Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

In light of the recent attack on the cartoon publication "Charlie Hebdo," some have quoted Voltaire's words: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” However, there is one problem. Voltaire never said this. The words come from a woman.

Beatrice Evelyn Hall of English descent wrote a biography in 1906 entitled, "The Friends of Voltaire." She published this under the pseudonym, S.G. Tallentyre. In writing the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” she was hoping to capture Voltaire's thoughts on the ideas of philosopher Adrien Helvetius.

"What the book could never have done for itself, or for its author, persecution did for them both. ‘On the Mind’ became not the success of a season, but one of the most famous books of the century. The men who had hated it, and had not particularly loved HelvĂ©tius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now." - The Friends of Voltaire

What Voltaire did write may surprise "free speech" advocates who endorse what I call, "bullying with the pen." Voltaire wrote:

“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." -1763 Treatise on Toleration

These words are important because they grasp my thoughts on the "Charlie Hebdo" tragedy. While I value free speech, there has to be some reservation when using it. What I mean by this is that we cannot misuse the gift of free speech in order to abuse others, bully them or slander them. Neither should we use this gift to mock or ridicule others and their beliefs. This serves no purpose in rational and intelligent discourse. It is not news that the cartoons and publications of "Charlie Hebdo" are racist, promote religious hate, and so forth. Their intention was to provoke others or instigate intolerance.

However, there is no need to make vulgar cartoons or write paragraphs that "rend" others, as Voltaire put it. If you need a cartoon or mockery in order to get your point across, then you are showing that you are not intelligent, articulate or educated enough to present your views in a logical and intelligent manner. Ridicule and mockery are for school bullies who seek pleasure in the provocation they instill on their victims. In light of this, if we are to endorse content like that found in "Charlie Hebdo," then why bother promoting campaigns against hate and bullying? Is not harassing a gay teen, minority or woman "free speech?" What is the difference? Why is this bad but cartoons mocking religion and people praised? The action is the same: bullying. What changes is the platform upon which the bullying is being communicated with.

Now we all make jokes and poke fun at each other. However, we usually do this with people who we know well and know that they can take a joke. It is not smart or wise to do this to groups of
people we do not know personally, especially groups that abide by collectivistic social scripts. The latter will get offended because their beliefs encompass what it means to be "them." So in
effect; if you mock their beliefs, then you are mocking them.  Apparently the people at "Charlie Hebdo" and those who support offending people do not understand this.  I recall watching on CNN or Fox News some people saying that "we have the right to offend people."  As I heard this and saw the passion in their facial expressions I shook my head in disbelief.  Yes we have the right to say whatever we want, but is it okay to offend people just because we can?  

We in are the month of January and in the United States of America we celebrate and honor a great man who fought for Civil Rights.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr rose up to the challenges of his time with mere words and peaceful protests.  He offended the powers that be with peace, tolerance and the pursuit of justice; the latter which is a staple in American culture.  Dr. King did not speak at the podium or write in articles mocking Caucasians.  Nor did he label them as supremacists, racial narcissists or "crackers."  He had no need to being a man of God and relying on the power of peace and prayer which He learned from His Teacher Jesus the Lord.  In light of Dr. King, do we need to offend people in order to get ideas across or call for change?  

To quote from the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”  These words are applicable today.  If we truly want to dialog or express our views in a way that attracts and does not distract, then we must do so with respect, logic and consideration.  Drawing cartoons or writing articles mocking and ridiculing others and their beliefs does nothing but cause animosity and distrust.  In the age of terrorism where these delusional fanatics believe the West is "out to get them;" the use of ridicule and mockery against them only fuels that delusion.  Let us stop playing into their delusions. 

In a way, the artists of the publication "Charlie Hebdo" did cause their own deaths by putting their pride over their lives.  While no one should be killed for drawing a cartoon, the artists should have known better than to "taunt a rabid dog."  Only a reckless or suicidal person would mock "Cujo" or an angry bear.  There are others ways to communicate displeasure in Islamist views and so forth.  Is the ability to draw offensive cartoons worth more than one's own life?  What of "live today and fight tomorrow?"  

Many mourners have been gathering in squares holding up pens.  The pen is a powerful tool.  It can be used to stab people in the eye, chest and back or it can be used to write love letters, friendship letters and scholarly works.  Hopefully the events in France will promote the latter and leave the use of offending others behind in the uncivilized world where it belongs.  

May the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Rest in Peace


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