The issue and attack of Charlie Hebdo is a difficult topic to discuss out of fear of offending someone, betraying my own ever-changing values, or of the unfortunate circumstance of saying something I do not necessarily mean. The topic is by no means a comfortable conversation to have with anyone. My final belief is Charlie Hebdo is an event that floats in a shade of grey, teetering between two very opposing sides. This in itself is a struggle to try and understand, especially when the world seems to be split so easily into two opposing sides.
Charlie Hebdo is a weekly newspaper filled with editorials, cartoons and pieces that make fun of everything and everyone. Past publications have caricatured Judiasm, Christianity and Islam in unflattering tones, portrayed a former Pope as a Nazi Officer because of his past as a (forced) member of the Hitler Youth and blasted feminist ideals. It petitioned to have one of its own national parties removed from the French government. It has been sued several times by religious institutions (mainly Catholic) and from 2006, by Islamic organizations as well for its insensitive cartoons.
The shootings that took place in Paris were brought on because Charlie Hebdo, the small, satirical publication of France, drew a caricature of Mohammad. Though the Quran might not explicitly forbid drawings and visual depictions of the Islamic prophet, there are several supplemental teachings, or “hadith,” that clearly do not allow a visual representation of him. In other words, it is forbidden.
The attack that killed eleven cartoonists and editors, and one police officer, on Jan. 7, 2015 was an extreme reaction to the publication of a cartoon which depicted Muhammad.
It is an extreme reaction to an insensitive cartoon.
In light of the state of affairs in the world, in light of the constant scrutiny and criticism that Muslims face living outside of the Middle East, in light of what can be seen as an oppressive majority’s feeling towards a minority and in light of how important religion can to be an individual, the cartoon was insensitive. That is all that can be said about it.
Because Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 album cover of him standing with his bandmates as various forms of Vishnu, a Hindu God, is insensitive to Hinduism. So is a Christmas episode of “Family Guy,” where the characters try to get Jesus laid. I cannot imagine orthodox Christians laughing here. Every holocaust joke, every politicization of the Jewish population, it is all offensive. It is all a low blow to those who practice the respective religions.
But none of these incidents have the gravity to justify an attack like that which took place in France. Not even the cartoon.
To support the terrorist action or even just to say the publication should not have done what they did because they should not “poke the lion” of terrorism, is not the right train of thought. It puts Islam above all other religions, instead of on the same playing field as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.
Charlie Hebdo published so many offensive cartoons against Catholics and Jews, and the only thing those religious groups have tried to do is sue the paper. Modern-day life is offensive to nearly every faith, but people are not being shot for pregaming the football game or in defiance of religious views on premarital sex.
In a world that is losing its sensitivity to all faiths based on a lack of education and carelessness, taking personal offense to every slight against your respective religion cannot be the solution. When the Islamic community became defensive and condemned the publication for its cartoon as soon as the attack struck, it became so easy for governments and large populations to turn their backs against the community as a whole, catapulting the #JeSuisCharlie movement into something so much bigger than it had to be.
Suddenly, what started as the act of two independent terrorists ended up representing an entire faith. Suddenly, the only real “real Muslim” seemed to be the terrorist. Tragically, we lost sight of the Muslim police officer who was also shot and killed by the same terrorists that opened fire at the Charlie Hebdo office.
The times where we see our personal ideals being attacked is not a time for movement and retribution. It is a time to open up a conversation and delve deep into discussion about why something is wrong, how it is offensive. Before this entire situation, I was unaware that drawing Muhammad was forbidden. Several discussions with friends later, and now I understand the reasoning behind it as well.
The caricature was unflattering and rude to have published and in the eyes of the Muslim community it was wrong. But nothing justifies the murders of the writers and cartoonists, especially in France, where publications like this dating back to the times of Voltaire were responsible for breaking the “Catholicity” of Christianity.
Life today is not dictated by an autonomous rule of religion that suppresses any movement against it. This is not Europe circa the thirteenth century.
The attack at Charlie Hebdo exists in a very uncomfortable realm of grey because to look at the situation carefully and understand it for what it is, it requires you to have one foot in one ideal and the other in another. We can only begin to understand the moral complexity behind Charlie Hebdo when we understand why everything they have published is so offensive while continuing to support its right to do so.