Why is “Je Suis Charlie” Under Assault?

By Robert Delaney


The mantra adopted by many people sickened by the violence in Paris last week is already under assault.

That was fast.

One of the most well-reasoned arguments is laid out here by Scott Long, a human rights lawyer. I agree that no one should be coerced into re-publishing cartoons that, apparently, drove a few Islamic extremists to exterminate 12 people. That, of course, would be an assault on editorial independence.

There’s also some reason to the contention that satire, the honoured rhetorical and political strategy that helped to drive the Enlightenment, causes a disproportionate degree of damage to groups already marginalized, and that people who deploy satire against marginalized groups need to be aware of possibly racist underpinnings.

But I won’t be painted as a racist for making “Je suis Charlie” my facebook profile image. Why? I’m equally offended by Christianity, Judaism, and other belief systems that encourage followers to see others as inferior. The foundational texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have compelled followers to do just that. They have also, over centuries, laid the foundation for misogyny, homophobia and racism that too many people accept without thinking.

Hasan Medhi, in an Oxford University debate, tries to make case that Islam is a religion of peace. He’s at his best when he points out that Islam is unfairly portrayed as being more inclined to violence than Christianity, and that every individual Muslim is unfairly blamed for the violence of an extreme minority in a way that Christians are not.

Indeed, the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, anti-Jewish pogroms, countless arson attacks on abortion clinics, and support for kill-the-gays legislation in Uganda have all been rooted in Christian ideology, yet no one in the Western world fire bombs churches or harasses individual churchgoers for these deeds. There are no reprisals along the lines of what Muslims in Europe are facing in the wake of the Charlie Hedbo murders.

Observing the sudden Charlie Hebdo worship, Long says: “Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity.”

Thank you, Scott Long. As I’ve said to anyone with ears, the crimes committed – and blood spilled and misery wrought – in the names of Jesus, Abraham, and Mohammed, probably even out.

Suffice it to say that white supremacy has its roots in Christianity, which brings to mind Christopher Hitchens’ contention in this essay that: “For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin.”

Ironically, racism in Europe – arguably a vestige of Christianity – has been at least partially responsible for the ghettoization of France’s Muslim minority. That, along with details of Western military intervention in Muslim-majority countries, has created socioeconomic circumstances that drive many unemployed youth to delinquency and crime. These conditions almost certainly compelled the terrorists in Paris to break into the Charlie Hebdo newsroom with guns.

But Medhi eventually resorts to the same line of argument I’ve heard too many times from people who defend religion. He says:

“I believe that Christianity, like Islam, like pretty much every mainstream religion is based on love and compassion and faith. I do follow a religion in which 113 out of the 114 chapters of the Koran begins by introducing the God of Islam as a God of mercy and compassion. I wouldn’t have it any other way. You go through the Qur’an and you see the mercy and the love and the justice. Yes, you have verses that refer to warfare and violence. Of course it does. I’m not here to argue that Islam is a pacifistic faith. It is not.”

I’m not scholar of religion, and so I can only wonder what that one out of 114 chapters of the Qur’an says.

Medhi’s argument that terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists have political, not religious, motivations is also weak. Justifications for poisonous Christian initiatives on abortion rights and kill-the-gays laws are ultimately delivered in political language. I don’t see the point of making the distinction.

Ultimately, there’s only one question we need to answer when it comes to the world’s most established religions.

On an aggregated basis, do they provide more comfort than suffering? I think not.

But even if I’m wrong, I would want to know why we still respect belief systems that make any allowances for bigotry, violence and warfare?

Many centuries on from the publication of the Qur’an, the Old Testament, and the Torah – in a world where technology has blurred the borders between civilizations – there are many thousands of organizations and causes based on love and compassion that do not include clauses used to marginalize or murder the other.

For my part, I’ll be sure to highlight the hypocrisy of all faiths, not just Islam.