Lessons from France

I think we need to pause and consider a number of things before over reacting to the attack on a French satirical publication in the center of Paris. Yes, it was horrifying and another example of how far religious zealots will go to make their point. It further proves the disregard these groups have for mankind in general and their desire to create a world where the only law is based on their sick interpretation of the Koran. It is also easy to make grand rallying comments like imploring all publications to mock Muhammad on their front pages or covers. However, there are more important things to keep in mind.

First, the attack should further serve to remind Americans why we have a separation of church and state. Democracy cannot thrive without it because it requires citizens to be people of law and not people of God. When we are people of law, there is always room for God in our lives. We can respect the different ways people worship and embrace knowing our freedom to worship, or not worship, is a sign of strength and not weakness.

Demonstrations in Paris after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. (YouTube)
Demonstrations in Paris after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. (YouTube)

When nations are ruled by God, no matter what or whose God it is, it only invites intolerance toward anyone different. It is what followers use as an excuse for shooting innocent journalists, murdering children while they are at school, or blowing up abortion clinics. They all claim to be doing the work of God and believe they are going to be richly rewarded. To people that think like this, different is another word for dangerous. Anyone who thinks or acts counter to their religious beliefs is a danger to their way of life and must be stopped at all cost.

This attack should also serve as a reminder to all who live in a democratic society that not all people in the world believe the same as we do. While we may be fine with the depicting of Muhammad in a disrespectful manner under the guise of humor or art, we tend to forget such depictions do not set well within the Muslim world. We can think they are thin skinned, but the truth is, Americans did not react all that kindly when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a man arrested for urinating on a picture of Christ because he called it art. We do not react well when we see people burning Bibles. Some were even threatened by the mere prospect of electing a Mormon to the White House in 2012.

While we are free to poke fun at anyone or anything and call it journalism, we might want to rethink the purpose behind doing it? If a satirical comic adds to a legitimate point being made, great. However, if it is done just to anger and test a group of people, you can and should expect some backlash, especially when it pokes fun at a group of fanatics.

In World War II, after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor, the United States was very quick to run comic portrayals of the Japanese Emperor, a person believed to be a deity in Japan, depicting him in ways that were considered incredibly offensive by Japanese. It was a deliberate plan to dehumanize an enemy and to rile up support for the war effort. It worked. Young men across the country lied about their age so they could enlist and go “kill me some Japs.” The tactic was used again for Korea and Vietnam and was continued right up to our post 9/11 effort.

Americans have a great sense of humor. We poke fun at everyone, including the President, religious leaders, celebrities, and athletes. However, our humor has changed out of respect for others over the years. In the 70’s, it was common to turn on the television and see comedians making Italian, Polish, Black, and White jokes. Then there were the endless blonde and “yo mama” jokes. Toss in all the fat jokes and “dumb women” jokes and we managed to find a way to insult just about everyone.

Marchers in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. (YouTube)
Marchers in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. (YouTube)

Then came the 1990’s and something called “political correctness.” No longer was it acceptable to make jokes at the expense of other peoples. Remember how fast Andrew Dice Clay fell off the planet? It only became okay to make jokes about Blacks, Whites, Italians, or women again if you were Black, White, Italian or female. Under that thinking, why would it be okay to depict Allah having sex with a boy and think it would be funny in a part of the world where we are hated, any more than if they depicted Christ having sex with one?

Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression also means we are free not to say or do things with the deliberate intent to insult others in a far off land. Those who do so knowing full well they are testing the faith of others, whether it is a misguided one or not, should not be shocked when they are on the receiving end of their retribution.

What separates us from them is not that we are better than they are, but rather, we choose to be a nation of laws built around the mutual respect of all mankind.

What happened in Paris on January 7 is reprehensible. However, it might be wise for “journalists” to examine their motives for what they publish and then ask themselves, “Is this really necessary to get across the point I want to make?”