Saturday, January 10, 2015

Je Suis Charlie Hebdo: Some Chasms are Just Too Deep and Wide

Some people who feel crushed, or ignored will go toward extremism and they will use religion because that is what they have at hand.

Said Ferjani, an official of  Tunisia's mainstream Islamist Party

What has ISIS done that Muhammad did not do?

Ahmed Harqan, an Egyptian atheist.

Both quotes are found in a New York Times article examining the ongoing debate between Muslims about how their religion is perceived by others. It is a discussion worth having because, let's face it, among tens of millions of non-believers that perception is not very flattering at the moment.

In the wake of the brutal assaults on the offices of the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo and a Parisian kosher grocery store this week the cultural and religious divide between Islam and others, especially Europeans and North Americans, seems as vast and dark as the space between here and the moon.

Many agnostics and atheists will point out the history of Christianity is rife with  intolerance, violence, and racism and they'd be right. In fact, since the fall of the Roman Empire, it is easy to think all religion, not just Islam, is to blame for a vast majority of the world's conflicts. Still, when you watch either Said, or Cherif Kouachi calmly stroll down a Paris sidewalk, then murder a prostrate cop--one who ironically happened to be Muslim--it is tough for many not to associate modern terrorism and extreme violence with Islam.

Clerics of every religion have and will continue to call for peace and respect among all faiths. Panels and conferences will be convened. Sincere talks will be held and reasonable theologians will agree we all just need to get along.

It is easier said than done. On one hand you have western culture which believes anyone can say or print whatever the hell they want. To paraphrase the publisher of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt, "What good is freedom of speech if you can't offend someone?" It's a concept completely removed from religion which stands separate and is subject to the same criticism and satire as any other part of society, including the government, political leaders, and anyone who has gained even a moment of fame.

There is no such separation in Islam. Religion and culture are so intertwined they are inseparable. To parody one is to parody both. Even if a western satirist realizes the interconnection he, or she will gleefully ignore that the joke, as it were, is considered a deep insult in Islamic culture. In the end the author, or cartoonist applies western standards to a culture which quite simply isn't western. The wild anger it inspires, even that which calls for a violent response causes the artist to push the envelope even further, because no one--by God--will dictate to him, or her what he, or she can, or can't say. In America and Europe the violence perpetrated this week is, first, unfathomable and second, it is insanely out of proportion to the act which provoked it. Throw in an Islamic judicial code deeply rooted in a book authored in the early middle ages and horror and revulsion, not to mention varying degrees of condescension and contempt, sweeps through the average western psyche.

Think not? Ask yourself  what you think of a report in the Los Angeles Times regarding Mr. Raif  Badawi. He ran a reformist blog and web site in Saudi Arabia. He was convicted, not of treason, or sedition, but of "insulting Islam." He was sentenced to seven years and 600 lashes. Then he really fucked up. He appealed the decision and the appellate court hit him with 10 years, a $250,000 fine, and 1,000 lashes to be administered 50 at a time over his sentence. All that for doing what I'm doing right now. In addition the Times reports two Saudi women will be tried in an anti terrorist court for driving cars, which is in violation of the law there.

Is it just me, or is it a bit tough to reconcile Saudi Arabia's peculiar sense of justice with the knowledge they're on our side in the fight against ISIS--that we consider them, like us, the good guys.

There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who would rather not have anything to do with people like Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly--the guy who killed a woman cop, then four hostages in the Kosher grocery. However, that doesn't mean the average westerner will ever be able to see Islamic culture as compatible with ours. At least not until they can take a joke like the rest of us.

Indeed, some chasms are just too deep and too wide for it to ever happen.

sic vita est


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