Saturday, January 17, 2015

5 Dangerous Myths about 'Charlie'

News photo: Protesters chant, "Death to blasphemers."

Look at media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo aftermath, and you'll see dangerous myths are emerging.

1. Myth: We should equate public debates with private quarrels.

Too often, commentators mix up private quarrels with jihad.

For instance, the pope, bless him, noted that if you insulted his mother, you could expect him (a former bouncer!) to punch you in the nose.

But could you expect him to machine-gun your whole family?

The problem is not hurt feelings; it is mass murder and terrorism. The people offended by the magazine did not write vituperative letters to the editor; they burst in with Kalashnikovs and gunned down the staff.

It is dangerous and misleading to talk of "sensibilities" and "insulted feelings" when the real topic is murder and terrorism.

2. Myth: Public issues be discussed with cool restraint.

What if your mother is running for president? You and she should darned well be able to hear intense and even unfair criticism without reaching for your automatic rifle.

Public debate in a democracy should be, must be, intense, emotional and even exaggerated. If it is real debate, it will tap into real emotion. That means at times it will be over the top, overexcited and exaggerated. That is an inevitable byproduct of real emotion and the real exchange of views on vital topics.

Also, hyperbole (to give it its fancy name) is an essential tool for public communication. It is not always possible to communicate with witty understatement and cool irony. To get a point across, public debaters must sometimes draw broad pictures and use vivid language. Too often, complaints about "hurtful language" are meant, or act, as censors of effective communication.

3. Myth: We must give in to claims about "insults" and "besmirching honor" and "blasphemy."

Such claims, however, are too easily faked, and too easily become tools of oppression.

No "insult to honor" can be disproved. Both "insult" and "honor" are vague, subjective qualities. No one can disprove, as a matter of fact or logic, that honor has been insulted.

More important, "honor" and "blasphemy" easily become tools for oppression of minorities. Take this case: A Christian Pakistani woman gets into a quarrel with  Muslim women. They accuse her of blasphemy. She is ultimately condemned to death by hanging, and an official who expressed sympathy for her was assassinated by his own bodyguard.

The key point here: There is no way the Christian woman (or anyone) can disprove she had said something. In such a world of blasphemy laws, and vigilante mobs, every person is at risk of being accused of a capital crime and is helpless to refute it. That includes Muslims, BTW.

The point is doubly important when lynch mobs act upon accusations. (See the link above.) In such a country, no person is safe from either legal persecution or lynching at any time. To underline: there is absolutely no defense against an accusation of blasphemy or besmirching the honor of a deity or some who according to Muslims lived 13 centuries ago.

Thus our civilization must reject such claims at all levels.

4. Myth: religion is private, so we as a public need not be involved in it.

Some of the explicit or subtle rationalization for these murders is based on the notion that religion is merely private. Some have clucked their tongues over the slayings, but said, either in their tone or in so many words, that the cartoonists should have known what their cartoons would draw a deadly reaction to such comments, as they touch on tender private feelings that should be shielded from public injury.

I for one would be glad to see more acceptance of the notion that the sacred must be accorded special dignity, reverence and even awe. But as long as the government that taxes me uses my money for "Piss Christ," forgive me if I accept the reality that religion is part of the public sphere in 2015.

And it should be. Religions make claims about the cosmos and our behaviors in it. Christianity makes claims about human life; those claims impinge on public topics; Christianity is a valid subject for public debate, which may unruly and rambunctious. And of course Christianity has a right to respond to that debate.

Just not with AK-47s.

But many of the jihadis' apologists implicitly think that religion should be utterly private, and silent. People may have doubts or beliefs, but they must hold them silently, shut up in their hearts. In this view, if they proclaim their beliefs on a magazine cover, they should expect backlash for violating the new social norm that religion is taboo.

Religion is in fact a subject of public debate in a free society. To paraphrase Lincoln, the proper recourse is not to bullets but to bullet points in a reasoned reply.

5. It is dangerous to think jihadis hate only a satirical magazine.

They don't hate speech; they hate all that is human. They hate music and art. They hate our appreciation of human beauty. They hate love. They hate desire. The idea that two people could adore each other nauseates them. They are stirred to deadly rage by the ordinary human impulses of forming a family and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

"Charlie Hebdo" is only the first thing they wanted to attack. They also want to attack all art, as they have proved by their destruction of art and bans of music. They want to attack all those who truly feel desire, all those who want to enjoy life. They want to attack all who have ambitions and dreams and wishes for better lives.

They hate all that is divine. They hate the yearnings of the human heart for the ineffable, they hate the impulse to follow the promptings of the spirit, to obey the unpredictable yet powerful urges of the soul.

One reason our constitution protects religion is not because it is a trivial private matter that is of no public import; we protect religion because it reflects our most profound and powerful feelings, and because it is too majestic to be encompassed by our laws and understanding. We cannot fully understand it, therefore we dare not constrain it or proscribe it.

Jihadis -- like their psychic predecessors who sacrificed infants on blood-spattered altars or galloped in barbarian hordes or rode among the Panzer divisions --  hate all they do not control, and that includes the spiritual.

I'd even suggest jihadis hate their own prophet: they want to extirpate all images of him, because, subconsciously, they hate all that is outside their own nihilistic hearts. They secretly hate God because they are in fact enthralled by the Devil.

These five dangerous myths have if anything grown in response to the Paris massacre. We must keep this in mind if we are to defend all that is human -- and divine.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Je ne veux pas être Charlie

By all means, as a gesture, I heartily join in, "je suis Charlie." It is a profound and useful reaction to offer sympathy and solidarity with the sacred dead. It is also right to honor those who, indeed, gave their last full measure of devotion in support of freedom.

Make no mistake, words and images are vital weapons in this worldwide battle. I happen to be reading the works of Lincoln, and then Grant and Sherman. I'm also reading a history of World War II, which reminds us that the words of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, even Ernie Pyle were vital in the victory.

I hope that I someday, if needed, have even a fraction of the courage of the Charlie staff. I hope I am bold and fearless and articulate.

Yet ...

Je ne veux pas être Charlie: I do not want to be Charlie. What is that line attributed to Patton, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."

I hope to neither kill nor be killed. But if the bastards come from me, I hope I can defend myself against them. That is not merely a desire, it's a duty.

We are not just defending our lives, we are defending civilization.

Gestures are not enough. Words are not enough. Good intentions are inadequate on their own. Satire is only a lesser tool.

I do not want to be Charlie.

I do not want to be shot down helpless. I don't want to depend on unarmed cops to defend me. I hope to not only critique our enemies, but convert them. If that doesn't work, I hope I can defend myself if they come for me.

And make no mistake they will come for us if we let them.

I refuse to pretend that the state can always protect me from evil. Ultimately, in a free society, we the people are the best defenders of ourselves, our loved ones, our community, our country.

So we have to protect ourselves. I have North Carolina and Utah concealed weapons permits. Am I carrying a gun? Let's say that at the least having a permit would expedite obtaining a weapon in case of immediate need.

Moreover, as has often been noted, you must have power to be free.

The book I'm reading is John Keegan's The Second World War. He sketches out the history of the rise of the mass army, and the lesson is clear: the spread of freedom to the common man happened as they gained deadly weapons, and as the mass of men bore arms. Guns = freedom. It's history.

No matter how bold your words, you cannot produce words if you are dead.

Finally, let us not pretend that hashtags and editorials and blog posts such as mine will suffice. Action will be needed. Note that I hope violence can be avoided -- underline hope. But we cannot simply sit here and be picked off one by one. We, the civilized, will have to act.

I do not have specifics; I'm not sure specifics matter. But we have to act against our enemies.

And of course it comes back to words and arguments: We must make a convincing case for freedom, with all its messiness and meandering.

Yes, no matter what I write at a desk, I hope not to be caught cowering under a desk; I hope I and all of us in our civilization will fight back and win.

Je ne veux pas etre Charlie. I hope to advance the ideals of freedom and love -- and it will take more than cartoons and hashtags to do it.