Wednesday, January 7, 2015

‘Charlie Hebdo’

Terrorists in Paris have attacked Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper which had the [sarcasm] unmitigated gall [/sarcasm] to satirize radical Islam. Two Three masked gunmen, operating with what was called trained military precision and AK‑47 assault rifles, killed 12 people in the newspaper's office, four of them cartoonists who were famous for their lampoons of Islamic subjects, one, the editor of the newspaper. ABC has reported, about an hour or two ago as I write this post, one suspect has surrendered; the other two are at large. Survivors of the attack reported that the terrorists named aloud each person as they killed him or her.

Much to my dismay, the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" have been used in the US to describe any and all kinds of people who attack anyone for any reason, sometimes even to describe political enemies. This is not such a misuse: this is truly terrorism. The gunmen shouted "Allahu akbar" and the equivalent of "We have avenged the prophet Muhammad." They are probably armed and doubtlessly dangerous, wherever they are tonight. The US is not exempt from threats, by these individuals or others associated with them.

One danger is the readiness of some Americans to malign all Muslims for the acts of radical Islamic organizations. Right after 9/11, I knew some Muslims in our apartment complex who quickly emigrated to another country where one had relatives, anticipating the kind of hateful, irrational response the US government mounted under [sarcasm] President Dick Cheney and Vice President George W. Bush [/sarcasm]. I also knew a former friend of Stella's who was prepared to accuse anyone he thought insufficiently Christian (me, for example; I'm a Unitarian Universalist and indeed I am not a Christian) of being a radical Islamist, deserving of imprisonment and/or assault by any red-blooded American.

How can we persuade fear-riddled people, American or French or any other nationality, to refrain from indulging their deepest prejudices against people different from themselves, especially religious people? Intransigent religious extremists are, indeed, among the most dangerous people in the world, and some of them do indeed engage in organized terrorism — but every major religion in the world has such people among their devout followers, and it is simply unjust to assault the nonviolent, more conventional adherents of those faiths. If followed by citizens of every nation and adherents of every religion, that way lies chaos.

Then there's the fundamental matter of free speech. Since the US Supreme Court came to have six (6!) Catholic members, I have given those Catholic Justices a lot of grief in print. Most of my Catholic friends understand my concern with such a ⅔ religious majority on the Court, even if they disagree with me... what about the tiny minority of American Catholics who would be ready and willing to do violence to me for expressing my concerns publicly?

I cannot offer to retract anything I've said, any more than the staff of Charlie Hebdo could retract the sometimes scathing satire that is (was?) their stock-in-trade.

This cannot end well.

My heart is with the French people, and especially the loved ones of the victims of the terrorist attack, on this horrifying day.

ADDENDUM: The gunmen have been identified as French nationals. Heaven help the great nation of France...

(And all this is happening on the birthday of my late, much lamented father, Bill Bates. [sigh /])


  1. Islamic Extremists Kill 12, of which two policemen. 5 injured in critical condition. The two suspects fled in a black Citroën, to Pantin Porte. And then they
    fled with another car.

  2. "My heart is with the French people" Je Suis Charlie, Steve, Stella and Bill!

  3. Replies
    1. My father, Bill Bates, was many things. As a very young man, he was fire control officer on a troop landing ship off the coast of France on D-Day; his distaste for war was comparable to my own, but he believed France had a right to determine its own affairs, and the French had a right to speak their mind. On the whole, Dad's efforts (along with those of many other Allied troops of many nations) have turned out well for France and for the free world. But there are still people out there willing to deprive others of their lives merely for saying things they don't like.

      Many years after the war, my father became a schoolteacher, which was his life's dream. As I noted, his distaste for war was as great as my own. But his taste for freedom was deep in his soul. Had he lived to see terrorism as we know it, he would have grieved with all whose loved ones were senselessly killed. It's not how he would have chosen to celebrate his birthday, believe me.

      I am not saying there are not legitimate grievances against the US or France or any other nation. But freedom of religion does not trump freedom of speech, and there are plenty of things to be said against every major organized religion. I plan to continue to say some of them... and no one has a right to kill me for doing so. I do not know a solution to the conflicts the world endures over religious differences, but I do know that unmitigated violence solves no problems whatsoever, and must be opposed wherever it happens.



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