Today in Paris, the other shoe dropped.
The satirical cartoon magazine Charlie Hebdo has been under threat for years now from militant Islamists for “blasphemy.” Their offices have been bombed, and the editor, Stephane Charbonnier, has lived since 2011 with a personal bodyguard. All to no avail — as today two masked gunmen armed with assault rifles invaded their offices and unleashed blood fury. Within minutes they had killed twelve people, including Charbonnier, and two police officers, one executed gangland style as he lay writhing wounded on the street. Ten more people were wounded, at least four of them critically.
As they raced to their waiting getaway car, the assassins shouted in Arabic, Allahu Akbar, God is great.
What God? What is “great?” Is spilling blood wantonly and viciously the directive of God? And if so, is such a God great? Or is this yet another display of the egoism that is always the hallmark of a criminal, in any language and in any nation? From Cain onward, those who place “I,” “me,” and “my” above any other value are scarred by the mark of evil. Perhaps that is why such assassins need to go masked, to hide that mark from others, so they will not be recognized as the man-eating tigers that they are.
The simple image above represents Charlie Hebdo’s response: “Les canards voleront toujours plus haut que les fusils,” in English, “The press (*Fr. slang) will always fly higher than the guns.” We will certainly hope so.
I’ve long thought that the study of history reveals something more subtle than it’s usually said to prove, namely, that in the end, good will conquer. By might, or by moral suasion, or by some kind of action taken by the good. But I think that in the end, the force that brings down evil (and I do believe that in the end good will prevail) is what the ancient Greeks called hubris. A kind of overweening pride that will not recognize limits, or morals, or any kind of decency. It’s what took down even mostly decent men in Greek drama. It took down Macbeth in Shakespeare. Hubris is what today we might call over-reaching.
Evil knows no limits. So it pushes past the point of prudence or wisdom or even common sense. The armies that invaded Russia — the French under Napoleon, the Germans under Hitler — were indifferent to the lessons of history, or to their own reality. They knew no bounds, no limits. But they learned. So it is always with tyrants, eventually. What is heartbreaking is the suffering and misery and bloodshed inflicted on their victims in the violent course of their lunatic dash toward doom.
World leaders have rushed to declare unanimity with the French on this sad day. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are rejoicing. How shall I, who am quite ignorant of Islam, be able to understand who and what Mohammed and Allah actually are? Are they actually who and what these two gangs of thugs claim they are? The prophet and the God of murderers?
If they are not (and everything in me says they cannot be), I need to hear the truth from Muslims who are like me, ordinary everyday people who love their parents, love their children, worry about making a living, try to live reasonably godly lives. Because, make no mistake — among the victims of today’s cowardly attack are exactly such followers of Islam as I describe. They have been spattered with blood purportedly shed in their name. It is theirs to speak out, just as Westerners have spoken out, in solidarity with all brothers and sisters of the human race.
We say in English, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Perhaps. Sometimes. Eventually. We trust in the power of the pen. But I think we can also count on the power and might of blood, the innocent blood that “cries out to heaven from the ground.” (Do you recognize that?) The Catholic church always recognized that power, recognized that the church fed and grew upon the blood of martyrs.
In going back again and again to read the appalling accounts of today’s massacre in Paris, words kept echoing in my mind, words I transcribed into a commonplace book decades ago. They are, fittingly enough, in French: “La mort des fusillès a ètè plus efficace que des triomphes plus èclatantes.”
I understand it, but I’m not so good at translation, so all I can offer you is a kind of literal transcription: “The death of those who were shot has proved to be more powerful than the most glittering triumphs.” Words I would wish by some efficacy of thought could be transmitted into the bloodthirsty heads of all terrorists, to echo there until they were deafened with the sound. If such a thing could happen, I would be the first to shout Allahu Akbar!
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Religion disgusts me. The Catholic Church slaughtered thousands of Muslims and Jews. Religions have always desired to kill those who are not like them. What god is it that these murderers have worshipped through the ages? The Christian – Muslim pendulum is merely swinging back to the other side again, this has been going on since the beginning with these two. It is just disgusting in the name of some deity ………please!
“In the name of some deity.” To me you put your finger on it there.
A god that’s just like us, composed of our projections — what good is such a god?
Any god worth the name will be more than we are, MUCH more. Or perhaps you’d find this more interesting: a god worth having shows us all our own possibilities. The very best we can be, untrammeled by limitations. And by any other name, of course —
Our daughter, when it came to her wedding, refused to allow the “G” word to be uttered. Ultimately it’s just another word, though. What counts is what we believe in — and rule our lives by. And we all believe in something. No need to spell it out, in any event.It (whatever it is) is ultimately foundational. It this is confusing — it’s because this kind of conversation is delicate and difficult. It calls for mulled wine, or champagne, or hot chocolate! Then it goes with a swing —
A stirring tribute to the latest victims of terror in the name of God, Judith. What God indeed! My belief in a fundamentally good God is shaken with every incident. I agree with your call to ordinary Muslims to speak out now. But I wish I could be as optimistic about good prevailing over evil. Highly unlikely until we learn to respect racial and religious differences instead of exacerbating them, and stand up as one. What are the chances of that happening?
Any optimism for me depends on perspective. From the POV of any individual — not good, not good at all. Improvement seems to be glacially slow, and subject to long relapses.
From the POV of, what? God? the Universe? The human species? eventually evil overreaches and destroys itself and good (however partial and flawed the good may be) survives. Remember Hitler’s Reich, that was going to last a thousand years? It was born in the early 1930’s, and died in 1944. For six million people, Jews, gypsies, Poles, others — that was too late, and awful atrocities were committed.
But Hitler’s hubris was brought down in less than twenty years, and he ended up committing suicide. Does anything balance out? I couldn’t begin to assess. But in strong moments, I can cling to that long view, in which good ultimately prevails.
As for respecting racial and religious differences — ah, all too often we don’t even respect personal differences.
I think in the end it comes down to a personal choice, will I have faith that there is something rather than nothing.
Thank you very much for reading and commenting so thoughtfully, Madhu. I really appreciate it.
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A very sad day for France, with far reaching implications for the whole world.
Even for Australia, as we saw so painfully not very long ago. And that had no excuse whatever, no cartoons, no provocation, simply this terrible hatred, vengeance, and madness.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Barb.
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“In the name of religion” – why is religion so seldom ‘in the name of life’ or ‘in the name of humanity’? This always makes me stagger; and, slowly, drove me away from religion (but not from believing in something).
I just had to get these lines out of my system … But what I wanted to say is THANK YOU, Judith, for this great thoughtful text. I think (and also hope) that you are very right. Blood will eventually bring down those who shed it. Because living beings, believing or not, want to live (and need to). And so they will.
Tobias, as always with your comments, I feel cyberspace is inadequate. We need to be talking long and earnestly face to face. But that isn’t possible.
If you look at my responses to other commenters, you will find part of that wished-for conversation.
I am especially struck by your opening, “why is religion so seldom ‘in the name of life’ or ‘in the name of humanity’?
Religion can easily seem antithetical to those. But religion is simply a word, just as God is ultimately simply a word.
words are uttered by humans, and filtered through them.
Just as humans are capable of enormous love and generosity, they are capable of enormous hatred and selfishness. Do we blame a figure such as Jesus or Mohammed for the enormities of some of their followers? It seems to me that the final cartoon of Charlie Hebdo is not satiric but simple truth: Mohammed weeping, saying, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.”
This moron of an assassin shouts “I have avenged the Prophet.” What hubris! As if the Prophet needed his aid, as if he were worthy of aiding anyone except the demands of his own ego.
I forgot in my post to add to the charge of egoism in criminal personalities, another charge, perhaps more accurate: the VANITY of the criminal. The best word I know to describe these actions is the plain old Yiddish word, chutzpah. The nerve of this thug, to think that he is called upon and worthy to do great things! He is worthy of crawling into a rathole. But that would cause the rats to leave —
Sorry for such a long response! Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful and heartfelt response.
thank you for writing what I couldn’t begin to.
It wasn’t intentional, Mrs. C. Something just clicked inside that went to my fingers and I felt compelled.
Thanks for reading.
(A stroke of irony that a fiction writer might not dare to include: the wounded French policeman who was then “executed” by this fanatic “follower” of the Prophet — was also Muslim. How stupid and unthinking can malignity be?)
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You write with a passionate pen, my friend. Thank you for this heart-felt response to the tragedy.
Ah, Jen — I am heart-sore, and writing the post only eases it temporarily.
I appreciate your thoughtful post Judith. I find myself inordinately upset by this event, much more than I have to similar recent attacks. It feels as though it touches and outrages me in a deeply personal way. In trying to figure out why, it seems to me that this attack is different in a key way from recent ones in which the intention (apparently) has been revenge for (the equally unjustifiable, in my opinion) Western war-making in Muslim nations – a sad case of violence begetting violence. The Paris killing is different because it is an attack on a value deeply cherished in Europe since the Enlightenment, one that separates us from the Dark Ages. Not just freedom of speech, but the notion that tolerance includes accepting the right to offend through thoughts and words – something that Charlie Hebdo has always done with admirable even-handedness and intelligence.
But I can’t accept that ‘ordinary’ Muslims have any obligation to explain or speak out. As you said in different words, these barbarous killers are as much an insult and an affront to Muslims as to everyone else. In any event, they have spoken out – Arab nations, Muslim faith leaders and people at grassroots level (witness the worldwide hashtag ‘not in my name’) alike.
Thank you for being a voice of reason and balanced reflection! I’ve not been very active in the blogging world lately but I always enjoy coming over here.
(I know you haven’t been active blogging lately, Karen; I’ve been looking, and I’ve missed you!)
The reason I think ordinary Muslims have — not an obligation, rather an urgent need — to speak out is twofold.
First, as you point out, they are actually the ones most harmed by such terrorist attacks. They become tarred with the same brush, and although they don’t deserve it, the level of ignorance around both the religion and the culture (perhaps one and the same) is such that they can’t count on much sympathy or understanding. It is to their urgent benefit to speak out, to become known as who and what they really are, not the vile portrait painted by the outlaws (and there are outlaws in every religion and culture).
The second reason is that, in my judgment, only a community itself can control and discipline its members. As you point out, all the bombing by outsiders simply multiplies the evils. It is the community who must, for its own sake, make itself responsible, because they are the only ones who have the power to do so. (Not that it is an easy job even for them, as any parent of hell-bent teenagers knows, to their dismay and their cost.) The rest of us are outsiders, whose job is to discipline our own.
Despite this inauspicious start, I hope that 2015 will be a good year, for you and your family, and for the whole family of humankind.
Well said Judith 🙂 You may find http://aliabbasali.com/2015/01/07/islam-needs-satire/ by a blogger local to me of interest.
A very interesting post, Martin, and exactly similar to some points being raised here again and again especially in the comments. I sent the link to Ali, and hope that the good will and understanding of two (or three or four) can somehow help cleanse a poisonous atmosphere.
You have as Karen says, addressed this with reason and balance. I have shared it on my very small FB page. Hope you don’t mind. Lets hope that a thread of sanity prevails through all of this.
“A thread of sanity” — a striking image, Gill. A thread, thin, seemingly weak — yet a thread was enough to guide the Greek hero Jason into the labyrinth to kill the monster Minotaur, and out again to safety. Perhaps a thread is exactly what we need! Do look at the conversation here in comments, it’s what I write the blog for really.
Thanks so much for reposting. Mind? I couldn’t be more pleased.
Hi Judith, and thank you to Martin for the connection. There are too many strands to this to cover in a brief comment, but I’ll make two observations here, and then think about how to construct a more comprehensive narrative. Most Muslims are just ordinary folks like everyone else. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons were designed to offend, and they did, and that is fine. I prefer freedom of speech to blasphemy laws. most of us were not moved to violence, most of us understand the killing is a greater insult to Islam than a million such cartoons.
But most of us have stayed silent while this cancer of Al Qaeda / ISIS and its ideological roots in the Salafist/Wahabi sect has taken root, and that makes me angry. It is the same twisted mentality that lead to the attack on the twin towers, on buses in my home town of London, in a school in Pakistan and so on. That silence angers me. It is not enough to mourn with the French and note that a Muslim police officer lost his life. These monsters are using our name and defaming us in their pursuit of mayhem and slaughter and we can’t just wring our hands and say “not in my name.” They need to be exposed, rooted out, their broken thinking challenged and corrected before it takes hold. For that we need help, because this ideology is being fuelled by money from the gulf states, and yet as western nations we keep trading with them, and refuse to hold them to account for the money their citizens give to fund terror all over the world.
It is a pragmatic truth, if you cut off the funding that keeps the monster alive, then the monster will die.
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Ali, I also am grateful to Martin. As you say, it is complicated. We can only plunge in and make a start —
But it is so heartening to find someone else who “speaks the same language,” whose eyes see a similar reality!
To pull out just one thread — you write: “These monsters are using our name and defaming us in their pursuit of mayhem and slaughter.” Exactly.
The greatest harm is being done (as usual) to the innocent, to people just going about their lives — The war is against them, they are the ones being hijacked. I guess I should be saying “you.” You, even in London, are right there on the front lines. You are very brave, though, because you are able to see so clearly.
Even though I have thought and thought about this, I failed to see the truth you point out here. As the phrase says, The truth hides in plain sight. These murderers need money for their hateful exploits, and for their own reasons, many states are happy to supply it. These states are so rich partly because of their Western trading partners — that is US!
So if we trace the thread far enough, we — all of us — are helping to finance our own destruction.
The Englishman Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Wringing our hands in the end amounts to doing nothing.
But WHAT to do, how to do it — these are pragmatic political considerations. Do you have any ideas for practical first steps? The pen may ultimately be mightier than the sword, but there are times when “swords,” i.e. political action, is the needful power. An arena I have never been competent in —
I am glad to meet you and to know that you exist! Perhaps this is a first step in something ongoing.
If you look at my response to Gill of My Bright Life, written just before this response to you, you’ll find the image of the thread (and the monster!) again. “What I tell you two times is true,” says the Torah. Perhaps we can help use the thread wisely, and help slay the monster.
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“So if we trace the thread far enough, we — all of us — are helping to finance our own destruction.”
And hasn’t it always been so? History is full of accounts that document the real reason for war, for violence, for the wielding of power through hatred and fear. Our own government participates, does it not? Governing systems are designed for the perpetuation of classes as are religious organizations, mega-corporations, even educational systems. When money (and its attendant perceived benefit) is the bottom line, the bottom line will always be put first above humanitarian concerns. I am not sure I can countenance a “good vs evil” ideology in the sense that good (because of a belief in a higher power) will win out. I think perhaps it’s more a balance we need to seek, that both good and evil are extremes of that place of balance. Will we ever be able to achieve that kind of balance? History doesn’t suggest that it’s likely.
As for what to do – like you I struggle with the enormity of changing the world to a more tolerant and balanced place. My present method is to be as kind, as generous, as loving as possible right here, right now, and if a path opens where I can do more, i must be ready to walk down that path.
Simply — true. Once long ago I was exposed to a theory that spoke of “the prophetic moment” and (I think it was) “the priestly moment.” That is, the moment of revelation (Divine or otherwise) and then the time, far longer than a moment, of priestly, that is, institutional establishment. I’ve never come across this idea since — but I never forgot it either.
The inspiration for something radical, new, liberating, that happens in a flash. Before too long, though, and in all fairness, I suppose, in order to reap the benefits of this new whatever-it-is, some sort of institutional structure becomes necessary. And so enters hierarchy and power and the drive to permanence, and that “moment” usually lasts a long long time.
The example I remember is St. Francis, the rich boy, who stripped off his garments and left his comfortable home to be with poor humans and animals in a direct and simple way. His inspiration and example of simplicity and poverty in some ways inspires many people to this day. And yet even before he died — and Francis died young! — his order was building a grand church, richly decorated, and easing their founder into irrelevance. Centuries have passed between that Francis and the current Pope Francis, who also strives to live by simplicity and justice, which is still such a radical idea that it makes headlines.
Such a theory would explain why moments of advancement seem to come in a flash. They transform the world — briefly — then fall prisoner to the inevitable evils that attend upon structure: lust for power and money and the maintenance of the status quo.
My present method is far less ambitious than yours: I too much resemble Candide, and usually finish by cultivating my own garden. Even that, I don’t find so simple.
One thing I think we would certainly agree on: Utopia is not likely to happen any day soon. Or even Eden, which, after all, had a snake in it.
Such important work and such an insightful reflection Judy. Thank you. These conversations are extremely important. I posted your remarks on my facebook page.
This was my response posted for my facebook neighbors. I also include a youtube link which presents a wonderful Muslim peace group, made up of ordinary and supraordinary Muslims who work for peace. Bridie’s surgeon, Dr Boachie, from the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC was honored with a peace award for his work in Ghana and the world (without cost) in operating on children and adults with severe and life threatening spinal deformities. He is a living saint. His team from NYC travel with him twice a year at their own expense to help him in his work. He recently retired as full time surgeon in NYC to travel the world teaching others his techniques.
The cowards who were responsible for the surprise (but well planned) attack on the satirical French journalists came face to face with courage, bravery, and freedom. The embodiment of these values was what they put to death. Bravo for the journalists and sorrow for them, their families, and France. These journalists act as court jesters poking and prodding the unacknowledged and oppressive structures. Whatever side we end up on in reflecting on their cartoons – they promote consciousness, not enslavement. Only enslavement to ideology could produce such disregard for life! Shame on those who think their actions are noble. Shame on the cowards. Sometimes I think there should be a blackout on news reporting, agreed to by the people, to deny them the 2 hours of fame they seek.
(if you notice 31 minutes into this video the introduction to Dr. Boachie’s award begins). http://search.aol.com/aol/search?s_it=topsearchbox.search&v_t=webmail-searchbox&q=youtube+ahmadiyya+muslim+community+peace+prize+award+dr+boachie
Therese, Thanks for posting. I applaud what you say here, and also think that one vital need is for better acquaintance with the norm of Muslims, rather than this horrendous lunatic fringe. And yes! I think a great deal of their motivation is for their own “fame” and self-aggrandizement, not for any religion worthy of the name.
Thank you, Judith, for your very thoughtful post and for your comment about how Muslims are the ones most harmed by such terrorist attacks. After Wednesday’s assassinations, one of the first persons to contact me, in outrage over the killings, was a Muslim friend. She wrote, simlply: “Je suis Charlie.” More than that, she took action, asking me to forward a note of solidarity and non-tolerance against such attacks.
Perhaps with enough such responses, we can all together beat back this tide of hatred and bloodshed.
Thank you for your comment, Kristin. I enjoy your blog very much.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a new friend once. He asked outright if I believed in God. “I believe in a higher power,” I told him, “but I don’t call it God, I call it Universe.” His response was to declare that “my God is bigger than your God.” The statement was so utterly ridiculous – that one person’s concept of god could be “bigger” than any other person’s – I was speechless. But, as this incident at Charlie Hebdo shows, we don’t really have the luxury of being speechless, do we?
I suppose not. But what do words avail in the face of an attitude such as you describe? It is so ludicrous, my god is bigger than your god. Like eight-year-olds on the school playground — As if any God, by any name, could be so cribbed, coffin’d and confined by our own small minds!!!!!
Words are not enough, of course. But words start conversations start understanding…isn’t that why we write? They might not hold up against those intent on causing harm, but they can change perspectives, clear a path for other opinions, thwart all of us from taking sides, pointing fingers, making this a black-or-white discussion.
I like to think that all these words exchanged here will add their small part to the necessary conversations.
Thanks for your share now, and always, Jen.
Judith, I am so sorry . . . . I read this last week, feeling and sharing your anguish but not knowing what to say. Still, a week later and perhaps for as long as I live, I know not what to say. As loathe as I am to suggest it, perhaps mankind is condemned to carve ever-repeating cycles of historical attempts to subvert and dominate humanity.
I know the feeling, Patti. And the evidence certainly supports your conclusion, sad as that may be.
For a very long time I’ve thought about the significance of the fact that in the Bible, foundation stone of our civilization, at least, the first thing that happens is Creation, including the creation of men and women.
And the very second thing that happens is — a murder. Out of envy, resentment, and spite.
So where do we find our hope? Wherever we can, I guess. Doing good and honest work? Trying to be as generous as we can be? Trying to refrain from doing the malice we’re capable of? We can’t do anything about the macro, but we can do as well as we can with the micro. That’s may be as good as it gets.
This post, dear Judith, simply poignant and OUTSTANDING!
I cannot express myself, my thoughts and feelings in proper English, apart from the fact that I’m in general not a good writer.
All I can say – totally agree with you.
And – thinking/wondering for quite a wile, for at least 2-3 years, why do Muslims who live in western democratic countries not stand up, demonstrate against all the horror in the name of Allah. By that I mean Muslims who live already in the third generation in these western countries.
Still thinking….trying to find an answer.
I’ve send your post to several friends and everybody is impressed and full of YES-YES-YES! to all you say.
Have read carefully all comments, like Ali’s one, and – of course – Karen’s (met her 2 years ago in person).
Also thought why this attack has “created” such a scream worldwide by having in mind London – 10 years ago, Madrid – 11 years ago, Nigeria-Boko haram recently, and all the yearly murdered journalists, over 1100 since 1992,…etc….etc…. All on the headlines for a rather short time, mostly even only for a day!
I think that – this time – it goes back to Voltaire:
“I do not agree with what you have to say,
but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Nevertheless – regarding last Sunday’s “event” – the worldwide solidarity – there is HOPE!
And as we say in German – Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt!
In this sense, despite all the world misery,
all my best wishes to you for a very healthy and good year 2015.
It is so good to hear from you, Karin! I miss you out there in cyberspace!
So much to think about, as always with your comments. I think I will focus on the one that just struck me (coincidence, serendipity) yesterday. Here are all these horrors in the past that you mention. I especially think of the railway station in Madrid because we were there several years afterward, looking at it, and couldn’t help imagining that terrible scene.
So why a huge outpouring now? And I agree with you, I do think it is — especially in Paris — what Voltaire said. I very much hope that the outpouring contains something of lasting value, beyond the daily newspapers. You saw Patti Kuche’s comment? Just before yours. It mingles hope with a dark outlook. Very much how I feel. As you quote in German, I guess we do keep clinging to hope, no matter what —-
Hope for me really consists of wonderful people in the world who contradict such awfulness, people like you and my blogging friends. I send my best wishes to you as well — alles gute, Karin!
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