in our social media age slogans with punch spread fast. following the events in Paris earlier this month it is not surprising that ‘Je Suis Charlie’ has been much used in solidarity with the cartoonists at satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo gunned down by Islamic fighters on account of their portrayals of Mohammed. Many of my Christian friends still have as their Facebook image the sign for a Christian used by ISIS to identify houses lived in by Christians before they are forced to pay taxes under a form of Shari law or be killed. both symbols are about the power of identification, a show of solidarity with those attacked by saying ‘I am one with you, I too am attacked’. Most powerfully both symbols have been used by Muslims to show their solidarity with others against those Muslims who are the perpetrators of the violence. This response is understandable indeed in some cases very brave. People identifying with each other, especially across potential cultural, racial or religious divisions, is something i think we should all support. our world needs reconciliation when there is so much division and prejudice. Yet i have found myself sympathizing with a number of voices who want to condemn what happened in Paris bu questioning if they really want to say ‘I am Charlie’. One of the most eloquent is this piece in the Huffington Post by Rabbi Michael Lerner http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/mourning-the-parisian-jou_b_6442550.html. he is editor of liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun. The word Tikkun means to mend or rectify and is often used in the phrase Tikkun Olam, the mending or healing of the world. Yet as a liberal magazine it has often questioned the actions of the Israeli state and as a result has suffered terrorist attacks by Zionist Jews and Christians. These, Lerner notes, do not get the attention of attacks by Muslims in France. Others, myself included, have been uncomfortable about an apparent blanket support for all forms of free speech and particularity Charlie Hebdo’s covers which i think are often offensive to many more than Muslims http://freethoughtblogs.com/teacosy/2015/01/08/we-should-not-kill-people-for-speech-but-i-am-not-charlie-hebdo/ . some notable examples would include a picture of the three persons of the Trinity having anal sex, depictions of Jews that look like Nazi propaganda as well as numerous portrayals of Mohammed in a similar vein. in response to this i think there is an intelligent debate about the value of free speech. we rightly value this and we do not want to live in societies in which arbitrary power and corruption thrive on the silencing of criticism, not in which petty lawsuits succeed off the back of honest comment or humour. Yet, in truth defamation cases abound in a society that deems some forms of free speech criminal, in some cases no doubt rightly so but often on the basis of the power and wealth of those offended. as many have pointed out Muslims in France are neither wealthy or powerful. i am here with Lerner when he says.
“And shouldn’t free speech and individual human liberties be our highest value? This value that is put into danger if you ask for some kind of responsibility from comedians.” Two responses: 1. No, individaul human liberties is not our highest value. Our highest value is treating human beings with love, kindness, generosity, respect and see them as embodiments of the holy, and treating the earth as sacred. Individual liberty is a strategy to promote this highest value, but when that liberty gets abused (as for example in demeaning women, African Americans, gays in public discourse) we often insist that the articulators of racism, sexism and homophobia be publicly humiliated (not shut down, but using our free speech to vigorously challenge theirs). 2. Free speech is not defeated when we use it to try to marginalize hateful or demeaning speech. So lets call demeaning speech, including demeaning humor, what it really is — an assault on the dignity of human beings.