Je Suis Charlie? what would Jesus do? exploring some slogans a little further

Je Suis Charlie? what would Jesus do? exploring some slogans a little further January 20, 2015

in our social media age slogans with punch spread fast. following the07-charlie-hebdo-rallies-003.w529.h352.2x  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 Christnunsymbol1ians 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 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 . 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.

Charlie Hebdo have not surprisingly issued a massively sold post attack edition with a cartoon of Mohammed on the front. In a sense they had to. the cartoon however, is not straightforward. The depiction of Mohammed will offend many Muslims who believe the prophet must not be depicted, and the depiction is in classic Hebdo style with a large nose and funny coloured skin. so far so expected. The text though is more complex. The headline runs ‘all is forgiven’ and the prophet is depicted with a tear rolling down his cheek and carrying a sign that says ‘Je Suis Charlie’. A previous cartoon of the prophet had him being beheaded by an ISIS fighter. Both may be read, and i think are intended to be read, as suggesting Mohammed would not be on the side of groups like ISIS or the attackers of the Hebdo cartoonists. Indeed Muslims have carried ‘Je Suis Charlie’ signs because this is their belief. Yet in other cartoons Mohammed’s depiction is connected to elements of Islam the magazine is attacking. The cover is thus both ambiguous, provocative and intriguing. It led me however, to imagine the same cover with an Hebdo Jesus instead. Jesus, offensively drawn, stands under a headline that says all is forgiven, a tear rolls down his cheek and he carries a sign that reads ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Such an image would i think be profoundly Christian; even the offensive portrayal would speak of God’s identification with the marginalized in Jesus. We are with Jesus as he dies, disfigured and says ‘Father forgive them’.   What would Jesus do today? And if I am one of whom Jesus says ‘as the Father sent me I send you’, what should I do? Somehow this must involve identification with others, but this will be with all not just some, even in love of those who would kill us. If all can be forgiven can this lead us to reconciliation and not conflict? What ridicule might we be prepared to bear in its pursuit?

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