Civilization is a thin veneer. Dr. Carl G. Jung spent most of his life observing how we are still barbarians at the depths of our psyche. When he died in 1961 the world was at the height of The Cold War, which followed immediately on the two bloody conflagrations of World Wars I and II. He warned us that the “thin thread” of the psyche of man would only protect us if we know something more about it.
We live on a fragile planet with more than 7 billion other human beings. In order to accomplish that, there must be trade offs. In his “A Triumph of Terrorism” Patrick Buchanan touched an immutable truth,
“Even as children you knew there were words you did not use about someone else’s girlfriend, mother, family, faith or race, if you did not want a thrashing.”
There is an element that has gone relatively unmentioned in the week since the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks, and that is the element of personal responsibility and respect for our fellow human beings. It is arguable that at the time the Danish cartoonist created his offensive cartoons, we in the West did not understand that publishing an image of the Prophet (PBUH) was extremely offensive to Muslims. More than 1,000 people lost their lives in the ensuing riots.
The sophomoric among us are chuckling this very day about the fact that the first Charlie Hebdo cover since the attack in Paris features a stylized Arab man, in a rather offensive way. On top of that, the cable news networks are highlighting the idea that this image is again of the Prophet (PBUH), but that is their incendiary and sophomoric extrapolation, because it can, as easily be simply a Muslim man, who is caught in the middle. Will there be more blood as a result? Whisper who dares!
But the question is this: When you are publishing satire knowing that what you publish will lead to deaths, perhaps many, are you being irresponsible? Are you a murderer? Perhaps this is a topic we should discuss!
What if you are a cartoonist, and you know that someone will die if you publish a certain type of cartoon? What if the person who will die is a Muslim rioter in Indonesia? What if that person is a Muslim Indonesian police officer trying to defend the Danish Embassy? What if you know that the person who will die is a police officer doing her job in Paris, or a French soldier defending the Louvre? Is it then defensible free speech, or is it intentional murder for entertainment?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid supporter of our Civil Rights. Like millions of other young Americans, I have written a blank check up to and including my own life to defend those rights. But with those rights come responsibilities. No mature and thoughtful person in our society would say that you have the right to kill another human being by the exercise of your rights.
Young Americans are taught the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is usually a way for a parent to make their child feel comfortable about being bullied in the schoolyard. But that does not take away the hurt that is felt in the psyche, and things can get pushed to the point that people die because of taunts. In other cultures, people are not necessarily taught to “shake it off” if they are insulted.
We live in an extremely complicated world, and we would do well to understand that there are bounds beyond which we should not go in exercising our rights, especially when our behaviors affect others. Yes, I do agree that the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo had the legal right to publish whatever they wanted, but that does not mean that they were responsible and morally mature adults when they did so, knowing the potential consequences. I’m sorry! I cannot canonize them.
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