In the wake of the horrific massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris I am thinking a lot about the nature of freedom of expression and how it impacts us more than 6,000 km away.
Charlie Hebdo is a magazine that uses satire and satirical editorial cartoons to draw attention to various things including but not limited to politics and religion and the fact that they have been attacked in such a way has left me feeling enraged and desiring all sorts of responses unworthy of who I strive to be.
The responses to the act which have seen 12 people murdered and 10 wounded (including four of their cartoonists at the time this was written) have been swift and varied – nearly universal condemnation and a global showing of solidarity with the victims and with France. These are good and human responses to a tragedy that affects us all no matter where we live…even here in the Pembina Valley.
Some have very quickly begun to blame Islam specifically and religion in general for the horror which has unfolded.
As a writer I stand firmly behind those who condemn these acts as attempts to censor opinion with fear. To allow our freedoms to be eroded by fear is a terrible path to walk down and corrosive to society.
As a former pastor and a person of faith I struggle with the attacks on Islam, religion and faith in general. It is naïve to blame an ideology and it risks distracting us from the root of the problem. If one could somehow waive a wand and cause religion to simply vanish from the world the problem of human evil would remain as stubbornly destructive as it has always been.
These acts were not acts of Islam (and it is naïve to think so), they were acts of people, people who made very specific and informed choices. We must never lose sight of this. History is rife with examples of what happens when people start blaming a religious group for the woes of humanity…one need look no further than Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia to see what can happen when this form of misdirection and miseducation occurs.
While beliefs and doctrines can colour and direct a person’s thinking it is a person who is ultimately responsible for their actions – not an ideology, however much you may disagree with it.
As citizens of a country founded on principles of diversity, freedom and tolerance we have an opportunity to model for the world a society that allows the co-existence of a myriad of perspectives, even the ones we disagree with – especially the ones we disagree with.
Our battle should be against ignorance and the rigid dogmatism that denies freedom of thought. Our struggle should be against poverty and hunger and other conditions that leave people feeling hopeless, disenfranchised and looking for power.
We should resist with all our strength the temptation to blame religion because, in the words of Charlie Hebdo’s murdered editor Stephane Charbonnier:
“When activists need a pretext to justify their violence, they always find it.”