Je suis Charlie
Twelve people dead, just to assuage the hurt feelings of some truly pathetic human beings. It is heartbreaking, terrifying and infinitely absurd.
And predictably, the apologist protestations have already begun: the terrorists are not “true” Muslims. These acts of terrorism are not religiously motivated. None of this has anything to do with Islam. None of this has anything to do with religion.
Poor, poor, poor misunderstood religion; the hardships it has to endure.
But unfortunately for religion, the deities who, several thousand years ago, so kindly dictated their respective rules, threats and petulant demands for blind obedience to willing scribes, neglected one rather important detail: clarity.
Hence why there are 300-odd Christian denominations, for example, and why some Muslims think Islam is the religion of peace whilst other Muslims think murdering their detractors in cold blood is a perfectly acceptable way to behave. Some religiously-motivated behaviour happens to comply with the laws of whichever land the adherent lives in, others don’t. But as religious extremists believe they are answerable only to their chosen higher power, to them it matters not a jot either way: they believe themselves to be morally superior to everyone who does not share their beliefs.
They and only they are the “true” Muslims, or Christians, or fill-in-the-blank, and their god – the one true god, in case you thought yours was – has got their backs.
And who are we to tell them differently, when every single one of the myriad of belief denominations is based on nothing more solid than an interpretation of texts written an enormously long time ago?
Sadly for us all, not one of the deities who were apparently so keen to communicate a couple of millennia ago has been back to clear up the many misconceptions, contradictions and inconsistencies left by their previous attempts at telling humans what’s what. So that leaves it up to personal interpretation, and as we know, personal interpretation relies heavily on personal experience, personal ideals and personal goals.
The interpretation is shaped not only by the character of the interpreter, but also by the life he is living, and the society and times in which he is living it. It isn’t objective. It isn’t reliable. But it can’t be disproved.
For example, if the New Testament really was a moral guide then there would have been no slavery, no Crusades, no Spanish Inquisition; in fact none of the cruelty, oppression, persecution and bloodshed committed in the name of Christianity during the period within the last two thousand years that such things were considered acceptable.
But it is not a moral guide. No holy book is a moral guide. Morals do not come from religion, they never have. Morals come from the human experience. Morals are the result of human beings discovering what aids cohesion, strength and the success of their community. And it would have been quickly clear that murder, rape, theft, adultery and dishonesty (amongst much other anti-social behaviour) within a society does not make it stronger.
Of course nowadays humans have progressed to the extent where most of us realise that murder, rape, theft et al committed against anyone at all, regardless of their “tribal” affiliations is also morally reprehensible, and so religion has been bent, watered-down and reinterpreted to suit new sensitivities. The parts of the holy books that are unpalatable to anyone with a conscience, and thus incompatible with progressive modern society, are resold as “analogies” or “not to be taken literally” regardless of the absurdity of such a statement.
For how can anyone possibly know how these books were meant to be interpreted? They stand alone.
However there are still people who remain true to the more unpalatable parts of their holy books: the Christian far right who think homosexuals should be put to death, who think women should bend to the will of their husbands, who think evolution is a lie and who would gladly drag the USA back to the dark ages of fear, superstition, bigotry and ignorance from which the Founding Fathers fled. And the Muslim extremists, who for those same reasons and more, would gladly drag the entire world into a monotheistic and theocratic hell where the word of paranoid misogynists with an intense hatred of freedom and democracy, would be law.
It has EVERYTHING to do with religion, because these people act in the name of their religion, and religion can be whatever its believer wants it to be.
It can be a reassuring sop to those scared of the permanence of death, a promise of better things for those living a life of hardship and an ego trip to those incapable of believing that we are no more important than any other species on our planet. It can offer a public veneer of “goodness” to those for whom simply being good is somehow not enough, and offer a sense of community to some who, for whatever reason, would otherwise feel alone. It can be warm and kind and touchy-feely for those who are happy to ignore the parts that are quite the opposite, and who are (happily for them) free to mould it to suit a personal ideal.
But religion can also be fire and brimstone. It can be about beliefs, not behaviour. You can be as “good” as you want, but if you don’t conform to a particular belief system, an eternity of hell fire awaits. Religion can be divisive; your tribe is the chosen tribe and everyone else is varying degrees of utterly wrong. Religion can be judgemental; it shames your sexuality, and demands dominion over your reproductive organs, your heart and your mind. And religion can also offer easy answers for the terminally disaffected – how wonderful for the previously purposeless to suddenly feel so vastly superior; able to sweep aside the boundaries within which lesser mortals are constrained to live in order to decide their fate. Commit the most heinous of acts, and be eternally rewarded by the highest power they believe there is.
These people might not represent the majority of Muslims, but they are still Muslims acting in the name of Islam, and to attempt to claim otherwise merely adds to the problem by continuing to shield religion from the scrutiny any idea wielding such power should rightly be subjected to.
And that is why the pencils of Charlie Hebdo and colleagues the world over must never ever stop chipping away at respect that is demanded, but not earned.
Why they must force people to accept that being offended is just one of the hazards of living in this fabulously free society – where everything must be questioned, nothing glorified, and where nothing or nobody is above criticism.
Why they must continue to be free to kill that sacred cow, again, and again, and again.
“I would rather die standing, than live on my knees.”
On est tous Charlie.