for, where nothing was sacred and cartoons of popes wearing condoms were typical fare, represent the values that build trust and solidarity? Why the one-sided affirmation by our political leaders for this selective freedom, without calling for respect and understanding? While free speech and satire has its place in our western society (even Old Testament prophets used satire), was Charlie Hebdo’s offensive style to Muslims and Christians really something with which we all want to identify?
Even the FIFA mafia preach respect on the football field. But of course that’s just a game. That’s not real life.
I was glad to see more nuanced and thoughtful deliberations surface in news channels and social media over the weekend asking what we meant by saying ‘Je suis Charlie’? ‘It is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je suis Charlie Hebdo,’ wrote a columnist in The New York Times. on Thursday: ‘Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.’ Many who were quick to lionize those who offended the views of Islamist terrorists in France were a lot less tolerant toward those who offended their own views at home, he proposed, pleading for less hypocrisy.
My son posted a photo on Facebook of Boko Haram fundamentalists in Nigeria who slaughtered hundreds if not thousands in Nigeria last week with the implied question: Will anyone bother to march in protest against this tomorrow?
Another columnist in Britain’s Telegraph questioned the thinking that the terrorists ‘win’ if we don't reproduce those cartoons, and ‘lose’ if we do. ‘As if, at this very moment, terrorist leaders across the West are privately wailing in anguished disbelief because satirical cartoons have been reproduced this morning in several European newspapers.("Disaster! Our plan has backfired in a way we couldn't possibly have foreseen! Ink really does beat Kalashnikovs! Satire defeats us once again!")’
Rather, he suggested, the terrorists ‘win’ if we leap up, gulp down their bait–and hate Muslims, blame Muslims, persecute Muslims, burn their book, attack their mosques, demand their expulsion. Such actions, he warned, scare Western Muslims, isolate them, alienate them and drive some of them to support–and even become–terrorists.
Ah, but we must defend freedom, and particularly the freedom of speech. Yesterday’s crowd in Paris chanted, ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood). But freedom is a slippery customer. That slogan was ironically the cry of the French Revolution, which led directly to rivers of blood in the same streets of Paris where crowds walked yesterday: far greater barbarity!
Freedom of conscience, which is the freedom on which all other freedoms are based, is being trampled on all across liberal Europe. Doctors and nurses who refuse to butcher living embryos lose their jobs. Civil servants who cannot in good conscience conduct a ‘marriage’ ceremony between persons of the same sex lose their jobs. Ordinary people wearing simple symbols of their faith find themselves suddenly unemployed. Dare to disagree with the politically correct doctrine on same sex relationships and see how much freedom of speech there is.
Freedom of religion and worship, fundamental to western civilisation, is also under dire threat. Classical liberal tolerance –’I disagree totally with your viewpoint but will defend to the death your right to hold it’–has yielded to widespread intolerence of what are quickly branded ‘homophobic’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘bigoted’, ‘small-minded’ or ‘out-dated’ perspectives.
On what do we base Equality once we reject the idea that humans reflect God’s image? Aren’t we all just products of natural selection? Shouldn’t only the fittest survive? And can we really talk of Brotherhood if we don’t start with Fatherhood?
One thing that is clear: these issues are going to be around for a long time. How can we respond to these troubled times in the spirit of Jesus? Next week I’ll share about some events to help equip us in this coming year.
Till next week,