Je Suis Charlie? That all depends. Am I Charlie, a faceless Parisian joining with thousands of others along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in candlelit vigil mourning a national tragedy? Or am I Charlie, a major newspaper like the New York Times having to carefully weigh my support of free speech – however rancor and callous that may be – against my potential complicity in unwittingly embracing and spurring additional tragedy? Either way, it’s no fun being Charlie.
Unless you have been hibernating through the cold of January or living under a rock you have some knowledge of the tragic events that unfolded in Paris on January 7th. At approximately 11:30 that morning two men armed with Kalashnikov rifles and other assault weapons entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo – a French satirical weekly newspaper – and slaughtered 12 individuals, including its popular yet controversial editor, Stéphane Charbonnier. The perpetrators were subsequently killed following a massive manhunt, as was their wont, being self-proclaimed Jihadists whose attack they claimed was vengeance for Hebdo’s cartoonish portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad.
Charlie Hebdo’s historical agenda of satire reflects an equal opportunity offensive. Charbonnier said two years earlier that, “we have to carry on until Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism." Anyone with a working familiarity of history will recall the Catholic church’s legacy is anything but banal. But whereas Christianity has by and large been secularly assimilated into a separation of church and state, radical elements of Islam seem increasingly intent on remaining more than a few centuries behind. Thus be to tyrants and zealots and their expedient interchangeability in the name of power and control.
In the aftermath of the events in Paris columnists, pundits and editorialists have taken to whatever venue will have them to let us all know who’s at fault, what could have been done to prevent it and what we absolutely, positively must do next to prevent further aggression. They write and speak with such authority that it truly is amazing they have either been silent up to now or just recently had the epiphany that will save us from the gates of hell.
The reality is there are so many different ways to theoretically and intellectually slice the myriad social and political challenges of extremism in the name of religion that even the Whitehouse is afraid to use the term, Radical Islam. Obama ne résiste avec Charlie? If there is a war against that extremism who or what exactly are we fighting against? A religion? An idea? Criminals? A nation-state? The aforementioned experts believe it’s somewhere between one of those and all of the above. Brilliant, right?
All I know, or what I think I know in any event – if you’ve followed my blog, you know this is a substantial subject-matter departure – is that terrorism will never go away as long as it can have the effect desired by its perpetrators. And I know that in the long run it will never achieve its desired purpose. Never has. What I believe is that terrorism or violence of any type in the name of a religion wanes in proportion to the ability of that religion’s followers to achieve prosperity and happiness.
And so eventually, the power and control held by the few under the guise of religious fundamentalism will crumble under the weight of the many who become educated and enlightened to how they have been manipulated for centuries into oppression and subservience. We have seen this taking shape already, and electronic communications are helping to accelerate the process. In the meantime, I am afraid, there is going to be a lot more hell to pay no matter what course of action is chosen.