Musings —01.12.2015 06:16 PM—
[Inspired, in part, by a post from last week.]
God gave us the powers of judgment.
In Her infinite wisdom, She gave us the ability to look, and listen, and consider. She bestowed upon us the ability to recognize that there is, indeed, a qualitative difference between publishing a cartoon poking fun at a religious leader, and publishing a propaganda poster calling for all Muslims to be exterminated.
That distinction was apparently lost on not a few folks the morning after the mass murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. If you look at what the French satirical magazine was doing – and it is advisable that you do so – you will see they weren’t in any way agitating for genocide, or knowingly propagating hatred.
Over the years, they were publishing cartoons that poked fun at several religions and religious figures. During the time that they did so, Islam became the world’s fastest-growing religion, at a rate of 2.2 per cent every year. While Charlie Hebdo was publishing satirical cartoons, to put a fine point on it, the sky – filled, as it is, with assorted deities – did not fall.
Decide for yourself. I did. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are all over the Internet; they’re easy to find. My hunch is that if you look at them, some of you will laugh, some of you won’t, and all of you will go about your day, undeterred.
It should be added, here, that the writer who gratefully occupies this space is no anything-goes libertarian kook. And, in the week following the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, it’s probably not a popular position to take: when it comes to speech, I believe reasonable limits should indeed exist.
Child pornography. Promoting genocide. Denying the Holocaust in the classroom. All of those things are prohibited by Canadian law, as it should be.
There are reasonable and proper limits on human expression, because certain words and images have power. Words and images indeed have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, persuade people to kill.
As a society, we should reproach those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others – as with the aforementioned child pornography, promotion of genocide or Holocaust denial. And, yes: as society, we are entitled to object to the expression of actual hatred towards religious faiths. Words and images that expose the tenets of a person’s faith to hatred are not helpful. Because expressing actual hatred about someone else’s spiritual beliefs is just that: expressing hatred.
Almost a decade ago, a global debate raged about cartoons depicting the prophet Mohamed as a terrorist – and my colleague Ezra Levant’s decision to display them in the magazine he then published. The cartoons set off a wave of emotional protests and threats on a global scale – and fostered a vigorous debate about what constitutes free speech. Was the publication of those cartoons satirical, or was it hateful?
When we attempt to answer that question – honestly, diligently, impartially – we will quickly ascertain the difference between an act of mischief (say, spray painting a graffiti artist’s tag on the doors of a synagogue), and an actual expression of actual hatred (say, spray-painting “DEATH TO THE JEWS” on the doors of a synagogue). Certain words and images can stir up actual fear and pain and hate. Others don’t, or shouldn’t.
So, again: God gave us the wherewithal to debate and determine where the line should lie. She bestowed upon us critical faculties. We should use them.
When we do so, we know that those who were slaughtered at Charlie Hebdo weren’t in any way propagating hatred or promoting genocide. They were being rude, yes. They were being scurrilous, yes. They were being equal-opportunity offenders, yes. But they weren’t hating anyone.
The real haters, instead, weren’t the men at Charlie Hebdo.
The real haters were the ones who killed them.