The Takeaway From the Terror in France

by Diane Dimond on January 19, 2015

Outside the Offices of Charlie Hebdo

Outside the Offices of Charlie Hebdo – 1/7/2015

Who among us was not horrified at the spasm of deadly terrorism that has swept through Paris? Religious extremists — using Islam as justification – caused the deaths of 17 people in three separate instances and plunged the French nation into a state of fright.

There are so many layers to this tragedy. A stark reminder that anti-Semitic hatreds still exists following the coldblooded murders of four Jewish customers at a kosher grocery store. An entire religion tainted in the minds of some. And a brazen display of evil as terrorists methodically gunned down twelve staffers at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in broad daylight.

700,000 Demonstrated in  France - More Worldwide

700,000 Demonstrated in France – More Worldwide

Massive crowds flooded the streets of Paris, marching in support of freedom of speech. The phrase, “Je Suis Charlie Hebdo!” (I am Charlie Hebdo) swept across the world.

But did everyone who repeated the phrase understand the reality?

Stephane Charbonnier, the editor of the magazine, made it his business to be provocative, to repeatedly taunt the Muslim prophet Muhammad in disparaging cartoons. Charbonnier specialized in deliberately offensive humor and treated all organized religion with disdain. Last month he featured a cover cartoon depicting the Virgin Mary, legs splayed, giving birth to Jesus. His girlfriend said Charbonnier always knew he would die the way he did.

The Late Stephane Chardonnier

The Late Stephane Chardonnier

As distasteful as I found that Virgin Mary cartoon, I could never support censorship. And apparently neither could the millions of others across the world who have pledged their devotion to the idea.

Realize – Freedom of Speech is not a law. It is an absolute right all civilized nations embrace.

So, in the glow of all this re-dedication to freedom of speech let me ask – do you faithfully adhere to the concept? Are you tolerant of other’s opinions? Do you allow those around you to express their thoughts without pigeonholing them into some dismissive category? Does the phrase, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” ever enter your mind?

Yeah, me neither. What’s happened to us?

Freedom of Speech Rally in London

Freedom of Speech Rally in London

We demand freedom of expression for a magazine in France (named after the American born cartoon character Charlie Brown) while we fail to practice it in our everyday lives.

So many of us are automatically dismissive of viewpoints that don’t match our own on important issues like gun control, immigration and government regulation. So guess what? Nothing gets done. The pendulum of intolerance swings so far left and then right that it never stays in the middle long enough for us to reach any thoughtful compromise.

Many cling to the idea that being “politically correct” (whatever that means) trumps everything else. The thought being that if a small group of people might possibly be offended by something then that something must be quashed.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Rejected for Speaking About Islam

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Rejected for Speaking About Islam

Case in point:  Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose hugely moving autobiography Infidel so graphically told the horror of genital mutilation of Muslim girls in her native Somalia, was denied a planned honorary degree at Brandeis University last year because she had dared to criticize Islam.

I guess the brain trust at Brandeis thought it better to appease that tiny fraction of Muslims who cling to the idea that holding down a pre-teen girl to mutilate her is okay.

By that train of thought then we ought not criticize the blood thirsty radicals who attacked in France. Gee, their comrades in terror might be offended.

Rockwell's Freedom of Speech

Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech

A few days after the carnage in France I had the pleasure to visit the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It was a moving experience as I wandered through Rockwell’s artwork, including his 50 years of covers for the Saturday Evening Post. So different than what Charbonnier and his staff artists routinely produced. Rockwell’s work was wholesome, hopeful and patriotic.

I stood for a long time in front of Rockwell’s work entitled Freedom of Speech, featuring a common man earnestly addressing a town meeting while others looked on in respectful attentiveness.

Rockwell's Freedom to Worship

Rockwell’s Freedom to Worship

Another in this Rockwell series entitled Freedom to Worship hung nearby. It depicts a group of people with bowed heads and folded hands and includes the phrase, “Each according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

I’m not Charlie Hebdo. I never want to be the person who makes fun of someone’s religious beliefs. That, too, is sacrosanct in my book. Practicing freedom of speech while trampling on someone else’s right to worship what they want is not something I can get behind.

Do it if you want, Charlie Hebdo, but don’t ask me to applaud while you do it.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond January 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

ABQ Journal Reader Hi Diane,

“I agree with much in your article about satirists. The Charlie Hebdo people were waving red flags in front of every person of faith, not just Muslims, but it seems that only the Muslims were incensed enough to go shoot up the perpetrators of what they consider blaspheme.

Here’s where I leave you, “Practicing freedom of speech while trampling on someone else’s right to worship…”

Please enumerate for me how any person in France was denied their right to worship in any way by Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons.

No one was being forced to see material that they deemed offensive. There were other ways to protest if they felt it necessary besides shooting up the place and killing several people. If they wanted to make a statement, well obviously they did, but it sure backfired in the wider civilized world.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out when the smoke clears. Will there be no more satirizing of religious, political figures. That would be a loss I think, leaving us with only polite discourse about contentious issues. Is that what you see as the right way to address these issues?

Satire has a very long history, from the early Greeks to Moliere, Swift, Voltaire, Dickens, Wilde, Shaw, Mencken, Wodehouse, Waugh, Orwell, Vonnegut, Bradbury, Mel Brooks, Trudeau, to name only a few who have written their thoughts in a satirical way. Would you have them sanitized, so as to be polite.

You may not be “Charlie Hebdo”, but I hope you will stand up in solidarity with those who use satire as a way to express ideas, Ideas that may not be universally popular, but that should not be cut off from expression in the media.”

Sincerely,
Ramona Bush

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Diane Dimond January 20, 2015 at 8:28 am

ABQ Journal Reader Charles Potter writes:

“I appreciated your article from today and generally agree with your opinion that disrespectful speech should be avoided in polite society. My frustration with this discussion both with your column and the New York Times is that Christians and our religion have been maligned for decades with a large societal support, but objection not voice for this type of disrespect until people start getting killed for it. I’m not convinced that, if things were to change with respect to Islam, that they would change in a similar way towards Christianity. ”

Charles A. Potter, PhD, CHP
Albuquerque, NM

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Diane Dimond January 20, 2015 at 8:29 am

ABQ Journal Reader Madge DeFee writes:

“Diane Dimond, I read your column in the Albuquerque Journal and am never disappointed. You always make so much sense! Thank you.”

Madge DeFee,
A reader in Las Cruces NM

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Diane Dimond January 20, 2015 at 8:30 am

Reader Jim Terr writes:

“Satirists: I am one, and someone just posted your column on my Facebook page, probably thinking I’d be offended.

But I agree, and was arguing more or less the same thing the other day.”

Good work.

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Diane Dimond January 20, 2015 at 8:30 am

ABQ Journal Reader RoseLeeBush writes:

“France has very confusing and contradictory laws about what speech/writing is protected. Here is an example:
“Although the French are in no mood for compromise at the moment, they might want to reflect on the fact that America’s Muslim minority, which is free to wear headscarves or not, is far more integrated into American life than France’s. The immediate response in France to the recent massacre has been more forcefully to push its “our way or the highway” form of assimilation, which has, frankly, not been working. This past week, when the French school system enforced a minute of silence for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack (generally under “Je Suis Charlie” signs), incidents were reported at some seventy French schools—mostly ones with large Muslim populations—where students resisted the observance. While many French see this as siding with the terrorists over the victims, this is not necessarily so. The French state was, in fact, forcing those students to pay homage to a publication that had, in their view, mocked their religion. If it is legitimate for Charlie Hebdo to publish offensive cartoons, it must be legitimate to object, peacefully, to its doing so.”
I’m surprised to read that American Muslims are more assimilated here in the U.S than in France. I suspect that may be because the Muslims here are much more widely distributed, than they would be in a small country like France.”

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Diane Dimond January 20, 2015 at 8:31 am

Reader Robert Noyes-Smith writes:

“Diane,

As usual, you hit it right on, thank you, Rob.”

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Sharon Ford January 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm

I grew up in an extreme religious environment where the official public policy was that we were peaceful and peace-loving. However, antisocial and aggressive behaviors were covertly approved and overlooked when they were directed against outsiders or unbelievers. Looking back on it, I believe that, despite claims to the contrary, many religions may even consider the bad actors in their group as (best) no threat to them – and (worst) and ace-in-the-hole in case they need to call on someone who is willing to get violent in defense of their group. – Sort of the principle of having friends on both sides of the law. I believe religions, as a group, could put a stop to their violent factions if they wanted to – they really don’t. They just want to claim no responsibility.

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:45 am

Facebook Friend Liz Belmont writes:

“That’s an excellent way of looking at it.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

Facebook Friend Dave Imb writes:

“I disagree. Freedom of speech also means the freedom to offend and be offended. I worked at a comedy paper in college and we were very similar in spirit to Charlie Hebdo and our thing was “Hey if you don’t like us, no one is forcing you to read us.” If you don’t like what you see on TV or in a magazine, change the channel or find something else. Unless someone is forcing you to view content you find upsetting or offensive, the fact that you’re offended is your problem, not the speaker’s. // And religion….religion is far too influential and important to be protected from mockery and ridicule. As soon as something is not okay to make fun of, you have a serious problem.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

Facebook Friend Daniel Simone writes:

“It’s supposed to be a free life, and one should be free to criticize or admire anything or anybody. But above and beyond the varying opinions, no one, even the offended, is entitled to a self-granted summary execution. And America, a now cowering superpower, however absurd, should abandon its political correctness and respond accordingly.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:47 am

Facebook Friend Andrew Richter writes:

“I’m inclined to ridicule anyone or anything that purports to have all the answers. //And really, how secure are you in your faith if you feel threatened by a French satirical magazine?”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:48 am

Facebook Friend Arthur Greenwald writes:

“This may seem a semantic difference, but I don’t think the Charlie Hebdo crew is slamming anyone for HOW they worship. They’re ridiculing the closed thinking and circular logic of religion in general. Disrespectful? Yes. Denying the right to worship freely? No.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:49 am

Facebook Friend Frank Woods writes:

“In some countries you can be beaten or put to death for “insulting” religion… the insult defined by the powers to be. (witness Saudi Arabia where a man was sentenced to 1000 lashes for simply wanting to “discuss” the elements of Islam and how to improve on how it is practiced). This has been said many times in the last few weeks, but you do not have a right to murder – and you do not have a right not to be insulted. If you choose to follow superstition and ignorance, do so. But I have a right to point out in as caustic a way as I please what a fool you are for doing this. Now, if you don’t like this… convince me otherwise – with WORDS not murder. And again, blaming the death of cartoonists for their cartoons, no matter how offensive – well, that’s like blaming a woman for being raped (which, by the way, is something the woman can be punished for in some Islamic countries).”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:49 am

Facebook Friend Neal Rubin writes:

“From what I’ve read, one of the reasons we don’t get it is that it’s a France thing. Outrageous, frequently offensive satire is part of the culture.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:50 am

Facebook Friend Valerie Kuhn writes:

“I don’t think they’re slamming someone for how they worship. People in this country do it to the Mormons all the time–just watch if Mitt runs again. Catholics are shown worshiping statues. What’s okay about it here, but not in France?”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:52 am

Facebook Friend Carey Smith writes:

“Agreed Andrew Richter. Really I mean come on. If someone wants to slam my belief system that’s their issue. Whatever, free speech. I’m a grown woman perfectly capable of NOT having my day affected regardless of what others do or don’t do or say. We teach our children to question many things they’re “taught”. Yet even the simplest questioning has offended others which is incredibly ridiculous. There are far more important things in life to focus on and our spend energy. Everyone has a choice on how they react. Everyone. ~~ Peace all, have a great day!”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:53 am

Facebook Friend Tom Cobin writes:

“Well-put, Diane Dimond! I think there’s a key factor to consider: WHY is a religion (or a political stance) being ridiculed? Is it founded on substantive LOGIC (religion) or RESEARCH EVIDENCE (politics)? Or is it simply mean-spirited, us-versus-them, “my (God/party) is better than yours!” If it’s based in logic and reason, then we can have a mutually respectful interaction (although with religion, that only goes so far before some point where it does come down to faith and the belief). But if it’s just offensive insults strictly for the sake of being provocative, not so much. Although – at the end of the day, even that more repugnant speech is still worthy of protection. It just won’t accomplish very much.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:54 am

Facebook Friend Don McMillan writes:

“Tom Cobin . .. . Are you delirious enough to actually believe that “mutually respectful interaction” with Murderous Islamic Radicals whose goal is to Behead anyone who does not follow them is remotely possible? Good Luck with that Kumbaya approach.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

Facebook Friend Maggi Shelton writes:

“I absolutely adore this article Diane.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

Facebook Friend Tony Virga writes:

“I can. Executing 13 teenage boys for watching soccer or killing young girls for going to school isn’t my idea of worship. Easy to slam that.”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

Facebook Friend Jane Vardon Bouffard writes:

“Comments worth pondering…”

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Diane Dimond January 21, 2015 at 11:57 am

Facebook Friend Mary Beel writes:

“Well, you most certainly did not see Catholics putting sinead o`connor on the we must assassinate list!”

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Richard Davies January 24, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Charlie Hebdo is rude, crude and vulgar. And until the recent massacre in Paris it had a very limited circulation. Now, after the murderous assault on its editors, it’s become a cause célèbre with a print run in the millions. While I was not a fan of its humor, I am Charlie Hebdo.

A humorous magazine that mocks political, religious, business and other leaders can be play a vital role in the public square. Private Eye in Britain is another example of a magazine that is in near constant hot water with a stuffy self-satisfied establishment.

Charlie Hebdo’s right to use offensive words and charicatures should be defended with every fiber of our being. When modern artists defiled the image of Jesus Christ (Piss Christ is a famous example by artist Andres Serrano – a 1987 photograph showing a plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of urine), there was outrage, but no one of the Catholic or Protestant faith threatened artists with death.

That is a crucial difference in the case of militant Islamists, who see themselves at war with the West. As a centrist, I’m all for civilized and pragmatic dialog and opposed to extremism and dogma. But we must remember who we are: believers in a democracy that includes every type of discourse no matter how annoying that may be.

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Diane Dimond January 24, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Dear Richard,
Totally agree. And as I said in the column. I am never for censorship. Never. ~ DD

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Diane Dimond January 26, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Linked In Connection Sana Jamal writes,

“Many people, while chanting ‘Je suis Charlie Hebdo’, do not realize that the ideas supported by that particular magazine is not something they would stand for in everyday life. And you have rightly pointed that out. Freedom of speech is an abdolute right. That’s correct. But using this right to insult someone’s believes or infuriate hate speech is not right.”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Facebook Friend Frank Woods writes:

“I disagree. The SOTU address is a great place for the American people to see the combined blank faces of those who have fought every single thing the President has done to help this country for the last 6 years. The GOP side of the aisle showed themselves for the do-nothing obstructionists they really are.”

Reply

Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Facebook Friend Jennie Eaton Cheatham writes:

“Harry Reid…”

Reply

Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Facebook Friend Lynne Adrine writes:

“Ronald Reagan….”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Facebook Friend TMac Mcalister writes:

” It started with Saint Ronnie, hero to right-wingers, when he started introducing special guests and their stories.”

Reply

Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm

In reply Jennie Eaton Cheatham writes:

“God Bless him…”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Facebook Friend Doug O’Brien writes:

“It became pablum with Johnson // I’m one of those cynics who believes that most of the time the less Congress does the better.”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Facebook Friend Ce Cole Dillon writes:

“Wrong question – what is the purpose of Congress when they spend so little time working? If there is no Congress behaving like they do, there would be no SOTU. It is the behavior of Congress that creates this mess.”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Facebook Friend Lyn Novosel writes:

“I think the GOP are the biggest joke. I wish they all earned the minimum wage. They are all a shower of shit.// Frank, I agree. Republicans have done nothing for the middle class.”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Facebook Friend Joseph P. Hildebrandt writes:

“I gave up watching the Liar in Chief.”

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Diane Dimond January 27, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Facebook Friend Craig Henne writes:

“You shouldn’t give up so easy, it turned into a comedy show. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jon Lovitz filled suit for copyright infringement for stealing his pathological liar bit.”

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