To the Editor:
I see great value in offering another perspective on the “Charlie Hebdo” publications and subsequent attack, as I feel as though the conversation has been entirely binary to date. Either you are for free speech and support “Charlie Hebdo,” or you are, in the U.S and the Western world, for terrorism. That is a false binary and one that I believe contributes to the problem. I think there is a vast place between the two that can help us move toward a more peaceful coexistence among people who value freedom of speech and those who care deeply about freedom of religion.
Although I do not agree 100 percent with what Pope Francis said about the issue, I do think his perspective has a lot to offer.
I agree that verbal provocation is no excuse for violence, as the Pope clearly said. However, another way of looking at the issue is that the folks at “Charlie Hebdo” are little more than bullies. It is obvious that continual harassment about an issue on which people are terrifically sensitive will not be well received. In this case, the victims of the harassment are billions of people – all those who follow Islam’s dictates that it is blasphemy to denigrate Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. This is what the Pope said … not that violence is justified, just that it shouldn’t surprise us, either, as it was intended to incite and disrupt.
I am not saying we should never critique unfair policies or practices. In fact, we probably need to do even more of that without suffering repercussions. But I have a hard time seeing how publishing provocative images of a man whom an estimated two billion people believe is their savior does anything to question policies, to shine a light on injustices or to move the world in a better direction.
Poke fun at dictators? OK. Of politicians who make promises then repeatedly renege? OK. At pompous messengers of “religious doctrine” who themselves violate the very tenets they profess? OK.
But of the actual deities, I feel less confident.
At least in the United States, journalistic enterprises have the “right” to poke fun at religious leaders and doctrine in the name of free speech. But I think what the pope means is that perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at this as a rights issue at all.
So, what’s next? I’d like to see an international dialogue that addresses the complexities of the issue, not just the surface opposition of freedom of speech to freedom of religion. I’d like us to move to a place where we understand that, while technically we have the right to say or write something, we should exercise better judgment unless we can truly support the fact that our efforts will result in something better. I remain hopeful that others will view the issue similarly. I remain hopeful that, rather than dig deeper into their defenses, the many people with diverse perspectives on this issue will choose to consider another option.