Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Being a part of this world means living with things you disagree with. The way to combat bad ideas is with better ideas. These are the twin thoughts swirling in my head as I've struggled to take in the totality of the terrible news of this morning's attack in Paris, ostensibly carried out by militant Muslims "defending" Islam's Prophet Muhammad from the poison pens of political cartoonists and caricaturists.

Now, to be clear, as a Muslim I find such portrayals offensive and often unnecessary. And, to be equally clear, my sense of self isn't so fragile that it can't withstand folks taking potshots at my faith. In other words, I get over it and get on with it. Yes, the target of this attack, France's long-running satire magazine Charlie Hebdo has often been critical of religion in general, Islam in particular, and Prophet Muhammad even more particular still. So are a lot of other people.

That's been the case for awhile now, and it's not likely to change anytime soon (especially not after this morning). The mag's goal is to get eyeballs, and to the extent that they're seeking it, they're getting it. And, y'know what? The impact all of that has had on my life, as someone who's just trying to embody his religion in the best way possible, falls somewhere between "not at all" and "seriously, not even a little bit".

Honestly, if I spent my days furrowing my brow over every instance of somebody looking at Islam cross-wise, well, I'd be in for a very unhappy existence. The other day I linked to an article about how, despite the fact that Muslim organizations and individuals are out front condemning terror acts whenever they occur, the eternal question of why "mainstream" (however we define that) Muslims aren't saying anything never quite seems to go away despite those game efforts.

And this attack typifies exactly why that is. It doesn't matter that Charlie Hebdo has been doing its thing for decades now with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world greeting them with the exact shoulder-shrug they deserved. Nope. All it took was some people with an axe to grind to set the "days without incident" calendar back to zero. History shows that the aftermath of extremist actions just sees the ideological middle rapidly recede in the ensuing back-and-forth, and that's exactly what I see happening as an outgrowth of this attack.

People will choose up sides between either being being cowed by terrorists or defending "freedom of speech" (as represented by Charlie Hebdo and its fellow travelers), thus prompting an endless cycle of inflammatory content and over-the-top reprisals. The conversation that desperately needs to happen right now can only productively take place in the sizable stretch of turf between those two (arbitrary) goal posts. It falls to all of us to wrest it away from reactionaries on all sides.

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