The attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris really hit home for me. My family has a few friends who live in Normandy, and for a little while we were really worried about their safety. Maybe it would have been less concerning if the terrorists hadn’t seemed so well trained and professional. For a while I was sure that they were going to get away, and who knows what they would have done next. Secondly, Paris is a big, modern city in a first world country with good intelligence and security in place. How were these terrorists able to do this completely under the radar? Apparently they had records and (as far as I know) were on a U.S. no-fly list. Shouldn’t they have been watched a little more closely? Lastly, it just seems to me that France is so close to home: just across the pond, as it were.
I know where France is. I can easily find it on a world map. I know things about their culture and history. My brother has been there, and we’re planning on going there as a family in June. Therefore, it’s more meaningful to me when something like this happens there. When something really terrible happens in Iraq or Syria, it does trouble me. People get hurt; people needlessly suffer; Christians are persecuted and killed, and that really is a personal issue for me. However, I don’t know much about Iraq or Syria. I don’t know their culture or history, and I probably couldn’t find them on a map. They seem far away, and the danger and the impact seem less immediate.
I was amazed to hear that several million people marched together in Paris in solidarity with the victims of the attack. World leaders put aside their differences for a little while to show their support for France and for freedom. “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) became a common theme. Charlie Habdo stood for freedom of speech. They published satire that in many cases was downright offensive, and they did it intentionally and to everyone. Honestly, I haven’t read their material, partly because it would take me forever (I can barely read French), but I know they have said and portrayed some nasty things about Jesus, and I know that if I did read it, it would probably make me angry. It bothers me when people use my God as a punchline.
However, what Charlie Habdo does is different. They do it to everyone, and they don’t do it out of spite (at least it doesn’t seem that way). While some, or much of what they do might be tasteless, I think the point that they are trying to make is that no one is perfect, no religion is perfect, and we all can and should take a step back and laugh at ourselves from time to time. That being said, I personally feel that intentionally offending anyone is wrong on a fundamental level. I also think that publishing offensive cartoons of Muhammad, in particular, was asking for trouble. I don’t know much about Islam. However, I do know that it tends to lead some people to violence. This is a well-known fact, and they should have taken this into account. The thought process seems to have been: let’s do this and see what trouble we can stir up. Most of the time this is just obnoxious, occasionally funny, and harmless. However, it seems that just because you have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean you should. There are certain people who just aren’t worth pissing off.
On a side note, my friend brought up a good point the other day: asking moderate Muslims to take responsibility for this kind of terrorism is kind of like asking me to take responsibility for the Crusades, or for people like the Westboro Baptists: something I refuse to do. I want nothing to do with these kinds of people, and it shames me that, because I am called Christian, someone who doesn’t know me might assume that I am like them. In my mind they are not Christian, and in theirs I probably am not. The same kind of thinking must apply to Muslims (I assume). However, no one is saying anything. Granted, this happens in the Church sometimes as well: that a priest does something morally wrong and no one says anything or everyone tries to keep it a secret. However, what these terrorists did is not a secret, and no one has said anything. I would assume that doing this kind of thing under an Islamic flag must make people angry, but no one has said that this is not Islam. It paints a very bad picture of Muslims, but no one has said “This is not us.”
Ultimately, it comes down to this: two wrongs don’t make a right. Violence is never the answer. Ever. End of story. Charlie Habdo is offensive and blasphemous, and I support their right to be so. I support everyone’s right to be so. I would prefer that no one was, but I would never hurt someone over it. I just don’t watch or read things that I know will offend me. I can ask people not to say blasphemous things around me, but I can’t monitor what they say and think 24/7, and I don’t want to. There are peaceful ways of denouncing or protesting blasphemy. One can write about and against it. One can get a group of people together to peacefully and visually protest it. One can create art that glorifies love, glorifies peace, and most importantly, glorifies God. One can teach.
What we have to remember is that people died in this attack. people who we may disagree with on a fundamental level lost their lives. They should be mourned; they should be remembered; they should be prayed for. On some spiritual level, yeah, they might be “the enemy,” and, like us, they are children of God.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!