A left-wing lampooning weekly French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, with a well-established, well-deserved reputation, steeped in the Gallic tradition of satire, for pillorying persons and principles across the widest swath of human being and believing, posts several captioned cartoons critical of a strain of fundamentalist Islam. In November 2011, the journal’s offices were firebombed and website hacked. Two days ago, gunmen carried out a military-style assault murdering twelve people and wounding others, among the dead, several members of the Charlie Hebdo staff. During the attack, the perpetrators were reported to have shouted, “Allahu akbar” (Allah is great) and “the Prophet (Muhammad) is avenged.” Today, two suspects implicated in that carnage, following a standoff involving hostages, were killed by French police.
I am stirred, shocked to the core. Thoughts and feelings abound.
This series of events, as all stunning violations of communal peace, shines glaring light on an interminable set of issues; a spare few among them:
*The sanctity of free expression and the safety of those who exercise it;
*The acceptable and prudent boundaries of free expression (embracing the role of common courtesy and charity);
*The escalation and, for some, the threat of radical Islam, especially in the Western world;
*The counter-elevation and, for some, the fear of xenophobic protectionism of “essential” (that is, defining or redefining the essence of) European-ism or Western-ism.
At the heart of these concerns, I see the subject of tolerance; that human, and, making it personal, my capacity to will and to choose to permit and, even more, to support the existence and presence of perspectives and practices that differ from my own.
As an inveterate (self-) questioner, I ask: In this instance, in what sense do I refer to myself? Who is the “I” who refers above to “my capacity…(and) perspectives and practices that differ from my own”?
I am a Christian. I also am progressive. Jesus, as I learn of him through scripture and study, commune with him in prayer and practice, and walk with him in the modeling of my life in the light of his love and justice (unconditional benevolence and fairness) is One I follow and, thus, not so much One I worship, and certainly not as an only god.
This said, my relationship with Jesus is suffused with a devotion that makes love and justice more than values to which I lend intellectual assent, but virtues I labor to incarnate in my living (though confessedly, failing time and again).
This said, I often say or write: When I know that for which, in the name of love and justice, I will dare to die, then I will know how to dare to live.
This said, it is love and justice that commend, command me to live never to consider inflicting harm upon another, indeed, “the other” for embracing, embodying beliefs not my own.
This said, do I infer that I am better, more faithful, but less zealous, saner and sounder, more evolved than those who would defend their beliefs to the point of assailing others with argumentative word and violent deed? No.
This said, as I pray daily the tolerance of all who dwell in this our incontrovertibly pluralistic global community, I must practice it myself in every way – in thought and in feeling, in intention and in action.
This said, the only thing I cannot overcome is the paradox of tolerance, for I am intolerant of intolerance.