this said – a personal reflection stirred by Charlie Hebdo

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.

6 thoughts on “this said – a personal reflection stirred by Charlie Hebdo

  1. I can’t seem to shake the feeling, conviction, fear that we have brought this hatred and zeal for vengeance by radicalized Islamic fundamentalists upon ourselves by our collective refusal to acknowledge the sacred. I personally believe in liberty, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of speech. But, as it is written, I believe that while all things may be lawful or permissible, not all things are edifying or wise. Freedom of speech does not extend to shouting “Fire!” In a crowded theater absent an actual fire. Nor should it encompass setting the fire in order to be able to shout about it.


  2. Sandy, I understand and accept your point about the freedom of expression in tension with the restraint of standards of wisdom. In part, I was getting at this when I wrote: “The acceptable and prudent boundaries of free expression (embracing the role of common courtesy and charity).” Still, for me, in my ruminating on all of this, I come down to the place where I, regardless of my beliefs and irrespective of how powerfully, zealously I hold them, refuse to seek to harm, much less take a life of one who stands opposed to my views. I wonder, too – and I confess that I simply have no way to know – how much of the violent outbursts of radical fundamentalists of whatever creed or cause are less theologically doctrinal in root and substance and more politically ideological. Having written this, I immediately, on second thought, can countenance the notion that one’s politics can be as deeply embedded and valued so to be considered sacred and inviolate.


    • Thank you, Gregory, for your comment. I’m not entirely sure of your point. If by “the negative existence in Paris’s suburbs” you refer the poverty and massive unemployment and underemployment (among other social and economic ills) faced by Muslim communities in the suburbs and that such a burden of daily travail can give rise to a potentially explosive discontent fueling an angry response to perceived and real disrespect to values and virtues embraced and embodied by those communities, then I take your point (though I confess straightway that I may – and probably am – reading far more than you intended into your words!). And, no, I did (and do) not discount it, although I did not address it. My Charlie Hebdo-related blog post expressed, as I intend via all of my posts, particularly those under the heading of “personal reflection”, my point of view, meaning the thoughts and feelings that were and are stirred. At the end (and the beginning) of the proverbial day, I am one who advocates a universal, peaceful, and respectful (charitable) tolerance for all.


  3. Thank you, Pablo, for sharing Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s commentary. I wholeheartedly stand with him in rejecting the idea that a/any Muslim must on call to respond to – to condemn or otherwise repudiate – grievous acts presumably carried out in the name of Islam as if, somehow, collective guilt were at play. I also agree with him to a point that the Charlie Hebdo assault may not have been about religion and more about money (manifesting itself in greater publicity and recruits for a cause, in this case a radical, fundamentalist strain or strand of Islam, which I do contend, with KAJ, has little to do with the heart and fruit of Islam). I also agree with KAJ about the point and purpose of religion. Still, for me, there is so much about another person’s motivations that I do not and cannot know. It may be that those who perpetrated the assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices were operating to whatever degree on their religious instincts, however misshapen I perceive them to be.


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