Thursday, January 08, 2015

One from the Heart: Je Suis Charlie. On Violence, Free Speech and Blasphemy



There were terrorist attacks this week. There are terrorist attacks every week. Sometimes they make the news. Sometimes they do not. It is not that the media are fickle, or that we are....though the media as a human institution is fickle and we, too, are fickle. That is why terrorism works. The literal "flash and bang" draws our attention. In the same way a predators howl would cause an early human to freeze, and then bolt for cover; so, too, does a terrorist act cause us to turn, attend and then react. 

This past week, armed gunmen entered the offices of a satirical publication in Paris, France. This was purportedly in response to cartoons drawn by their staff that satirized the Prophet Mohammed. It wasn't the first time a body of the Western Press chose to poke at the founder of Islam. It won't be the last. What makes the staff of this paper stand out is that they are no longer cartoonists and journalists, but victims of a type of violence that is too prevalent today. Mockery is perceived as blasphemy, and for those who lack an ability to allow for an exterior criticism of their faith and faith practices, that requires a response. That response is too often violent in an effort to suppress or oppress the speaker from ever opening their mouth again...be it to speak, or in many cases even to draw another breath.

As one who is ordained as a sacramentalist in my own faith tradition, one who is tasked with bearing our practices, beliefs and proclamations, my heart breaks as I see people of faith driven to the actions these gunmen (and so many others) have chosen. Their weapons of choice were rifles. Others have used repressive laws. Others have sought to isolate peoples whose faith is perceived as minority in ghettos. Still others have endorsed pogroms and ethnic cleansing...or have chose to ignore it while turning a blind eye. Some have just chosen to remain silent. All of us must acknowledge that when we choose to denigrate another in the effort to build ourselves up, then we are betraying most if not all of the founding principles upon which our various faith traditions are founded. 

The truth is, one cannot impose "truth" on another person. One can either choose to impose it, or express it and then expect an exchange of views that might-if all are willing-result in dialogue that could lead to peaceful co-existence. 

That was not the aim of the men with the guns. Their point, and they made it, was that no one should be able to respond to, speak to or voice an opinion apart from what they hold as "the Truth." It isn't just radical Islamists that are promulgating that position, or fostering those violent actions resulting in "terror." You can find that explusive action in all of the world's faith traditions. I have seen it even in my own...in my own faith...in my own denomination....in my own faith communities. What matters in the end is how we choose to respond to that impulsive resort to violence and terror as a way to make a point. 

We resist. We resist first by rejecting violent reprisal. We resist by holding each other and providing care, prayer and consolation with the victims. We resist by refusing to provide an environment that is tolerant of hate...and instead encourage one of mutual respect and forebearance. That doesn't come at the end of a gun, or on the point of a sword. 

The people responding to the attack have chosen a simple phrase, using the name of the publication....and in its use they are reminding us that no sword can ever overcome a pen...and that when one human being harms another, then we all are called to participate in a process of healing and reconciliation that might, just might, in time, lead to true peace between faiths that purport to be fonts of peace for a broken world.

"Je Suis Charlie."

I am Charlie. 

Today, we are all Charlie. 

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