Je Suis Charlie

This was written by a friend of mine in response to a Channel 4 piece on what has happened in Paris and elsewhere. Its thought provoking-I make no juudgement but it opens the debate in a different direction. But the prayer I put on a Blog before Christmas I put 1st as I hope we do pray for all who are struggling.

Dear Lord

I offer to you all those who grieve, those who struggle to come to terms with loss, those who tears flow freely, for those who are angry, for those are confused for those who need a tender hand or word of comfort. For those who walk alongside them we give thanks

We know you cried when your son died for us and yet you continue to love us.

Please take into your safekeeping all who are struggling and grieving, catch them when they stumble, wipe their eyes when they cry, and hold them at all times.

Guide them into the light where warmth can bring back smiles and the thoughts of happy memories of those friendships and family are rekindled.

Through Christ and with Christ we offer all our thoughts, concerns and joys for your safekeeping. Amen.

A piece by Rev Paul Mann

Je suis Charlie
Am I ‘Charlie’? – possibly not.

In the aftermath of the awful events in France over the past few days, it is hard not to be compelled to join those identifying with the deaths of the employees of Charlie Hebdo. That many folk have rallied to the phrase “Je suis Charlie” is understandable. The murder of the cartoonists (and those seeking to protect them) cannot be condoned under any circumstances. In almost every culture and creed, the deliberate taking of one human life by another human is deplored. In the Old Testament, this is the directive give in the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder. [Exodus 20:13 (NIV)]. The Ten Commandments (from which this prohibition comes) has been the basis of legal systems in both Judaism and Christianity across many countries. In Islam, there is a similar set of prohibitions. The text recorded in the Qu’ran at 17:33 states: “And do not take any human being’s life – that God willed to be sacred – other than in [the pursuit of] justice.” So, the actions of those who took the lives of the cartoonists (and were implicit in the deaths of the hostages they took as well as those who tried to protect them) are rightly condemned by both sets of prohibitions.

Of concern to me is that the Cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo are being held up as martyrs of free speech. Whilst, I respect the right that all of us has to free speech, what I choose to say as I exercise that right is not immune to opposition or criticism. I have to accept that what I choose to say may be unacceptable to others and cause them distress and anger. Indeed, what I say may be interpreted as racist, homophobic, et al and potentially contravene the laws of this country. In the latter case, I could expect to be take to court and prosecuted.

I am not a regular reader of Charlie Hebdo magazine. In fact, until the events of the past few days, I was not aware of its existence. Looking at some of the material (cartoons) that have featured in its past editions, I can see why the targets of its satirical humour were offended. However, it is the responsibility of the target of such satire that must decide on their reaction. My reaction to reading something that denigrates what I hold dear is something I have to own. It is my reaction. I can choose to be offended … or choose not to be offended. If I feel offended, then choosing some legal recourse is as much a right is as freedom of speech. So, I might write in protest to those who have offended me, or take legal action if such is open to me. The point being, the response should be proportionate and consistent the legal framework I am part of.

What is perhaps being overlooked by those who have taken up the cry of “Je suis Charlie” is that in the past ‘Charlie Hebdo’ has published some material that is among other things; blatantly racist, homophobic and blasphemous. The magazine may have a right (in French Law) to ‘free speech’ … but some of it’s cartoons have been deliberately provocative and inciteful. My concerns are only heightened when I listen to those who claim that for satire, nothing is sacred and everything is a legitimate target. I would be the first to agree that humour is a good way of challenging the pretensions and self-aggrandisement of others. Indeed, it can be a gentle way of reminding us that we are all equal before God … and none of us is loved by God any more or less that any other. Satire is an aggressive form of humour … and used proportionately it can be a force for good. Popping the bubble of piety which surrounds some religious people or their dogma and faith-tenets can be a good thing, especially when it highlights the existence of hypocrisy. However, I contend that the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo have gone much further than I would deem appropriate and have also transgressed one of the Ten Commandments alluded to above. It is my perception that their cartoons are among other things, blasphemous. That being the case, this contravenes the third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” [Exodus 20:7 (NIV)]. Again the Qu’ran has similar prohibitions: 73:8: Remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him exclusively. 76:25 Glorify the name of your Lord morning and evening.
So, the drawings of the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo fall foul of both sets of prohibitions. However, mindful of the notion that ‘for satirists, nothing is sacred’, they would probably contend that the concept of blasphemy is both outmoded and defunct in modern (Western) society. As such, God is as legitimate a target to be mocked as anyone or anything else. However, it is not outmoded universally and for those for whom faith is a significant part of theirs life, blasphemy is something we are careful to avoid personally. When others choose to blaspheme around me, my internal reaction is one of discomfort. In certain circumstances, I may choose to respond … but again appropriately and legally. However, such blasphemy is not directed to me personally. I may choose to be offended by it, but the One at whom it is directed is more than big enough to handle the blasphemy and judge the offender accordingly. The notion that I somehow have to defend God from blasphemy is risible … something that seems to have been lost on those who murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists: “… for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

So, I am not going to take up the cry of “Je suis Charlie”. I choose not to identify with the cause of those who have chosen to publish inciteful and blasphemous material. That they did not deserve to die as a direct result of their actions is immutable. Equally, I do not condone those who murdered the cartoonists and were implicit in the deaths of the hostages they took as well as those who tried to protect them. To be absolutely clear, in my view, both the cartoonists and the terrorists have committed something that is ‘wrong’.

Finally, I reflect on the summary of the Law as cited by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. In response to the question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” [Matthew 22:36 (NIV)], Jesus responds: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)]. It strikes me that the nature of the satirical cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo fall foul of Jesus’ summary of the law. They are neither respectful of God, nor do they show love towards a neighbour. Equally, the actions of the terrorists fall foul of the same summary. Neither the cartoonists or the terrorists have shown any respect for the other. Without such mutual respect our society is at risk. Without such mutual respect freedom of speech can be as damaging a weapon as a Kalashnikov.