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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

To Be Or Not To Be Charlie Hebdo

Since the Charlie Hebdo attack of January 7, there has been a number of alternating messages declaring either 'Je suis Charlie' or 'Je ne suis pas Charlie.'  Those declaring 'Je suis Charlie' do so partly because of the horror they feel from the attack and the feeling of solidarity with its victims. However, the identity of those chanting 'Je ne suis pas Charlie' is a bit more ambiguous since it has been used by both those who support the attack and those who don't.  

There are issues for all who oppose the attack . One of the major issues of which I can think is how tribalism governs our reaction. One way to measure the effects of tribalism here is to ask ourselves how we feel when journalists from other countries who have different ideologies are killed? The other major issue is, how do we feel about religious satire?

The first question is important to answer if we are to better understand ourselves and why we reacted to the attack the way we did. This blog has defined tribalism as occurring when loyalty to a group trumps commitment to principle and morals. The end effect of such tribalism is that its adherents believe what's right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. Such a belief should raise red flags for Christians who are aware that God is not a respecter of persons (see Romans 2:5-11). 

Despite the red flags tribalism should raise, many of us religiously conservative Christians passionately embrace it in varying degrees especially when the it comes in the form of patriotism. At that time, it is 'root, root, root for the home team.' Such is what we have been trained by society to feel and we embrace it because it feels good. Of course, we don't question why that is the case because if we did, we might not like the answer. For one of the reasons why patriotism makes us feel good is that it is self-exalting. It is our group's supremacy or specialness we are celebrating when we embrace patriotism.

Indeed, some of the 'Je suis Charlie' proclamations were the result of tribalism. A western journal came under attack by a monstrous, alien enemy. And though patriotism isn't the sentiment driving our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, solidarity for the West, for what is European, for those who are White, and for other factors are why many of us have fallen into the tribalism trap that is so much a part of the current 'Je suis Charlie' sentiment.

A more principled solidarity exists in those Americans who not only feel a unity with the victims who worked at Charlie Hebdo, they felt the same connection with the journalists who were victims of the violence practiced by American troops during our invasion of Iraq (click here and there, note that only some of the journalists killed by American troops, and there). A more principled solidarity also exists in those who support Israel while protesting its targeting of journalists (click here). 

We could go on but the point has been illustrated. Our solidarity shows no integrity when the only victims it expresses sympathy for are those on our side, for those in our gang. Such a solidarity is, in the end, a mere exercise in collective self-exaltation.

The second major issue concerns religious satire. And here we have a rub between two principles. The first principle is that we should all be subject to satirical attacks so that we and others understand our place in the world. But the second principle can appear to oppose the first one as it comes from the life of Martin Luther King Jr.  That principle comes from the first characteristic I learned to appreciate when reading King. That principle was his passion for winning people over. This passion governed how he designed and participated in protests. This passion controlled how he wrote about different positions and people. For King didn't look to humiliate his opponents, he wanted to win them over while relying on the law to control those whom he could not persuade.

But when we look at satire, it seems that humiliation is the rule de jure. So the question becomes, should we always support satire especially when it is used on those who are or could become our opponents? If satire is to be used, then shouldn't a passion for winning over the targets of our satire act as governor of how far it goes. 

Was the satire employed at Charlie Hebdo unrestrained with a desire to humiliate or exploit others or was it held in check by a desire to win others over? Of course restraining the extent of our satire for some noble principle is a killjoy; it does take much of the fun out of things. But then again, one has to look at why we want to use it in the first place.

Finally when comes to the Charlie Hebdo attack, we also need to ask the following question: Was it satire alone that drew the attack? With much of the Muslim world, including Hamas (click here), condemning the attack along with the history of Western invovlement in the Middle East, it wouldn't seem so. Rather, the attack on Charlie Hebdo just might be because of both the satire and the context in which it was written. The context includes a greater than 100 year history of French and Western imperialism in the Middle East designed to exploit and control the region in order to control its resources. And if that context played a role in the Charlie Hebdo attack, then we must arrive at a similar decision as we had to with regard to Charlie Hebdo's use of satire and journalistic freedom. That decision is just as we would condemn the attack because we believe in satire and journalistic freedom, should we do the same because we also support French and Western imperialism. If that is the case, then not only have we embraced tribalism, we have become its prisoner.



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