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.