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Each month Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr. answers questions regarding process thought and faith.
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Does It Make Sense to Identify with Charlie?
My short answer is an emphatic NO! For my part, I will say “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” Does that mean I sympathize with the murderers? No, it certainly does not, whoever they may have been. But why would one ask? There are victims of crimes with whom one can strongly identify. I could strongly identify with the murdered Dr. King. Some seem to think that Charlie suffered an attack because it was a model of heroism supporting the weak against their oppressors and exposing pretense and evil wherever they occurred. If I agreed, then of course, I would be glad to join those who say: “Je suis Charlie.” But the facts are far otherwise. Islam and Muslims are not the oppressive power in France. They are an unpopular minority that one can ridicule with impunity.
Even sensitive and beautiful pictures of Mohammed are offensive to Muslims. They believe that pictures as a whole are to be avoided. They read Moses’ prohibition of graven images to be of images generally. And whereas Christians have even painted pictures of God, Muslims have observed the prohibition of images.
Most Christians think that we should be sensitive to the feelings of those who practice other forms of faith. Further, we should be especially sensitive to the feelings of minorities who are not able to defend themselves. We may defend the right of abusers to abuse, but that should not lead us to identify with them.
Some seem to consider the use of humor to be a great virtue regardless of who is ridiculed and whether there is any justification for the humor. Using this enthusiasm for humor as a basis of identifying with Charlie assumes that the cartoons of Mohammed are humorous. Perhaps some of the Charlie cartoons are funny. I have certainly not examined them all. But many are not.
What of the cartoon showing Mohammed kissing another man? What is funny about that? What point can be made by such a depiction that is so important that one is driven to cause great offense to many? A picture of David embracing Jonathan might serve some purpose, although any possible gain would be undercut by treating it as the butt of a joke. So far as I know there is no basis for supposing that Mohammed was gay. So what is the humor in depicting him that way? Even if he was gay, where is the humor?
Do I think that people should be killed because they offend and ridicule minority groups? No. Do I want stricter laws controlling such matters? No. But do I identify with this cruel vulgarity and abuse of the weak? No. And I am appalled to see millions of people doing so.
The irony goes further. In the wake of this event, the French are restricting freedom of speech. They are arresting all sorts of people, mostly Muslims, on suspicion, just as we do here. No evidence of wrongdoing is needed any longer. Guilt by association suffices. The mass identification with Charlie seems to support Charlie’s anti-Muslim efforts but not personal freedom or the rule of law.
Since that glorious "free speech" march, France has reportedly opened 54 criminal cases for "condoning terrorism." The Associated Press reported that "France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism." Incidentally, a comedian was arrested for his comments on Facebook. Apparently the celebration of humor has its limits in France.
Now many readers who will at least acknowledge that I have a point thus far will not want to read farther. They may recognize that their enthusiasm for supporting free speech has been used for ends of which they do not approve. They may not be in full agreement with my telling of the story, but they are likely to recognize that I have valid concerns.
However, many who might otherwise be supportive will consider it unreasonable to question the truth of the story that has had these consequences. If it is important to you to believe that our newspapers and governments are basically truthful, I would leave you to your truths. Read no further. The rest of this piece is likely to be offensive. It is written for those who are open to the possibility that “common knowledge” is subject to manipulation even if questioning its accuracy is called “conspiracy theory.”
When an event occurs that is quickly escalated into the justification of new policies or removes obstacles to courses of action that are quickly taken, my first question is “cui bono?” or “who gains?” Clearly not the advocates of free speech who are supposedly being celebrated. Clearly not the Islamic community. Apparently it is instead those who favor tighter controls over citizens and more militant foreign policies, justified by a not so vague association of Islam and terrorism.
If this were my only reason for suspicion, I would keep my doubts to myself. But I find the official story intrinsically implausible. I am disturbed that those critics who are in position to influence public opinion raise so few questions.
Consider the course of events as they have been reported. Three men whose identity was thoroughly concealed by their clothing killed several employees of Charlie. They are regarded as having professional skills. However, they left behind incontrovertible testimony to their identity, so that no investigation was needed. The police immediately went after them and killed them on the spot. The police know that no one else was involved; so no investigation is needed. The one official who was engaged in investigation committed suicide.
This sequence of events is very different from what I would expect if, indeed, three Muslims attacked Charlie and killed several people there. If they were skilled killers, they would make it difficult to be traced. Identifying suspects would take time. The suspects would be arrested and interrogated. A matter of great concern would be to discover the larger network of conspirators to which the perpetrators belonged. Investigation would not be ended by a single “suicide.”
Of course, the difference between what happened and what I think would have been likely to happen if three Muslims committed these murders does not prove anything. Any oddities of these kinds are outweighed in the minds of many people by the authority of the French government, the police, and the media. Calling attention to oddities expresses a disposition toward “conspiracy theory,” and this disposition is known to be sick if not worse. People like me should not disturb the peace.
So why am I spouting off? I am tired of seeing the fires of Islamophobia stoked in order to justify the erosion of human liberties and vicious imperial policies. I am tired of seeing sincere and well-meaning people hoodwinked again and again and of watching their healthy responses exploited for unhealthy ends.
It happens that in this case there is one bit of evidence undermining the official story that even the most credulous might take seriously. Very soon after the event, a film was shown in which the killers are displayed attacking Charlie. A little later one scene was removed from the film. It was a scene in which an attacker supposedly killed a policeman. We see the shooting at point blank range and the policeman falling to the sidewalk. “Seeing is believing.” No more evidence is needed!
However, on careful examination of the deleted segment, it is obvious that the bullet harmlessly hits the sidewalk and the policeman is not shot at all. Since copies were made before it was deleted from the official showings, those who are interested can examine this film clip for themselves. I consider that its deletion from the film for official purposes supports my description of what it shows.
Suppose I persuaded people not to take all they hear from government and media at face value. What good would that do? Very little, I suppose. But if we could generate a desire for serious investigation of supposed terrorist actions, and if it turned out that elements of national governments in non-Islamic countries have been involved in many of them, people might acquiesce less readily in surrendering their freedom and supporting global imperialism. That would be a significant gain.