Reflections on Charlie Hebdo, Part I

Although I am aware of distressing news events as reported in the media, I rarely write about them. The extra dwelling on the awfulness makes me feel, well, awful. This time, I feel the need to write. The Charlie Hebdo massacre of journalists in Paris has roused a lot of disquiet in me. I extend my sympathy to the people of France at this time and to people everywhere who are grieving the effects of needless violence.

The bloodshed in France is minor in scope compared to other horrific injustices perpetrated elsewhere. The day the blood flowed in Paris, 1000’s of Muslim civilians were wiped off the face of the earth in Nigeria. With Paris news, Western media barely mentioned the Nigerian atrocity, or ignored it altogether. “We” more easily identify with Parisians, I guess. If they’re not the target, then maybe we’ll be? Perhaps it would serve us to empathize also with Muslim victims of the Muslim extremists’ savagery. They (the Muslim victims) are not our “enemies,” plus they are much more vulnerable than we are. And, we are all vulnerable.

Yin Yang, Together, Not Apart--The Way We Were Meant to Be

I Don’t Want to be Holier-than-Thou!

Though relatively “minor in scope,” the Charlie Hebdo slaughter is major in terms of Western media and public outcry. Well, good then, maybe. Good if the enormous attention serves to highlight what is perhaps the greatest source of evil in our world, extremist egocentric-righteousness, or extremist holier-than-thou-ism–“I am/ we are justified by the way I/we think.” And I’m not just talking about the attackers of Charlie Hebdo or Nigerian civilians. I’m also talking about Charlie Hebdo, and that may mean most, if not all, of us. #JesuisCharlie? Unfortunately, most people don’t want to consider how their and their country’s attitudes of superiority (smugness) are part of the problem. It’s a lot easier to finger point.

Three Word Definition for War

Many years ago, a 14 year old boy in one of my English classes asked, “What is the definition of war?” He then went on to tell me: “We Are Right.” He had a point.

He was alluding to the human temptation to finger point, claim that the other is wrong and that I am/ we are “right,” hence justified. “They deserved it…yatta yatta.” No one is immune to that thing called self-righteousness. It seems to be hardwired into the human ego as the “I’m better than you” way of thinking. Add labels to the mix and it’s even easier to point. What a sorry lot we humans can be. I wish we could forget about stupid labels—Muslim, Christian, white, black, short, fat, etc, etc.

On a big scale, the effects of righteousness can be grossly overt, as what happened recently in Paris or what happened in the USA during 9/11, as just two examples. The effects of righteousness can be grossly covert too, with the existence of black hole prisons and torture chambers all over the world, some sanctioned by democratically elected governments, you know, “the good guys.” With both overt and covert types of righteousness, victims become gross offenders, then those gross offenders become victims, and on and on the madness goes. When are we going to stop the merry-go-round of counterproductive re-active behaviour and take the higher road to uncovering and dealing with what is really wrong under the surface? It’s the welfare of humanity that’s at stake here.

On a seemingly “smaller” scale, righteousness can be equally insidious and destructive. Look at domestic violence, or sexism or racism in the work place and in schools. Big or little, wars are wars and people get hurt. When considering finger pointing, we need to remind ourselves that we really aren’t so pristine in the West. Leonard Cohen reminds us of that in his lyrical tour de force of irony. In it he tells us that “the heart has got to open in a fundamental way.” I think we should all get off our high horses when we are on them and really take in that last statement. An open heart, and I am not talking about any “bleeding” heart, is an essential element in preserving the human race. Take a look and a listen if you care to. Leonard Cohen is, frankly, brilliant. Click here for the lyrics.

Democracy is Coming to the USA

Freedom or License?

Freedom of expression is important, most definitely! I want to be able to express my feelings and views just like everyone else. But let’s be careful not to make freedom of expression into some kind of sacred cow. Some of what flies by the name of that kind of freedom, as far as I’m concerned, is not really freedom so much as license to deliberately and callously offend. (Heedlessly offend, I might add.) Where’s the basic human decency? Must “freedom” be the trump card?

Is it cool in France or other Western lands to mock the Holocaust? No. Most of us simply wouldn’t do it. It’s not funny. Indeed, in many countries, denying the Holocaust or trivializing its grotesque violation against the sanctity of human life is an indictable offense with jail sentences and/or hefty fines attached. Do we scream foul at a curtailment to our freedom of expression? Should “freedom of expression” be upheld when it comes to bullying, in either real or in cyber space? In Canada, where I live, tolerance for this kind of expression is evaporating fast.

Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment, Lao Tzu, 540 BC

Charlie Hebdo’s flagrant demeaning of Muslim people’s prophet Muhammad exuded, and still exudes, holier-than-thou-ism, ego-centric and perhaps extremist. The cartoons were and still are designed to flaunt the superior attitude of the paper. “We can, so we will” seems to be the mind set. “If we do not continue to do this, you win and we lose.” At least, that’s my take. Where’s a responsible attitude in that? When are we collectively going to graduate beyond a sandbox level of moral maturity? (“He stole my truck”–WHAM!)

For some people, the paper helps provide further justification for hostility toward Muslims. What’s the sense in that? About 20% of the world’s population are Muslims. Most are good and decent people whose religion has been hijacked by a whole lot of extremist holier-than-thou crazed wackos. Muslims happen to be our neighbours. Planet earth is, after all, not that big a place.

Charlie Hebdo’s aim to provoke offense was and continues to be a woeful success in more ways than one. Three million cartoon-fronted papers sold out in no time yesterday? A lot of profit is to be made in the keep-the stupidity-going business, aka the cause and effect cycle of madness.

I have more to say on this subject, but I’ll save it for next time. Until then, I’ll leave you with this:

Food for Thought

Dan Hodges of the Telegraph News Group in the UK asks a useful question: “What if the terrorists were Christian?” To read his article, click here.  By way of a subtitle, Hodges has written: “To understand how to respond to the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, we only have to imagine what would happen if the situation was reversed.” I imagine we’d be a little slower to finger point, and we’d want to probe more deeply into what was really going on. What would you imagine?


By | 2017-05-28T18:37:21+00:00 January 15th, 2015|World Matters|16 Comments

About the Author:

Ramona McKean is creating a "Bridge of Light" (aka “a Bridge of the Heart”) to promote cross-cultural appreciation and awareness. An author and speaker, she lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.


  1. Clarke January 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm - Reply

    Fabulous article Ramona.

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject.

    • Ramona January 15, 2015 at 11:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Clarke. Understandably, there are a lot of intense feelings being expressed these days about the happenings in France. I feel for all the people living in high levels of fear and upset. I notice that my heart keeps going out to Muslim people living in Europe. It must be extra hard for them in some ways. I do not want them to be scapegoated. I think it is important for people of good will everywhere to generate as much loving energy as possible for planet earth. We need it.

  2. L. L. Reynolds January 16, 2015 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment! I love that, Ramona. So much trouble could be avoided if humanity could “respond intelligently.” When things such as religion or politics are radicalized, terrible things happen. It makes me so sad. Love is the answer, as well as tolerance and as you have just so eloquently pointed out…intelligent response! Thanks for sharing Ramona!

    • Ramona January 16, 2015 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      I know that “intelligent” responses can be very difficult when people are afraid. More news today and it’s of course disturbing. I can hardly imagine the fear gripping so many in European and African countries right now. I agree with you about love. I think as many of us as possible “sending” love to Europe and Africa (the whole world, actually) would be a wise thing. We all stand to benefit. Thank you for your comment. All the best to you.

  3. Lenie January 29, 2015 at 4:32 am - Reply

    Ramona – congratulations for posting an article that must be read, even if it makes people uncomfortable.
    I agree that ‘freedom of expression’ is important and we are fortunate that we live in a Country where that exists.
    However, If I were to make racist remarks or threatening comments on Twitter or elsewhere on the Internet I would soon be held accountable. There is such a thing as limits.
    We are on this big campaign right now to stop bullying but what is it other than ignorant people using their right to ‘freedom of expression’. It is wrong.
    Making fun of someone’s belief is extremely wrong and Charlie Hebdo, instead of being applauded, should be held accountable for the deaths the cartoons caused. That’s my take on it.

    • Ramona January 29, 2015 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Lenie, thank you. You commented: “congratulations for posting an article that must be read, even if it makes people uncomfortable.” Believe it or not, amidst all what I perceive to be my mildness of expression, I felt nervous posting this blog. I figured I’d be the target of the rednecks whose comments I’m seeing too much these days regarding Muslims. Thank goodness I gathered courage and expressed myself with more punch in part II (of this blog).

      That Charlie should be held accountable–Wow! In my mind, too, there is no question that Charlie Hebdo is at least partly responsible for the debacle. I can just hear people scream–“What, you’re blaming the victims?!” Words and pictures can be vicious weapons. What goes around comes around. It’s time for Charlie to grow up, or the blood of more innocent people will be on their hands.

  4. Tim January 29, 2015 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    There is no denying that the attack was a tragedy and any senseless loss of life is horrible; Muslims and all others alike. There is always a tragedy somewhere that will trump the current tragedy, that seems to be one of the sad components of our world; maybe it was always that way. I read an article the other day where the writer said that the extremists had nothing what-so-ever to do with Islam and that we should stop associating the Muslim community to them; I agree. The extremists are criminals cloaking themselves in religion. We have seen this time and again throughout history. Would the same thing happen if the situation was reversed; who knows but it is not beyond the realm of possibility since this kind of horrific behavior can take on the religious name of whatever best suits its needs.

    • Ramona January 29, 2015 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      Tim, I agree with you: “The extremists are criminals cloaking themselves in religion.” There have been and still are wackos who self-righteously kill in the name of Christianity. A google search reveals plenty. Even George Bush said God told him America should invade Iraq. How many innocent people died? It’s no wonder millions in the world see America as “terrorist.” What’s to be done? I have given much thought to this question and share some of my ideas in the next blog. Thank you for writing.

  5. Andy January 29, 2015 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    When you choose to use ‘fighting words’, there are no guarantees that the person(s) on the receiving end of your words will react in a self-controlled manner. Whether we all want to admit it or not, what the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists did is not so different from going up to a big Black guy and addressing him with the ‘N-word’. It shouldn’t be illegal to use fighting words, but I’m not going to defend your ‘right’ to do that, I would try to talk you out of doing that, and I’m not going to feel particularly sorry for you if something bad happens to you upon doing that. You reap what you sow.

    • Ramona January 30, 2015 at 12:05 am - Reply

      Well expressed, Andy. Yup, you reap what you sow. Unfortunately, innocent souls on the sidelines can get harmed by the provocative behaviour of fools. Thank you for writing.

  6. Jacqueline Gum January 30, 2015 at 8:52 am - Reply

    I applaud your courage in posting this. It’s a topic where great minds come down on both sides of the issue. Isn’t that often the case with most important issues? That valid arguments can be made for both sides? Foremost, to me, is the lack of decency today, the ability to ascertain what is truly right or wrong and who is the best judge of that? Is it the majority opinion? If that, then how do we give a minority opinion a voice? One thing for sure, in my opinion, is if you choose to be an outlier; if you choose to offend, then be aware of the consequences of that choice. Because action-reaction are like ripples in a pond….they get wider and wider. Very thought provoking post…applause!

    • Ramona January 30, 2015 at 11:24 pm - Reply

      I value your feedback, Jacquie. Thank you.

  7. Ken Dowell January 30, 2015 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Along with the nationalistic or religious based sense of righteousness that you point out comes a sense of entitlement. Our actions are justified because we are entitled to enforce our way of life, our religion, whatever. Unfortunately there seems to be no end in sight.

    • Ramona January 30, 2015 at 11:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks for adding the word “entitlement.” Fits all too well, or too horribly (depending on one’s point of view). The belief that one inherently deserves what one wants, that any behavior associated with it is really okay–sure smacks of arrogance to me. I want to believe that we humans are better than that. We can only be “better than that” if we’re willing to open our minds and soften our hearts. That’s what spiritual teachings are all about. Not easy, but it is the only way. Will it happen? Seems not, but I don’t know. Thanks for commenting, Ken.

  8. Susan Cooper February 1, 2015 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Very thought-provoking post. I heard in the news a couple weeks ago even the Pope said free speech without consequences is an unrealistic ideal. Charlie Hebdo is an equal opportunity offender though, offending just about everyone, much like Southpark. Some of the covers mocking Christianity were very offensive. Freedom of speech is important, but I don’t think it is wise to use it for hate speech, to mock others religions, etc. just because you can.

    • Ramona February 2, 2015 at 12:13 am - Reply

      We are in agreement, Susan. Thank you for writing. Somewhere there has got to be a basic level of human decency. When the bullets of offense have hit their mark, sometimes repeatedly, and the targets have expressed their deep deep hurt, what’s the sense in keeping up the assault? Is it simply the satisfying of a sadistic urge? If that’s the case, then it is plain selfish and SICK. What you sow, you reap. The unfortunate aspect in this is that what you sow, innocent people too often reap as well; they are the “collateral damage.” 🙁 Such a euphemistic baffle-gab term for the maiming or murdering of the innocent. Humanity, all of us, needs to become more humane. That is the bottom-line.

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