Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Respect is earned, not given

Once again, people purporting to defend The Religion of Peace (TM) have decided the best way to express their disagreement over editorial cartoons is to kill those who draw them.
Two gunmen in balaclavas and bullet-proof vests, armed with a pump-action shotgun and an automatic rifle, stormed into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo at about 11.30am as about 15 journalists had gathered for the weekly editorial conference. They called for the editor by name and then murdered him before spraying the room with gunfire, killing nine more and wounding others. Laurent Léger, a Charlie Hebdo writer, managed to sound the alarm, calling a friend and telling him: “Call the police. It’s carnage, a bloodbath. Everyone is dead.”
As they made their getaway, the gunmen shot dead two policemen, including one who they shot in the head at close range as he lay injured on the pavement. ...
The attack was the bloody culmination of a long-simmering struggle between France’s libertarian traditions of free speech and an increasingly extreme strand of Islamism. Witnesses described hearing the attackers shout “Allahu Akbar” as well as “We have avenged the Prophet.” Two eyewitnesses said they claimed to be from al-Qaida. One of them specified al-Qaida in Yemen, a group also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Charlie Hebdo, a feisty and irreverent publication with a 44-year history, had been at the very frontline of that battle since 2006, when it first reprinted cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad originally published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published another cartoon of the Muslim prophet.
Let's make a couple things clear up front. Anyone asking "where are the moderate Muslims denouncing this savagery?" clearly can't be bothered to search for themselves, so here. Also, I ask of anyone claiming these murderers aren't "true" Muslims -- just what is a "true" Muslim? I don't know, and I highly doubt you do, either.

Obviously, I stand with Charlie Hebdo and all others who understand the necessity of a free, unfettered press in a functioning democratic society. If you find someone's speech offensive, even blasphemous, the answer is not to silence that speech but respond with more speech of your own. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in reference to -- but not quoting -- Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

With that in mind, I can understand responses such as that from Terry Firma at the Friendly Atheist:
What do you want to bet that from now on, consistently and with an actual spine, politicians and civic leaders and media barons will call Islamist terrorism by its name? Or that they will defend – truly stand tall for – the right of all citizens to say, write, draw, and publish any religious joke at all?
As they’ve done before, over the next two or three days European leaders (and American ones) will mumble and bumble their way through tepid, half-hearted defenses of free speech. But increasingly, their bromides will be accompanied by reminders that we must be “sensitive” to other people’s religions, and that we ought to “show respect” for their beliefs. That tiresome gambit plays well to Muslims like these (moderate ones, I’m afraid):
Basta. Islamists — not all Muslims; Islamists — are a cancer. We do not owe them politeness and respect and sensitivity, just as we owe none of those things to any malignant cells in our own bodies. Summoning courage and ruthlessness and precision, we cut them out and survive… or we let them fester, with fatal consequences. 
What we do owe, aside from a debt of lifelong gratitude to Charlie Hebdo and its horrifically decimated staff, is the determination to never let the magazine’s spirit of playful insolence be silenced by assholes with guns and bombs.
After all, why should non-Muslims show deference and respect to a religion that isn't theirs and a deity in which they don't believe? People certainly deserve respect -- that's part of basic humanity. But abstract concepts, even ones that are sincerely held? None of them are above reproach, questioning and ridicule. To accede to the demands of the people such as those in the above photo and declare anything that is "sacred" to anyone as off-limits to criticism or ridicule -- an effort that is not unprecedented -- would have a chilling effect on speech worldwide, turning the Internet into a minefield of possible thought-police violations. It does show a curious set of priorities on the part of those pushing for global bans on blasphemy, that their right not to be offended supersedes everyone else's right to think, write and speak freely.

If that was the end of the matter, this would all be fairly straightforward -- champions of free speech good, murderers bad. But it's never that simple, is it? What stops me from being 100 percent on the FREEDOM!!! bandwagon is this -- Muslims in France have it difficult enough as it is. Integrating into a society that values a secular government has been difficult for many, particularly when central parts of their religious identity clash with the laws of the land. Making matters worse, Marine Le Pen and her far-right, anti-immigrant Front National are all the rage in French politics these days as a wave of reported Islamophobia sweeps the republic. Maybe it's just my Worst-Case Scenario Syndrome kicking in, but I have a feeling this will only further complicate efforts to help Muslims feel less marginalized in France as opportunists in the country and around Europe seize on the chance to portray Muslims as perfidious outsiders who are not One Of Us.

What next? Hell if I know. There is a massive manhunt for the suspects, as well as reports of commando raids in Reims. If there was an easy answer for integrating Muslim immigrants into open, democratic societies, I imagine someone would have figured it out by now. Even the famously tolerant Swedes are struggling with this, so don't expect it to be sorted anytime soon.

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