Je Suis Charlie – All Is Forgiven

13 Jan
Tout est pardonne

All is forgiven

All is forgiven“.


Powerful words.

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.


2 Responses to “Je Suis Charlie – All Is Forgiven”

  1. Jenkins1974 January 18, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    I’m commenting here in relation to the wider issue, not just the specific post above. In particular, your other post on “Offence and censorship”, but as that’s an old post, I thought a response here would be more likely to be read.

    So then, I’ve been thinking about why some people take such offence about criticisms of their ideologies. And I think a major reason is the MANNER in which the criticism is made, rather than the criticism itself.

    You correctly distinguish between criticism of an idea and criticism of the person holding the idea. But when the former type of criticism is conveyed in a certain manner, it can be interpreted as the latter type. For example, a sneering tone of voice, shouting down a person’s viewpoint, an exasperated sigh, a condescending smile implying “I am listening to you but you’re just wrong and I don’t have to take you seriously”. These are all forms of communication that suggest that the one whose ideas are being criticised is – essentially – stupid. So it becomes an attack on the person, not just the idea. It is, I think, an extremely common thing to do; I’ve made the mistake myself many times. So why do people do this?

    I think it’s because they assume that their opponent will do the same; they assume their opponent will be unyielding, stubborn and set in their ways, which in turn would lead to said opponent sneering at any alternative idea (or worse than sneering). And yes, many people may think “Well, they ARE unyielding, stubborn and set in their ways!” And I get that, I totally understand it, but here’s another thought: assuming the worst in someone brings out the worst in them. Perhaps certain people are unyielding, stubborn and set in their ways because they feel that they are being told they’re stupid. So they have to close ranks and defend their ideology because to do otherwise would be to imply “Yes, you were right to sneer at me and look down your nose at me”.

    It takes considerable effort to do this, but casting aside any assumptions about the way your opponent will react to your criticism could really pay off. Assume that they will listen to and seriously consider your viewpoint and therefore treat them like an intelligent person – don’t sneer, ridicule or any of the aforementioned (and more) – and perhaps they will listen. Also then listen carefully to their response and their ideas also, without assumptions and preconceptions.

    Ideologies can and do change – many people may have an emotional connection to an ideology but they can retain this while changing their views on certain aspects of it. This is not unheard of, e.g. many people still celebrate Christmas while having no belief in immaculate conception and/or many other aspects of the Christian ideology.

    So don’t enter into a discussion with the exasperated view that your opponent will simply not listen. If you suggest your opponent is stupid, they will want to stick to their idea, because to waver from said idea implies agreement with your view that they have been ‘stupid’ up to the point of their wavering.

    OK, so what if this does not work? Your opponent still stands their ground, unyielding and stubborn, sneering at YOUR idea despite your valiant efforts to be open-minded, to listen to them completely and to avoid sneering? Then you have been the better person; you have made a vast effort to reduce conflict; and that is a reason to be extremely proud.

    And if it does work – that is to say, if you enter into a constructive dialogue – you could both learn new things and overcome prejudices. Even better! But either way you win.

    Not easy, I know, but something to aspire to.
    Maybe a starting point for discussion with a radical could be: “I’m interested to hear your views on this subject, and I want to share mine too. I genuinely want us each to try to understand each other.” Or whatever similar phrase works for you….

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