January 12, 2015
One of the big stories in the news these past several days has to do with the attack on January 7 on a satirical magazine in Paris called Charlie Hebdo. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't know. As I gather, Hebdo is short for hebdomadaire, which is French for weekly, in case you wondered about that. Charlie is whatever....a cute first name for which there is no doubt an explanation. Anyway, a bunch of people were killed, and most of the western world is up in arms about the attack, viewing it as an assault on free speech. The magazine's stated editorial position is essentially left-wing, pluralist, and decidedly anti-authoritarian. The phrase "je suis Charlie" is now circulating in the streets and on the social media worldwide, signifying a sense of solidarity with the magazine and its right to publish whatever it wants to, particularly if it's offensive, since if it weren't nobody would care and none of this would have happened.
It seems that the attack on the magazine was carried out by some pissed-off Muslims, due to the fact that the publication prints insulting caricatures of Muhammad, and it is forbidden in some (but not all) versions of Islam to make any kind of image of that individual, known as The Prophet, most particularly I suppose images that are not flattering. In response to the attack some Muslim leaders have proclaimed that it was an indefensible act of terrorism and shouldn't be considered a religious act or to represent the mentality of the majority of Muslims. These qualifications are deemed necessary because of anti-Muslim sentiment circulating in the western world because of various other violent actions sanctioned and financed by people professing to be Muslims of which we're all familiar--attacks, bombings, hijackings, assassinations, and prices being put on the heads of individuals, all by what we now call radical "Islamists," to differentiate them from Muslims in general. Most everyone is pretty happy to concede that there is a divide and even a disconnect between regular run-of-the-mill Muslims and people who are compelled in the name of Islam to kill, maim, and otherwise cause things to go BOOM against folks whom they consider to be the enemies of their religion and profane cultural imperialists to boot.
Also in the social media and elsewhere there have been some folks who, while condemning, or at least not condoning, the acts of people like those who shot up Charlie Hebdo, and its crew, have pointed out that the west is inherently racist and intolerant of pretty much all religions other than Christianity, and particularly of religions whose principal adherents are not of native European stock. This is without a doubt true. The folks who point out this fact are more concerned with the idea that a publication like Charlie Hebdo might represent cultural antipathy toward Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East (of which there are many in France), as well as toward lots of other things, to the point of being pretty vicious in its satire. These cultural relativists in effect have said that Charlie Hebdo is tolerated and even venerated because its targets are not your everyday walking around secular Frenchmen who consider themselves French in a more or less pure sense, i.e,, those who can trace their roots on the soil that is now France back to the time of the Celts, the Roman legions, or the mishmash of Frankish Germanic and Norman invaders who followed them and more or less defined, by about 1000 A.D., what it means today to be ethnically French. Excluded from this group would be Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and other wogs and fuzzy wuzzies. The French have always been disdainful of people and things that are not French, as they see it, and reserve the right to make fun of such persons and things. And so, by the reckoning of the critics of Charlie Hebdo and western culture in general, the staff of the magazine was more insensitive than they had a right to be and perhaps got what was coming to them. They were, like so much of the western world has been for a long time now, "Islamophobic." Of course this view doesn't take into consideration the apparent fact that some of the same group that attacked Charlie Hebdo also attacked a kosher Jewish market which, one can safely assume, was not in the business printing caricatures of The Prophet.
Here I must pause to mention what I consider to be one of the peculiarities of the English language and perhaps also that of French. We use the suffix "-phobia" (from the Greek) to denote hatred of things as well as fear of them. Hence agoraphobia is fear of open places, but homophobia is hatred of homosexuals. I suppose there are some who believe that all hatred is rooted in fear, and that fear and hatred are two sides of the same coin, so what's the difference? But when it comes to suffixes we have one that means love of --"-philia" but none that precisely means only dislike of, so "-phobia" has to do double duty. Anyway, we are told by some that what might be the real culprit of the violence in France is Islamophobia, meaning a hatred and/or fear of the religion of Islam, or of Muslims, or both.
Liberal-minded people don't like to cop to being haters. We like to say we respect all religions, but just not the extremists among them who would interfere with our right of free expression, including our right to make fun of the extremists. We stand firmly and foursquare for the right of all people to peacefully worship God as they choose. Etcetera, etcetera. So even though we might be Charlie, at least for the time being and until the next big news happens somewhere else, we are emphatically not Islamophobes. and perish the thought.
I will now take a long breath and let it out slowly before I proceed. After careful and due consideration of all the many manifestations of the religion of Islam, I must say that I am decidedly Islamophobic. I don't hate the individuals who profess the religion, but I do most definitely hate the religion. I think it's time to point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes, so to speak. And dress it up any way you want to, Islam is a fucked up phenomenon. Mind you I don't dislike only Islam, and I have nothing against the concept of a God as a force in the universe. But the people who scare and repel me are those who profess to know what God is thinking or what God expects us to do or not to do. That covers most of the religions that come readily to mind. But more to the point, I don't like religions that have all-male clerical hierarchies, that believe in the segregation of men and women during worship, that put women into a position clearly subordinate to men, that tell women how to dress and act when they are in public, that tell people how to pray, what time to pray, and what to say or not to say to God. I do not like religions that insist that only certain individuals can speak directly to God under certain circumstances. I do not like religions that tell people what they should and should not eat. I do not like religions that prohibit or require certain activities on certain days of the week or on certain holidays. With respect to most of these things, Islam comes to mind, as well as parts of Judaism and parts of Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. And most of all I do not like religions that are so conceived that their adherents can in any way take it into their heads to commit acts of murder and mayhem in the name of or in defense of those religions, whether or not such acts are, strictly speaking, condoned by the religion. The mere fact that groups of persons can believe it to be okay to commit violence in defense of a given religion and not be considered insane is enough of an indictment of the religion and its adherents to make me more than ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater as far as that religion goes.
It is unfortunate that billions of people all over the world profess Islam as their religion. That fact can't be undone, though I certainly wish it could be. These people might be inclined to act like fools even if there were no such thing as Islam, but I can't help thinking that Islam helps them to act like even bigger fools. So I am content to hate the religion, not just in its most extreme and politically-motivated manifestations, but in its most peaceful and well-meaning forms as well, It is a blight on the earth and I'm sorry it can't be eradicated in one fell swoop.
But you say Pete, how can you condemn an entire religion based on the activities of some fanatical adherents of one of its extreme branches? Easy, watch me. And I'll condemn yours too if any of its members commit criminal, or misogynistic, or just plain bizarre acts in the name of their faith. Well then, you say, what about Christianity? Shouldn't we get rid of that too? Sure, put it on the list, but for right now the one we have to be most concerned with, worldwide, is Islam. Priorities.
So, while je ne suis pas Charlie, je suis un islamophobe, if there is such a noun in French and if I got the gender right. And even if not.