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What Americans Don’t Understand About Charlie Hebdo
Once again, the western world reacted with shock when Muslims seemed to act violently against them. In recent days people have taken sides, as confrontation leads them to farther and farther extremes.
Those in the West believe they are protecting freedom of speech, those in the Muslim world believe they and their religion are victims of ridicule and shame. Many of you know I have written a great deal on these topics, including the book Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door in 2001. In this book, I point out that much of the West views life through the paradigm of right versus wrong. We have our rights, and must protect them. If what we do is not wrong (against the law) then we have a right to our actions. In the East, however, many people view life through the paradigm of honor versus shame. We have our honor, and we must protect it, even with our lives, and we must avoid shame. And if shame is brought on us by others, it is perfectly okay to defend our honor.
It seems that many in the West still haven’t caught on. Eastern thinking people will defend their honor. One of the worst things you can do to them is to bring dishonor or ridicule on them. In the case of Muslims, they uphold the belief that “with blood I can wash my shame away” (Abu Tammam). As such, when they are ridiculed in the western press, especially through cartoons that stereotype and ridicule them, they feel justified in their violent reaction. No amount of clamoring about freedom of speech will change this. It only makes Muslims more determined to bring Islam to Europe, so that the ridiculing and bullying will stop.
If I published a cartoon that criticizes a well-known person, perhaps making him out to be a pedophile, without any truth behind it, I should expect to be sued for liable. So if a Muslim feels his honor, and the honor of his religion, and the honor of his prophet have been robbed of him by someone’s libelous actions, how does he get the shame removed and honor restored? We do not think of this in our western society. Winning a court case may make some feel somewhat justified, but their reputation will have been forever damaged. Islam’s answer is: this is so important, that it is worthy of a death sentence. So when the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo published their cartoons, they committed an error worthy of the death penalty in some parts of the world. Unfortunately for them, people of that persuasion lived in their own country, and in their own city. Many Muslims just shrug and say: “They brought it on themselves.”
The problem the West has is that they often do not understand the line between critic and ridicule. Rather than take the time to do some research and counter Muslims with well reasoned arguments and articles, they resorted to ridicule. It is much easier to draw a racist cartoon than it is to research and write a scholarly rebuttal. And while lampooning people with cartoons in the West is currently within the accepted limits of freedom of speech, the people at Charlie Hebdo were walking an extremely fine line. What would the result have been if they had ridiculed homosexuals? What would the public reaction of been? So why did they feel it was okay to ridicule Muslims?
As someone who has written and published articles and books about Islam and Muslims, I have not experienced similar backlashes. That is because I strive to treat Muslims in a respectful way. I try to speak to them as I would my best friend. I desire that Muslims wrestle with issues without feeling threatened that I am judging them or ridiculing them. Treating all men with respect is foundational to our Christian heritage. Now, in a time when Christianity is crumbling in Europe, the use of ridicule is on the rise, whether you are a Muslim or a bible-believing Christian. Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek, calling them blessed when people persecute them. Muslims have never been taught this. They understand an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, and the concept of revenge. Hopefully in these days, Christians can demonstrate the love and kindness Jesus taught his followers to have.