Where to draw the line


Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about the terrorist murders in France beginning January 7 and ending with 17 people dead in that country, not to mention the additional deaths spreading out from that epicenter, such as those in Niger. I grieve the loss of life, the radicalization of youths, the culture of fear growing among Jews, the culture of intolerance growing among those of religious faith. My head is filled with distress and questions.

Nusrat Qadir, vice president of the U.S. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said, “The culprits behind this atrocity have violated every Islamic tenet of compassion, justice, and peace.”

I assume many of you have traveled the gamut of reactions, as I have. Ten days later I am stuck clinging to this pendulum ball, arcing back and forth between believing that every voice should be protected, no matter how heinous the message…and believing that there are clearly lines that should be drawn so that we aren’t complicit in future violence.

I keep tripping over the concept of where the line should be drawn. In one news broadcast someone asked, “Why is it acceptable to ridicule religion, when it is clearly not acceptable to ridicule homosexuals, or blacks?” I am still thinking about this argument; wondering if it’s a valid question. Is it a false comparison? Satirical cartoons are not saying religion is 100% wrong, or that Islam is all bad for example; but rather that there are amusing ways to look at religions from an outsider’s perspective. And to me this action is tremendously valuable: force us to ask questions, to look through a different lens, to constantly challenge our own convictions. If a cartoon is uncomfortable, that means it’s illuminating something important.

On the other hand, those among us too lazy for critical thinking (and the mouton are in the majority, I fear) will embrace what they believe to be the cartoon’s validation of their intolerant views.

Tara and I discussed this at some length this morning. We asked of each other: If an action is clearly going to offend someone, isn’t it common decency not to engage in that action? Should we not expect an unpleasant reaction? Even the Pope said if his friend were to insult his mother, the friend should expect to get punched!  If Muslims believe that drawings of the prophet are reprehensible, then can’t we agree that any drawing of the prophet Muhammad should be banned – much less a drawing in which the prophet is shown as a phallus?

I tried to imagine what kind of cartoon would offend me, and I imagined one portraying women as too stupid to understand a situation. (I cringe at the memory of I Can’t Do The Sum, sung by Annette Funicello in Babes In Toyland.) Wouldn’t this hypothetical cartoon depicting a female simpleton set the equality movement back a step? The answer is “yes.” And should it be banned? No. To react with hostility, threats, arrest, violence….that is clearly the response of someone terribly insecure and too sensitive to be taken seriously.

Only a short time ago I was in agreement when it was announced that no showing of the movie The Interview would occur, in order to protect the public from possible terrorist attack from North Korea. It makes sense: when warned about danger, avoid the danger. However, President Obama criticized Sony Pictures’ decision, indicating that it was giving the terrorists what they wanted. I thought my President was being reckless. I thought we should cave in to the threats.

But since then a similar scenario has been carried to its conclusion: people in France were killed for their artistic expression that involved ridiculing a beloved leader. And now I see that I was wrong. I was thinking in too limited of a context. If we caved in and didn’t show a satirical movie in a theatre because terrorists warned us not to do it, then what would stop them for placing ever more demands on us?

My limited context was that I was only considering the pinnacle of offense, satire poking fun at Kim Jong-un and Muhammad, and I was subconsciously assuming the line between what is offensive and what is not would be drawn right at their feet. But people allow themselves to be offended about everything. And I’m tripping at that same place again, of where to draw the line. Where to say “ok, that is going too far.”

If the general public were allowed to choose which cartoons to place off limits, there would always be a battle, with each contingent, each political party, each special interest group, in fact, each individual person arguing that their own perspective of what defines “offensive” should the one to use in determining which cartoons are acceptable. What’s too offensive? Making fun of God? Joseph Smith? Abraham Lincoln? Chief Seattle? Can we make fun of mental disabilities? Or albinos? Vegans? People who go to bed early? Fans of Country & Western music? Non-native speakers? And who am I to say -and who are you- that one thing is ok to ridicule, but the other is not?

That line cannot be drawn. I have to concur with Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Voltaire, and the ACLU, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

“The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.” -Voltaire

We cannot agree to stifle our voices when threatened. Put simply, that is in opposition to the very values of freedom for which France and the United States are most famous.


…I’d like to credit this post to someone else. I asked permission to re-blog MM’s post from Multifarious meanderings, and she graciously agreed. Then I thought I’d jot a quick sentence or two for introduction. And look what the heck happened! I swear I cannot keep my mouth shut even in the most volatile of situations. Thank you MM, for being the reason I have spent the last few days deep in contemplation about a situation that is not a French problem but a global problem.

Please click here and read her eloquent and evocative post, written from the perspective of someone much closer to the epicenter.

20 thoughts on “Where to draw the line

  1. I am another person – Christian – struggling with the fact that it seems to be ok to insult and belittle someone’s beliefs – and that we should all just put up with it. I certainly do not believe in violent retaliation, but a little more respect for each other would go a long way.

  2. You raise some difficult issues in this post. I don’t have the answers but my top line thought is that we have and we defend freedom of speech but with that that freedom there is responsibility and it is wise to show common sense.
    Specifically on religion we need to remember that Christianity is older than Islam and has been through a period of ‘Enlightenment’ where people challenged the bible and the church and made huge changes. We shouldn’t forget that in Europe within the last two hundred years blasphemy was punishable by death.
    There is however a huge difference between challenge and ridicule. Charlie Hebdo probably crossed the line.

    1. 🙂 I could not think of any photos I already had that suited the post, so I asked my teenager to take this photo. I am glad you think it works! Thank you also for the compliment on my writing.

  3. I’m agnostic but I respect all the religions, , many times if I read about them, I think ALL have good and bad situations. As Andrew says Christianity did horrible facts. I have travelled trough many countries with different religions, and whenever I entered in a mosque, wat, ortodox churches… I behaved correctly. I want to be respected, so I must respect the others. I can’t understand violence, as, violence brings more violence and hates.
    I’m Spanish and this morning you have wrote something what I said about E. Presley’s shirt!!!! in F. Tostado blog
    Regards from Barcelona, Spain.

    1. Rosa, I appreciate your comment! What you said about Elvis’ dirty shirt was so funny. 🙂 It is true that violence only begets more violence. The only way to make the world a better place is to be one of the people who stops the cycle. Regards back to you! From Oregon, USA

  4. What a powerful post you have here. I don’t quite know what to say. You have provoked deep thought and I really admire the time and effort you put into this. You have written beautifully. Yes, if we could only show some respect for each other. It seems like such a little thing that it is hard to understand why this is such an impossible concept to some. Violence is just not the solution.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, even when you claim not to know how to respond. 🙂 I think it’s wonderful that most of the comments here keep pulling us back to the concept of respect for each other. I am convinced that people are mostly good. Thanks for the compliments on my writing. ❤

  5. Wonderful reflection Crystal. It is sad that there are religious fanatics who careless about those who do not subscribe to their beliefs. The act in France is horrible and without excuse.

    1. I have thought of that, Prayson. The commonalities between Muslims, Jews, and Christians are extraordinary, and to me it seems logical that they would be true brothers in faith in the world. How strange that these are the three that fight between each other the most. But then… my study of anthropology showed many examples of how the bitterest hatred is between people who are most similar.

      You touch on the emotion that resonates most with me: how sad it is.

      1. Traditionally Muslims, following Mohammad, are not allowed to kill Jews and Christians, as long as they paid certain taxes because they are the people of the book(OT & NT). Muslims could kill those opposing Allah and his Prophet Mohammad. Fanatic Muslim justify killing them today on ground that they are no true Jews and Christians anymore.

        What happen in France is similar to what happened in multiple accounts in Hadith(the stories about Mohammad in Quran) where Mohammad allowed his followers to kill those who ridicule him and Allah.

        Christianity, from its purest, is far from Judaism and Islam. In Christianity the followers are called to bless those who ridicule them, to turn good from evil, to turn the other cheek, to die that others may live. Here I believe is an extraordinary difference between these Abrahamic religion. Mohammad killed to rule. Christ died to reign.

        Sadly some “Christians” do not practice what they believe and thus not different from fanatic Muslims. This led me to deduce that it is not religion or idealogy per se that is the problem but twisted minds. Being atheistic, such as in Albania in 20th century, or theistic, with multiple examples, or race, such as in Rwanda, twisted minds destroy beautiful things.

  6. Great post! To me, it’s really strange that mortals task themselves with defending or avenging immortals. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?
    Anyway though all forms of violence is not justifiable, I think anything that people hold dear shouldn’t be mocked at.

      1. Sorry you had that impression. I didn’t meant to sound that way. What I was trying to say is that I cannot bring myself to understand why humans kill each other in defense of their god, whereas we all know gods are immortals and therefore more than capable of defending themselves and even us.

        So if people of different faiths make a mockery of the Islamic , Hindu or Christian god, why can’t we leave the gods to deal with them. Remember, the gods are said to be in charge of the universe.

        Crystal, I am trying to indirectly draw attention to the fact that religion is a man-made thing.

        I think men craft gods in their own character and likeness. In other words, if you are violent my nature you will be attracted to a religion that advocates violence.

      2. Thank you for your eloquent explanation, and I feel that I understood you the first time. Is it not arrogant of we humans to think we need to defend our all-powerful gods?

        I am an atheist, and find it fascinating to try to learn how others embrace their faiths. In your last response, you have illustrated some of my feelings precisely. Nice to find another kindred spirit out there. I knew I was drawn to your blog for a reason. 😉

      3. That’s very bold and candid of you. Many are afraid to declare their stance. In childhood, we were all atheists. We only consciously and willfully cultivate faith, in response to bitter realities, when we grow up.

        Though I consider myself a humanist, I have met atheists who are far more peaceful, kind and empathic than devout believers. For me, what we call “God” encompasses the entire universe and the laws the govern it (objective truth or nature). Therefore an anthropomorphic god is out of my equation.

        But when one observes nature, one will notice a pattern where humans fit in. I reason that our sole purpose then, in the here and now, is to promote the betterment of humanity. This fulfills the same spiritual need that all religions claim to fulfill, and that’s the desire for immortality.

        Alas! when we are no more, when we cannot see, speak or hear, when our bodies are dumped in the grave or cremated, only what what we did for others (humanity) will be remembered for time to come.

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