I have a new hero. It is Charb, the late editor of Charlie Hebdo, gunned down, along with several of his associates, by murderous thugs last week.
I regard good satire as a gift from the gods, but there is a rub, and it is this: I would not post or publish pictures of the prophet Mohammad.
I am not concerned about terrorist attacks, since I am not big enough to be noticed by terrorists, but I am concerned about courtesy.
Muslims did not invent their prohibition on depictions of the prophet as a way to challenge non-believers, and they don’t maintain this prohibition as though it were a chip on their shoulder, one they dare anyone to knock off. It is a centuries-old part of the Muslim faith and it’s one I am willing to respect.
I have had heard ordinary, non-fanatic Muslims express discomfort over depictions of Mohammad. Their discomfort comes from their sense that an important religious taboo is being violated. I would guess that their feeling is similar to that felt by many Christians when Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ depicted Jesus being tempted by sexual fantasies.
So, though I certainly don’t want to see laws prohibiting Charlie Hebdo-type satire, I am unwilling to identify with its more rude and disrespectful aspects.
To me, avoiding intentional insults to religious beliefs is similar to avoiding ethnic or racial slurs. I don’t believe in insulting or disparaging individuals by throwing around the infamous n-word, and I don’t feel my freedom is being drastically curtailed by my restraint on this point. To me it’s more a matter of common decency rather than overly timid political correctness.
Certain words embody an element of viciousness that comes from their reflection of real, non-verbal injuries. To verbally target someone whose people have been routinely and heavily victimized by discrimination is to blast them with society’s heavy artillery. Certain ethnic groups – Black, Hispanic, Italian, etc. – have been systematically injured for decades or even centuries, and what they have suffered is embodied in the terms (wop, beaner, and so on) that some mainstream Americans use to disparage them. When a white bigot calls a black man “nigger,” he dredges up the socially entrenched mentality that has injured African-Americans for centuries and essentially gloats over it. He is, in a sense, kicking someone who is down. These are the kinds of words that, like sticks and stones, do break deeply embedded psychological bones. Their poison will endure as long as the social inequality they celebrate endures.
In contrast, there is no epithet that an African-American or a Mexican can throw back at a white person in this country that carries the sting of entrenched social inequality. Words like gringo and cracker are all but harmless here.
The same can be said in male-female verbal relations. There is a long-entrenched social sensibility that says women should restrain themselves in their sexual behavior; if they don’t they can be injured with labels like slut or whore, labels that have no equally injurious male versions.
And then there is the nuclear option: cunt. Here is a term designed to injure females by reminding them of their vulnerability in the areas of both sexuality and assertiveness. To call a woman a cunt is to say, “You are female and the whole world says your (sexual and/or assertive) behavior sucks!”
There is no male equivalent because there is no equivalent socially entrenched value that undermines the sexual and assertive behavior of males.
Refraining from ethnic, racial or gender-based slurs, or from intentional religious insults, does not make me feel as though my free speech has been impaired. It just makes me feel respectful.
And - Vive Charlie Hebdo!