Why would you want to publish something that’s offensive?
I’ve been following, as I’m sure you have, Wednesday’s horrific terror attack at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the heartbreaking, pointless and outrageous deaths of 12 journalists, cartoonists and editors at the paper, including two police officers. As you know, the attack is said to have been carried out in retaliation for cartoons published by the paper over the years lampooning the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.
It was a barbaric, gruesome, and unjustifiable act, allegedly carried out by extremist adherents of the Islamic faith against a group of journalists who poked satirical fun at extremists of virtually all religious faiths over the years.
There is no question about the absolute right of the journalists to do what they did, no matter who it may have offended. Moreover, courageous responses by the journalism and cartoonist communities (some great toons in response here and here), along with that of the people of France (see these photos, akin to none that I am aware of in the U.S. after the September 11 terror attacks here) have been both uplifting and inspiring in the wake of the attack.
That said, I am still having trouble understanding at least one thing about all of this…
While the magazine and every other journalist or satirist or cartoonist has the right to publish whatever they like, no matter how offensive it may be regarded by any particular group (at least in this country, similarly liberal freedoms do not apply in many others), I am still having difficulty understanding why one would want to publish material known to be regarded as offensive by an entire, large group of folks, particularly when the offense lies at their very core religious (and, thus, very personal) beliefs.
I am no particular fan of any religion, to be frank. Pretty much every one of them (including the one I was raised with) tend to strike me as bizarre and, frankly, weird. But, while I have likely poked fun at various religious beliefs over the years, and certainly at the idea of religion itself, I don’t have any particular need to belittle any particular belief simply because it may be seen as weird – especially a belief that I know adherents of that religion or cultural group are strongly offended by – or simply to prove that I can.
I don’t pretend to know a lot about Islam, but my understanding is that it is not only extremist adherents of the faith – such as those who allegedly carried out the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo – who are offended by depictions, satirical or otherwise, of Mohammed. As I understand it (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), that is generally regarded as an insult to all members of Islam, extremists or otherwise. While the vast majority of Muslims would never even consider carrying out violence in response to such an offense, my understanding is that it is still something that is known to be offensive to an entire religion. So why do it? Simply to prove that one has the right to do so?
In our 11 years of publishing more than 10,000 articles and blog items – and, yes, cartoons – here at The BRAD BLOG, many of them snarky and/or occasionally satirical, I don’t recall ever publishing something that was known to be a personal offense to an entire group of people simply in hopes of offending them in order to demonstrate that I can, or even to prove that no cows should be sacred.
To be clear, extremism and intolerance by any religion or people is a perfectly fair (and important) target of satire. Nobody should cower in fear of such extremists. It seems to me that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, for example, are perfectly fair game, along with other powerful people and institutions, including religion as a whole, and certainly hate groups. But depictions of Mohammed, at least as I understand it, do not serve to skewer those groups, they simply serve as an insult to each personal believer of Islam. Again, there should be no law against it – our track record here in favor of Freedom of Speech and Press should be pretty well established by now – but why would anybody want to do it, legal or otherwise? What noble cause do personal attacks on personal beliefs serve, other than demonstrating that we can do so if we want?
If they do serve a noble cause, I’m not sure I know what cause that is, but I am open to your thoughts there, as well. It’s also true that French culture (where they ban religious head scarves and idolize Jerry Lewis) is different than our own, so perhaps there is a different mindset in regard to these things that I don’t fully appreciate either.
In this country, we tend to frown on the publication of grotesque depictions of various groups deemed offensive by members of those groups. Respectable organizations, even broadly satirical ones, don’t tend to publish caricatures of “greedy” Jews with big noses, “lazy” African-Americans with big lips, or grotesquely offensive depictions of Jesus. We certainly can, yet those who do are often condemned and justifiably criticized for it when they do so.
Of course, they are not killed for doing so, so the comparison is decidedly imperfect. But there are undoubtedly some – extremists within any such group which might feel put upon – who might do so if they could. See, for example, just from recent days, the “balding white man in his 40s” who is wanted for the virtually unreported bombing of an NAACP office this week in Colorado Springs, or the gun fanatic who murdered a police officer and critically wounded another in Pennsylvania in hopes of sparking a revolution to kill many more to help “get us back the liberties we once had.”
It is one thing to lampoon the powerful. And, again, it is my personal belief (and a protected right in this country) that anyone should have the right to satirize – and even offend – anybody they like.
But, I must say, I still don’t understand why anybody would want to do that, particularly when the offense is made to millions of people who do not intend to hurt anyone with the particular belief that they hold dear – no matter how obnoxious or stupid or silly that particular belief may be regarded by others.
I’d love to know what I’m not understanding here, because I am sure there is probably quite a bit. So if you can help me understand what I am missing, I hope you’ll feel free to do so in the comments section below. When you do, however, try not to post grotesquely obnoxious and racist attacks and offensives against others. We have had a few of those posted here over the years, generally by cowardly racists, and we try to delete them, unless they are otherwise, somehow, instructive. If cartoons lampooning Mohammed are instructive, however, I’m not sure I understand the lesson – other than to make the point that we are all allowed to offend others, if we wish. It’s just something I don’t generally wish to do, at least not to those who don’t deserve it. So, again, perhaps someone will feel free to enlighten me about what I am missing here…
* * *By the way, here’s a cartoon by Patrick Chappatte, published in September 2012, not long after the office of Charlie Hebdo was fire-bombed in response to earlier depictions of the Prophet Mohammed…