Among the definitions of religion, it can mean the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal god or gods, a particular system of faith and worship, or the pursuit or interest of some idea to which a person ascribes supreme importance. For many human beings, there is no right or wrong religion, or inherent good or evil in a particular faith. It is true that although religious adherents ardently believe their religion is perfect, for the majority of the faithful their only religious regard is one of personal taste. Of course down through the ages violent wars have been waged over imposition of a particular religion, but in modern times the basic premise among religious people was to live and let live. All that changed after the terror attacks on 9/11.
First, the ‘alleged’ al Qaeda affiliates who took umbrage at, and 12 lives, French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s affront to the Prophet Mohammed were extremists and did not represent Islam; no more than American neo-Christians claiming ISIS members must convert to Christianity or be killed represent mainstream Christianity. Most of the world is wont to claim that the terrorists’ actions were an assault on free speech, and while that may be true, it is not the entire story. More on that shortly.
There was a religious element to the killings, but it is the result of the way Islam is and has been portrayed by the West after political terrorists attacked America in 2001. Prior to, and after, the 911 terror attacks, Osama bin Laden made clear his group’s motivation in attacking America was the product of America’s continued involvement in the Middle East; it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It is important to remember that many innocent Muslims were killed in the World Trade Tower attacks, and that immediately afterwards the entire world, including predominately Muslim nations commiserated with America and supported the effort to capture and kill bin Laden. All that changed when reports, and graphic images, surfaced showing Americans torturing Muslims in Abu Graib prison and were grabbing young Muslim men off the streets and out of their homes and throwing them in Guantanamo for “rendition” without due process and approval of a majority of America’s Christian population.
Over the past decade or so, it is reasonable to conclude that what America has wrought on Muslims in preemptive foreign wars and this nation’s illegal hunger for torture certainly played a very significant role in radicalizing young Muslim men. Whether they planted bombs at the Boston Marathon or killed French journalists, they have witnessed an all-out assault on Muslims in their own nations, and a 13-year hatred-fueled assault in America. If any American Christian was raised since youth seeing nightly television reports of illegal wars, innocent Christians being detained without due process and ruthlessly tortured, or three-quarters of a million innocent Christian civilians massacred there would be a bigger militant Christian movement than there already is in America.
Indeed, during a 2007 court deposition, Chérif Kouachi, one of the young men affiliated with al-Qaida who shot and killed journalists at Charlie Hebdo was very blunt in explaining his motivation; “I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television on what was going on over there. I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.”
Prior to the terror attacks on 911, there was Arab animosity toward America, but it was purely political and borne of this nation’s involvement in Muslim lands and its staunch support of Israeli atrocities toward innocent Palestinians such as the recent massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. Massacre, by the way, that America sat silently and viewed because of that other unwritten sin in America; uttering a negative word toward Israel.
Now, there is no doubt that freedom of speech has to be defended unequivocally, but as a journalist for the Guardian pointed out, “it should also be honestly defined;” the key word being “honestly.” Even in America, there are limits on the freedom of speech and France is not any different than America.
For example, in 2005 three French intellectuals and the publisher of the nation’s leading newspaper, Le Monde, were found guilty and ordered by a French court to pay Attorneys Without Borders for allegedly defaming Jews in an op-ed article in 2002. The court ruled that the article equated French Jews with the state of Israel whose policies the newspaper’s authors condemned harshly. The official ruling found that Le Monde and its journalists were “guilty of racist defamation against Israel and the Jewish people.” France, like America, has harsh penalties and laws against speaking an unkind word about Israel regardless the nation’s actions against Muslim Arabs.
In 2008, one cartoonist working at Charlie Hebdo was fired because he refused to apologize and retract a remark some considered may be misconstrued as ‘anti-Semitic’ in a column. Again, free speech has limits and like America, France limits any speech that entails uttering an unkind word toward Jews or Israel in what any reasonable human being would consider an attack on free speech; exactly what the extremists are accused of in France and around the world.
Speech is not free in Denmark either based on the hypocrisy of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published a 2006 cartoon of the Muslim Prophet Muhammed despite Muslim adherents regarded it as offensive, and yet the paper had a different free speech standard applying to Christians because it refused to publish a cartoon about Jesus. The paper’s rejection of a cartoon “offering a light-hearted take on the resurrection of Jesus Christ” was, they claimed, out of respect for Christians’ religious sensibilities and the publishers’ abject fear it would provoke an angry outcry and reaction from Christians.
There is no such respect or fear when dealing with Muslim sensibilities because Europeans, like Americans, honor freedom of speech if it defiles Islam. It is more of a truism in America than in Europe where any hate or offensive speech aimed at Muslims is free and moral, but even the idea of an unkind word against Christians is a high sin. Including, by the way, any kind of objection to the Christian religion being forced down Americans throats; then it is not only a sin, it is persecution.
The people who killed 12 human beings in Paris were extremists not so different than the white male who massacred 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or the two white Christian teenagers who gunned down their classmates in Columbine, or the lone maniac who killed innocents in an Aurora theatre. The list goes on and on and never once have conservatives lashed out at, or portrayed, all Christians as monsters or labeled the entire faith an inherently evil and violent religion.
Whether Americans want to admit it or not is irrelevant; the fact is that prior to this country’s murderous and very hateful assault on the Muslim faith, any hard feelings toward America were political; including the terror attacks on 911. Between George W. Bush’s invasion of two sovereign Islamic nations that were not responsible for the 911 terror attacks Bush labeled a “crusade,” a despicable torture campaign against Muslims, and massacring over 655,000 innocent Iraqi Muslim civilians, it is little wonder there are growing numbers of Islamic extremists.
There is no excusing the murder of 12 journalists in Paris whatever the extremists’ motivations were, but one has to wonder that if Charlie Hebdo, or the French government for that matter, gave the same respect for Muslim’s religious sensibilities as they did Jews and Christians, if those 12 people would still be alive today. It is a lesson that America will eventually have to address because at the rate conservatives are defaming all Muslims, including demanding armed patrols inside local mosques, or forbidding Islamic places of worship in their neighborhoods, sooner or later an extremist will take out their religious frustration on innocent civilians. Free speech is not free as any American stupid enough to utter an unflattering word about Christians or Israel will attest to, but if they defame and attack Islam they are real Americans and worthy Christians.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.