Thursday, January 15, 2015

Responding to an Insult

At a time when all of France is buying copies of the latest and most offensive issue of Charlie Hebdo, Pope Francis has weighed in on the controversy.

The AP reports:

Calling freedom of expression a “fundamental” human right, the pope outlined why he believes there are limits to that right. If someone “says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” he joked, according to an Associated Press translation. “It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

I am certainly less knowledgeable about theological questions than the pope, but still, I recall that Jesus Christ once said:

…whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Perhaps, Jesus really meant to say that if someone insults your mother then all bets are off.

One hopes that the pope was not comparing the Prophet Mohammed to his mother. And one suspects that a "punch" is not the equivalent to gunning down the staff of a newspaper or murdering shoppers in a kosher super market.

To be fair and balanced, I offer some remarks Peggy Noonan made yesterday about the proliferation of “blasphemous” images of the Prophet Mohammed.

Her view is clearly consonant with my own, so it is well worth quoting:

This is the moment, a week after the shootings, on the day of the publication of the first issue of the magazine since the murders, to rob all the Muhammad cartoons of their mystique. Steal away their power. Make them banal, not secret, censored and powerful but common. Flood the zone, let everyone see them. Show that they are only cartoons, caricatures, playthings. Show that the murderers got exactly the opposite of what they wanted. “You kill to stop a cartoon? We flood the streets with cartoons. You can’t take it? We have freedom here. You don’t have to live in the midst of it, you can go to a place that does not put such an emphasis on this kind of freedom.”

If in the West you keep such things as the cartoons in a magic, censored vault you give them mystical power and luster. These stupid drawings should not be imbued with these qualities! The argument is for disseminating them.


Sam L. said...

Maybe Peggy has her mojo back. I await further proof.

Ares Olympus said...

I thought the Pope's words were a little surprising. Perhaps he's saying it takes two to make a fight, and if you want a fight, you can probably get your wish.

But the secondary level of that is we have a responsibility to master our reptilian brain's impulses, so when someone wants to provoke us, we recognize we have a choice in our response, so we have to first be able to master our anger and rage.

I remember the Japanese samurai story:
A samurai warrior once was charged with avenging a noble's death at the hands of a rival warlord. He trained for four years, studied the warlord's habits, and planned his attack. When the day came, he stealthily approached the warlord when he was alone, and cornered him. The samurai held his katana aloft, poised to strike the final blow, when the warlord, utterly defeated, spit in the face of the samurai. The samurai sheathed his sword and walked away, rather than kill the warlord out of anger.

It's a preposterous story, but because it is so counter to human nature, like Jesus's stories, it says we have a choice in how we behave.

But lastly, the question of mass murder, its hard to know what is being suggested by the Pope. Myself, it suggests I hold a responsibility for harm, and words hurt, and if someone is willing to die to show their hurt, they're probably also willing to act outside the law, and I'd better consider how much I'm really willing to die rather than repress my point of view.

Peggy Noonan's prescription seems rather light. yes, the problem is that 1.6 billion Muslims haven't all yet decided to hate the West, so if we try hard enough to make them unwelcome they'll decide its hopeless to try to kill ALL those pesky bullies and move back to their own lands?

Larry Sheldon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Sheldon said...

I've always been really uncomfortable with the "turn the other cheek" stuff--unlike most of the Word, that seems to be a losing strategy.

I know of no case where appeasement worked to the advantage of the oppressed.

Dennis said...

One of the reasons I have liked the philosophy of most martial arts is that it provides a commonsense guide to action. One of the first and most important steps is avoidance. Here one has to recognize that in order for some remark or insult to be of value one has to respect the opinion of the offending person/s. No respect no action required.
In a small minority of cases the next step would be to stop the offender by a reasoned well thought out argumentation to the offense. This usually works well in most cases. Or at the very least one can agree to disagree.
When this does not work one may have to hurt the offender. Usually works quite well.
In the vary small minority of cases one may have to maim. Very few offenders get to this point.
Anyone who gets past this point is one that may have to be eliminated. Not a thing most rational individuals want to do
NOTE: Killing another human being is only necessary when there is no other choice. In this case the "religion of peace' requires a jump from step one to death.
It is a very poor religion that cannot abide challenges from those outside the religion. For the Pope to intimate otherwise is an admission of insecurity in one's religious thought.
Yes we should all try to respect others, but they need to demonstrate a capacity for that respect themselves. Nonviolence only works when one has a large population of people who are predisposed to non violence and/or one has those with the "swords" to protect and defend that non violence.
The "pen is only mightier that the sword" when it is backed up by the sword. The Quakers survived because others were desirous of protecting them and a desire to hope that one day humanity might attain such lofty goals.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I dare any cartoonist to mock MLK or Anne Frank. Career destroyed right away.

And what happened because of a joke about Mandela?

This stuff about free speech is pure hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Bull's eye.

Anonymous said...

"The argument is for disseminating them."

Let's burn a million Korans and see what happens to America's Middle East policy.

How will the Saudi elites justify their close ties to the US?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

For the record, Charlie Hebdo was an equal opportunity offender. It did publish frankly racist cartoons also.