This is the cover of 19 September 2012 issue of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was attacked this morning during an editorial meeting. It seems at this point that 12 people were killed — ten at the magazine and two police officers. There were three gunmen who shouted the usual tired Islamic slogans, in particular, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”
What the Muslim and Jew are saying on the cover of the magazine is, “Faut Pas Se Moquer!” That means roughly, “You must not mock!” The whole thing kind of reminds me of Kirby Delauter who said, “Your rights stop where mine start.” Somehow, reactionaries think their right not to hear or see anything they don’t like trumps everyone else’s right to say and do what they will. I understand this: if my life and ideology where totally vacuous, I too would make a big deal any time someone mocked me.
So there is a sense in which I think it is wrong to pointlessly poke at religious people and their dogma. That’s not a defense of these and many other evil murderers. But there are lots of devout Muslims, Jews, and Christians who get offended when we mock them. If it’s a priest or a mullah or a rabbi, I don’t care. But it is never my wish to make the powerless suffer more. Of course, mostly these people would never see the offensive material. It is usually priests, mullahs, and rabbis who are out fomenting disease, “Look at this thing! Now be outraged!”
In the case of Charlie Hebdo, any outrage is totally unjustified because the magazine took on everyone. Hugh Schofield of the BBC explained the magazine’s history:
The tradition combines left-wing radicalism with a provocative scurrility that often borders on the obscene. Its decision to mock the Prophet Muhammad in 2011 was entirely consistent with its historic raison d’être.
And today’s violence is not new to the magazine. Its editor, Stephane Charbonnier, is under police protection following death threats. And the 2011 cartoon of Muhammad titled, “Charia Hebdo” resulted in their office getting fire bombed. The cartoon is, you know, hilarious. But such silliness is apparently forbidden by the true believers who think that God is so great that he needs murdering psychopaths with assault rifles to protect him.
What’s curious about this whole “no representations of Muhammad” is that it is supposedly following from the Fourth Commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Followers of Islam don’t want people to worship Muhammad — he was a prophet, not a God. But this just shows how religious dogma becomes a muddle. People creating cartoons mocking Muhammad is not going to make anyone worship the prophet. So what’s the big deal? If I were to create a great and reverential stained glass window of Muhammad, that ought to upset the Muslims. If I create a picture of Jesus urinating on Muhammad, it shouldn’t matter at all. Muslims should just write me off as the heathen that I am. God would take care of me!
But the concern about unflattering images of Muhammad have no theological backing. They are instead cultural. I talk a lot about “cultural Christians” here, so let’s extend the concept: these are cultural Muslims. Their complaint is the same as the Christian complaint about businesses saying “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” Their complaint is that non-Muslims aren’t treating their religion as though it has the special status of The Truth™.
I’m not just talking about the normal — non-psychopathic — Muslims who would never think of gunning down a dozen people because they don’t like some cartoons. It’s a continuum. It is part of the same screwed up mentality. It’s also what causes Planned Parenthood clinic bombings and doctor assassinations. And I’ve always thought that if American Christians were a minority and they were being just a tiny bit oppressed, we would see widespread acts of terror.
It’s all just so horrible.