“All is forgiven“.
“We don’t feel any hate to them. We know that the struggle is not with them as people, but the struggle is with an ideology.” So said Zineb El Rhazoui today, a surviving columnist at Charlie Hebdo magazine.
And this is a most important distinction here – the criticism of an idea is very different to the criticism of a person. That line must not be blurred in this debate.
Here is a more mundane version of the same issue – it may seem trivial in comparison, but the principles at stake are why Charlie Hebdo continues to satirise islam.
So in another office in my company, a cyclist comes in wearing lycra each morning, switches his computer on, then goes off to have a shower and change into his business clobber.
Now, a few months back a muslim in the office complained because “as a muslim” she found “such dress offensive“.
Management got this guy into a room to ask him to get changed before he came into the office to avoid such offence in the future.
If I found myself in the same situation, I like to think events would have played out like this:
Me: “So Mrs Muslim, where in the Koran does it say you can impose your idea of appropriate dress on a non-muslim? Chapter and verse please.”
She splutters “How dare you?! I’m a muslim. It’s offensive to me as a muslim“.
I retort that “this is not an answer. Offence is in the eye of the beholder. I do not give offence. You take offence. The choice to be offended is yours.”
At this point the manager, keen to defuse the situation, and fearful of “causing” further offence, appeals to my ego: “as the rationalist in the room, can you not concede, carry your clothes on your bike, and get changed before you come into the office?”
I respond “would you say the same to a jew supporting the state of Israel with a small Israeli flag on his desk, when confronted by a Palestinian who finds the flag an insult to him and his countrymen?” (This happened in an office where I used to work.)
The manager, wanting to stick to acceptable norms says “that’s different. Let’s focus on the case at hand. Won’t you, for the sake of peace, adhere to this request?”
I then make my stand: “If that’s your position, then this is mine. I find Mrs Muslim’s head scarf offensive. The word islam means submission, and this head scarf represents the submission of women to men. As an egalitarian, this is offensive to my beliefs. It says she should be ashamed of her beauty. Even worse, it promotes the dangerous idea that men do not have control over their urges. I want her to stop wearing this at the office so my beliefs are not offended.”
It would be a wonderfully juicy Mexican standoff.
And more to the point, this is what saying Je Suis Charlie really means. Are you willing to stand up to the religious when they try to impose their ideologies on the rest of society? Are you willing to bust a few taboos for the greater good?
The post Rushdie years have seen a steady decline in free speech. It’s time to turn the tide.
And so, coming back to the more serious situation in France, until muslims stop insisting that they have the right to impose their views on others, Charlie Hebdo will continue to publish cartoons of Mohammed.