It seems to me…
“What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.
Charlie Hebdo, considered by many to be offensive and objectionable, is a publication to which I personally would not subscribe. With an average circulation of only 45,000 to 60,000 issues, apparently most other people agree.
I admittedly never have personally read it but based on the consensus of opinions expressed by others, it “is crass, mean, in bad taste, an equal opportunity offender throwing barbs and insults at targets of any and all sexual, religious, and political persuasion. It is a blunt instrument devoid of the minimal finesse and sophistication of a vintage Mad Magazine” appealing primarily to “the intelligence of a retarded, sorry ‘intellectually disabled’ 15 year old or just a plain old fashioned bigot with a grade school education.” “It has no socially redeeming value except as a beacon for freedom of speech and expression at its most offensive and insulting level” [i]. Regardless of what I, or any one else, might think of the publication, I strongly support the right to publish it.
This does not infer there should not be any freedom of speech limitations as to what can be published. Just as it is illegal to falsely shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, basic freedoms do not automatically extend to encouragement for what is considered criminal activity — though exactly what is considered unacceptable is not always obvious.
Advocating capital punishment is obviously legal; encouraging murder is not. Describing how to make an explosive might be legal; depending upon the circumstances; actually making or detonating the explosive probably is not. Pornography is legal; child pornography is not.
If material is considered to be legal but personally objectionable, it is one’s personal right to refrain from purchasing or reading that material. Resorting to violence in response to publication of that material regardless of how offensive it might be is never acceptable.
The basic right to freedom of expression extends even to those who desire to deny that right to others. While negative comments and criticism concerning the literary quality of Charlie Hebdo might be true, I still support the right to say it (as long as I do not have to read or purchase it).
Unfortunately, many are interpreting the Charlie Hebdo[ii] murders as an “us vs. them” dichotomy. To most Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad was a man who was regularly denigrated, mocked, humiliated, abused during his lifetime but responded with mercy, compassion, and, above all, forgiveness. Obviously, not all Muslims are equally forgiving.
Muslims choosing to live in Western societies must accept the Quran’s commands and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad that Muslims fulfill their commitments, contracts, and pledges. Since all Muslims whether visitors, immigrants, or born citizens of the nation in which they live gave their agreement to respect the law, it is a violation of their faith to resort to violence in response to any perceived grievance.
In the last century there has been a rise of an extreme and hardline interpretation of Islam; Salafism for example, has come to dominate the landscape of Islam today.
Many Muslims, especially among the young, experience discrimination and feel disenfranchised. In order to balance Western freedom of expression with their faith, this feeling of social frustration amongst Muslim youth, especially in places such as France, needs to be addressed. As demonstrated in the so-called Arab Spring, many Muslims likewise yearn for freedom of expression and are willing to die for it as they know it is that freedom that protects all other rights.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo is essentially a cultural clash based on a misunderstanding of how opposing cultures view basic rights. A culture clash, when two or more cultures disagree about their beliefs or way of life, is what many Muslim extremists desire to promulgate – and they are achieving just that[iii]. Unfortunately resulting from the attack, negative public opinion might dramatically intensify leading to increased aggravation of existing conflicts between the Muslim community and the western majority society in which they live. The need to deter future such attacks necessitates additional security measures that likely could lead to further alienation of all minority groups.
It would be unfortunate if the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo was permitted to fade from political consciousness prior to correction of its underlying sources. If minority groups, not only in France but elsewhere throughout the world, continue to be treated as second-class citizens, alienation will only result in increased violence. Inclusion within their society requires acceptance and economic opportunity. Poverty, lack of educational options, and denial of adequate opportunity to express minority beliefs leads to further societal division and animosity. It is important to emphasize the need for the integration of migrant communities in their societies, and that requires not only cultural and political actions but also socioeconomic policies to ensure that all citizens do not feel disfranchised but rather are considered valued participants in their societies.
Alienation is not necessarily an aspect of multicultural society. While not perfect, many societies; e.g., Switzerland, the U.S., and even Australia; include multicultural elements without apparent conflict.
Cultural clash resolution is difficult to resolve when conflicting values are diametrically different. Given the possibility of Islamophobic-fueled responses to the attacks, care must be taken not to respond to the terrorists’ intolerance with intolerance of our own.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Brashich, Deyan Ranko. You Are Not Charlie Hebdo, http://deyanbrashich.com/home/2015/1/12/you-are-not-charlie-hebdo.html, 12 January 2015.
[ii] Bornmann, Lew. Je suis Charlie, WordPress, https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/je-suis-charlie/, 19 January 2015.
[iii] Fromkin, David. The Strategy of Terrorism, Foreign Affairs, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/24584/david-fromkin/the-strategy-of-terrorism, July 1975.