Je ne suis pas Charlie
I’m not Charlie.
If you’ve been watching the news recently, you saw the story about the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The magazine specializes in satirical cartoons that have been known to offend people of all types of religious beliefs. As a result of one of their recent cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, some radical Muslims decided to take retribution by killing many of the people who worked there. It was a messy, tragic ordeal. Afterwards, people took to the streets to defend their rights to free speech, using the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) as a rallying cry.
That’s all well and good, but I can’t rock with that. I’m not Charlie… Now before you assume that by saying this that I’m lining up with Islam or lining up with terrorism, let me assure you that I’m not. If you’ve been visiting this site long enough, then you know that all of us here are Christians. There’s no wavering in our faith. So the fact that I’m saying that I’m not Charlie is not at all an agreement with Islam or with terrorism (which, to be fair, are not the same thing; not all Muslims are terrorists, not all terrorists are Muslim). It is, however, an indictment on what we call “free speech”.
In many cases, free speech is used as a blanket that we can spread out to give us the license to say anything we want regardless of how it offends others, which is generally okay. In this case, though, free speech is being used in a way to defile something that is sacred to a large group of people. So the freedom of speech being exercised by one group is, in fact, infringing on the freedoms of another to protect what they consider sacred. I’m not here for that.
The fact is that too often Christianity is also on the losing end of free speech. Years ago I wrote a post about the movie This is the End. The reason that I hated that movie so much is because it took a popular Christian belief, something I’ve considered sacred my whole life, and it turned it into a joke. It took something that is extremely important to me and figuratively urinated on it in the messiest way possible. I remember leaving that theater that day feeling hurt. It’s fine if you disagree with my faith. It’s fine if you think my faith is ridiculous. It’s not fine when your beliefs about my faith are broadcast in such a way so as to defile it. It’s not okay to try to force me to not hold anything sacred simply because you don’t and to shroud it under the guise of free speech.
Even the idea of using free speech as a rallying cry here is misguided. From whom are you demanding free speech? The French Government hasn’t told anyone not to publish these cartoons. So the people demanding free speech already have it, but they’re demanding that the people they are offending not be offended. That’s stupid. According to the US Government, you have the freedom to walk up to me any day of the week and say something sideways about my mother. That’s your right. But it’s also my right to be offended by that and to respond by punching you in the face. I’d expect you, as a decent human being, to realize that your words will be offensive to me before you say them. I’d expect you to understand that your offensive words just may come along with a consequence, whether it be right or wrong. And I’d expect you to weigh that cost and decide to be a decent human being by keeping your offensive words to yourself, despite your government-allowed freedom to speak them.
To be clear, I’m not defending the actions of the murderers here. They are murderers. Their actions were unspeakable and barbaric. To take an offense to that level is reprehensible. Terrorism cannot be tolerated. But realize that the people who carry out attacks like these aren’t reasonable people. So when you try to require them to be reasonable in the face of offense, you are being unreasonable also. They’ve been carrying out attacks all over the planet. Their goal is to kill people and to make people fear them. Why on earth would you think that they’ll respond to your protest in the streets of Paris and no longer respond when you offend them?
We’ve got to learn that the idea of free speech is not a pass to pee on what somebody else holds to be sacred. And if that’s what people are marching about and that’s the freedom of speech that people are demanding, then Je ne suis pas Charlie (I’m not Charlie).