"Je suis Charlie" French for "I am Charlie" is being claimed around the world. In case you've been vacationing on another planet, you'll know that this phrase has developed in support of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly newspaper, featuring cartoons, reports, polemics, and jokes. It's irreverent and stridently non-conformist, but in a free society it has the right to exist.
But for many, this newspaper crossed the line with its cartoonish depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Now to be clear, crossing the line can be experienced in degrees. Its purposefully shameful depictions, an insult to many sincere Muslims who took offense peacefully, were too much for the criminally confused mind of a few radical Muslims and people died as a result.
But before we get too self-righteous, I can remember an uproar about the piece of art called Piss Christ. It was a 1987 photograph by the American artist Andres Serrano. It depicts a small crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine. It won awards in competition, which was sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Government agency.
True, no one was murdered as a result, but the piece was considered a grave insult to many Christians. My point is that just because we can, does not mean we should. And if we do, we need to recognize the possible effects of our actions on those who might be mentally unstable and already radicalized enough to take barbaric actions against us. Unfortunately, free expression comes with a price that society must be ready to pay; minimize for sure, but pay nonetheless.
To be clear, neither instance justifies mass murder. In fact, no free expression justifies it. But that is just what radical fundamentalists try to suppress; free expression. We see it here in our own country: Radical fundamentalists trying to suppress free thinking and replace it with superstition and mythology.
To add fuel to the roaring fire, certain news organization's and individual's have rushed to condemn all Muslims for the acts of an infinitesimal, disenfranchised minority. Some claiming that the Muslim community doesn't do enough to protest these horrible actions being committed in the name of Islam. Wrong again. Tens of thousands of true Muslims have protested all over the world, France included. I've seen at least 40 public condemnations by Muslim leaders from around the planet.
Here's the ironic part: The news organizations who scream the loudest about suppression of freedom of expression have suppressed this expression from Muslim leaders. I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored.
The most mindless acts we can take now is to condemn over one billion Muslims for the acts of the miniscule few. Then, while failing to recognize that religion is so intimately intertwined with freedom of expression, insist that our society values freedom of expression. When we do, we are saying that this right is reserved for those who we consider worthy and not for those with whom we disagree.
There's a bottom line issue here. The efforts to suppress free expression and independent thinking started when Guttenberg invented moveable type. We emerged from the darkness of politically engorged religious authoritarianism into the light of shared information and enlightened individual thinking. Since then religion has taken some drastic actions to sustain its ability to control our thinking up to and including inquisitions, forced conversions, crusades, witch-burnings and constant efforts at resubmergence into controlling our thinking.
Radical fundamentalism is the child of this history. If we want to unite as a modern species, Jew, Christian and Muslim, this would be a good time to recognize this common enemy. Maybe then we might find the peace, compassion and love that all religions teach.
Purchase my latest book, Christianity in America, Friend or Foe, at your local or favorite on-line bookseller. Print and electronic versions available.