Religious extremism is a very dangerous animal. Extremists of any religion believe their views trump all else, and violence is most often their method of expression. And on Wednesday afternoon, at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, religious extremism killed twelve people.
Waking up to this news, I sat reading continuous updates from The Guardian and the BBC, mouth agape, eyes wide. Four journalists and cartoonists are dead, two police officers are dead, six others are dead, and numerous others are injured, some critically.
Why? Why would three masked gunmen enter the offices of a satirical magazine and open fire? Why did many members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff obtain police protection? Why were their offices firebombed in 2011? Why are twelve people dead?
Charlie Hebdo mocks everything. In fact, the name “Charlie Hebdo” was created in order to bypass a ban by the French Ministry of the Interior. Prior to that, the magazine was called “Hari Kari,” but after Hari Kari released a cover, spoofing the death of Charles de Gaulle-the cover responsible for the ban-the editors changed the name to Charlie Hebdo. The magazine has never enjoyed huge circulation, but is known for skewering politics and politicians, celebrities, the far-right, and religions of all kinds.
In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published a series of Danish cartoons that mocked the prophet Muhammad. In response, their offices were firebombed. Many Muslims were insulted and incensed, believing their faith bans any image of Muhammad. According to author and professor Omid Safia, they are wrong. In an article for Faith Street, Professor Safia details his own experience with what he calls “a beautiful image” of Muhammad that his family brought with them when they left Tehran, and traveled to the United States:
I still remember the six of us packing what we could into two suitcases. Most of what we packed were the expected clothing items. The one exception was a beautiful image, an icon of sorts, of the Prophet Muhammad that had always adorned our home in Tehran. It had graced the dining room in our home, and it seemed unthinkable to me to either leave it behind or move into a new home where meals would not be presided over by the image of Muhammad. So I carefully tucked the image away, and I have carried it with me to each home I have lived in over the last few decades.
This image is a lovely depiction of a kind, gentle, yet resolute Prophet, holding on to the Qur’an and looking straight at the viewer with deep and penetrating eyes. He is depicted as a handsome man, with deep Persian eyes and eyebrows, and wearing a green turban. We all imagine the great ones at least partially in our own image; in the case of this Iranian icon, Muhammad is depicted not as an Arab but with distinctly Persian features. Then again, that is probably not any stranger than imaging a first-century Palestinian Jew (Jesus Christ) with the European features of blond hair, white skin and blue eyes!
Is it possibly offensive to some Muslims to see their deity mocked? I have no doubt. Lest we forget, however, the Christian God is often the subject of cartoons, satire, television programs, and even films, most of which are met with the same outrage by many right-wing Christians. For example, on Christmas Day, the Fox cartoon “Family Guy,” aired an episode entitled “The 2.000-Year-Old Virgin,” which told the story of Peter and his friends trying to get Jesus laid. The episode was met with an outcry from fundamentalist Christians, including Newsbusters, and Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, whose headline for their article on the episode read “The 2000-Year-Old Virgin: ‘Family Guy’ Christmas Episode Portrays Jesus as a Lying, Sex-Crazed Adulterer.”
Religious extremism exists within the hallowed folds of Christianity, just as it exists in every organized religion. But when Christian extremists use violence against those with whom they disagree, or groups or people they hate, do left-leaning pundits and politicians step up to a microphone or television camera, and label all Christians as terrorists? When Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller, did Democrat politicians or liberal pundits appear on the news, saying all Christians were murderers? When Byron Williams loaded up his car with guns and ammunition, and headed for The Tides Foundation, an organization demonized by Glenn Beck time and time again, did Democrat politicians or liberal pundits call all Christians insane? And as The Washington Post points out:
It’s not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by people who watch his show.
I fully expect the right-wing hate machine to come out in droves today, labeling the murders of twelve people in France as something other than what it is: an attack by ignorant, hateful, religious extremists. In fact, as I was opening and closing link after link for this article, I came upon a headline from Mediaite that caught my attention. It read “Fox Guest Blames Paris Attacks on Pol. Correctness, Warns ‘Communist’ de Blasio Will Bring It Here.”
Yes, that’s clickbait on steroids. But given the anti-Muslim rhetoric that flows from Fox on a regular basis, this headline could be accurate, albeit click-y. I looked for a video of Tom McInerney’s statements, and found it. McInerney does call Bill DeBlasio a communist, and blames some of the rise of radical Islam on President Obama. McInerney does state that not all Muslims are radical, but then goes on to imply that those non-radical Muslims aren’t standing up to Islamic religious extremism. According to The Guardian, French Islamic leaders are denouncing the attack on Charlie Hebdo, saying:
They have hit us all. We are all victims. These people are a minority.
Tea Party Nation is promoting the Charlie Hebdo massacre with this headline:
The Religion of Peace at work again
That article is written by Judson Philips, a man not really known for his peaceful rhetoric.
Religious extremism killed twelve people in France. Religious extremism killed George Tiller. Religious extremism killed Stephen Tyrone Johns, a security guard at The Holocaust Museum. Religious extremism started the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition. Religious extremism has existed since the invention of “organized” religion.
It is not exclusive to Muslims, or Christians, or Jews, or Buddhists.