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.
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.
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?