With hatred in my heart: #CharlieHebdo

8 Jan


I was sitting yesterday, running ideas through my head about the lecture on religious diversity that I’ll soon be giving to university students here in The Netherlands. I looked down at my smartphone and read what had happened: the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Gunmen in central Paris, journalists and cartoonists dead on the ground for having satirized Mohammed. The prophet has been avenged, the gunmen shouted.

I switched from a news site to Facebook. A friend with a keen eye, Joris Luyendijk, had just posted something that I instantly appreciated. It was in Dutch, but I’ll translate it here:

The attack on Charlie Hebdo is a kind of invitation from the perpetrators, to all of us, to become just as hateful as they are.

Another friend, Jonathan Groubert, posted this:

I don’t care what they do, I refuse to hate them.

 I ‘liked’ both posts and went to Twitter, where I tweeted something appropriately turn-the-other-cheekish: The only war worth fighting is the war to keep hatred out of our hearts. Others retweeted it. But I knew, before I wrote it, that I was lying. I recognized very well the emotion I felt in the pit of my stomach, as I saw and heard the footage of men in black on that otherwise peaceful Paris street, pumping bullets into journalists and murdering a policeman on the ground who was begging for mercy. What I felt was hatred.

Hatred of thugs. Of men so deliberately destroying our safety, killing what we call civilization. Hatred of men who used bullets instead of words. Sorry, I’m not like Jesus. I didn’t love them. I hated them.

That feeling was not new to me. I felt it on November 2, 2004 too, after Mohammed Bouyeri murdered Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who was known to insult the prophet Mohammed regularly. I hated that fanatic Bouyeri, like I hated Volkert van der Graaf, the animal rights wacko who gunned down Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.

Our call to find love in our hearts, to banish hatred, is an understandable reflex. We watch the news and see our world threatened by a cycle of religious intolerance spinning out of control. Hatred is frightening.

I must admit, I’m no fan of Mohammed cartoons either. In 2005, when the drawings of the prophet published by the Danish Jyllands-Posten led to protests in the Muslim world, some editors in the newsroom where I worked wanted to republish the cartoons on our website. I opposed the move. I’m almost ashamed of this now, but at the time I was on a different side in this issue. I didn’t want to insult anyone. I never liked Theo van Gogh either. He was funny at times, sure. But, maybe because I was not raised in the Dutch culture and never understood the crassness that so often passes for humor in this country, I saw Van Gogh as a boorish asshole. Calling the prophet a goat f–cker seemed needlessly crude. If he couldn’t find a more sophisticated way to critique Islam, I simply didn’t like him. And his attempt at a serious approach to the topic in the film Submission, produced with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, did not make up for his stupid insults towards Islam.

My American, liberal-Jewish upbringing played a role in this. I was raised in an environment where schoolteachers and parents taught kids to respect others’ religions and cultures. After moving to The Netherlands, I was shocked to discover that Dutch people were so intolerant in fact, so culturally insensitive towards the Muslim faith. Van Gogh’s jokes were the perfect example.

While I’m speaking ill of the dead, I should mention that I didn’t like Fortuyn either. He was a demagogue, to my mind, out to demonize the Muslims in Dutch society and dangerously flirting with the idea of dismantling fundamental principles of the Dutch constitution. But at least neither he, nor Van Gogh, ever killed anyone over an idea. And since this is now the pitiful yardstick by which we’re measuring human conduct, I guess Fortuyn and Van Gogh were not so bad after all. I may have despised their message when they were alive, but today I would have to take their side because they symbolize free speech.

So what has changed? Why did I oppose the Mohammed cartoons in 2005 but yesterday post ‘Je Suis Charlie’ on my Facebook page? I think the difference is that I now recognize how dangerous the threat to free speech and freedom of the press is. And how close it has come to shattering the civilization we are trying to preserve.

It’s weird. In order to become a more civilized person, I had to learn to defend an act I despise. To defend the right to insult. To recognize that hatred is fine, as long as it’s only expressed in words. And with that in mind, let me rephrase something I wrote earlier:

The only war worth fighting is the war of words.
#Je Suis Charlie


6 Reacties to “With hatred in my heart: #CharlieHebdo”

  1. Larry januari 10, 2015 bij 4:10 am #

    Seven to eight hundred words and you managed to say nothing. ” Freedom of speech” is a slogan. An unfulfilled idea. One can not deny the holocaust, so free speech can never exist. Frankly, the cartoons that I have seen from this organization in regards to muslims have been absolutely vile. I am shocked that no governmental decency bureau in France fined them into bankrupcy or kept them in court continually. The greatest crime by the hebdo organization was not knowing when to shut up(stop). And this is also the crime of theo van gogh and pim fortuyn. Going beyond even self dignity to insult and offend others will in time get just about anyone murdered. I am sure that the editors at hebdo pinched themselves regularly in disbelief that they were getting away with what they were doing. I am sickened by what happened in Paris, but seasoned bullies getting their due is no surprise. Like it or not they were bullying.

  2. ubuntu404 januari 11, 2015 bij 2:02 am #

    Dit is op Ubuntu404 herblogden reageerde:
    Are we Free to ‘speak up’ ? Words expressing our thoughts by drawing a cartoon? Why do we hold back the exact moment we should speak up. Right from the heart. Get it out there. Do recent unthinkable event(s) in Paris at Charlie Hebdo give us ‘Carte Blanche’ to say anything or write what we want? Yes and No. Yes! We value our rights to freely say what we want in ‘The Netherlands’. No! From a broader perspective. Not to give in to provocation and hatred. Not to give in to Fear. Some could frame this as being afraid. I disagree. It shows an openness with more power and resilience.
    The Media is heating up all events 24/7 and putting a huge pressure on this event.
    This could be a break to open a meaningful discussion. If we can keep out wits together. Go back to the core of what is wrong with today’s society. Can we first break free from all disruptive elements? Don’t let media or politicians frame or hi-jack the situation. We need to be reminded what it’s like to be human. To recognize our want and needs. Our flaws. Our blind spots! Look into the mirror. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to Trade Places ? Take a leap of Faith …together. By experiencing our differences and sharing them it can lead towards understanding. That does not mean we always have to see ‘eye to eye’. This is a lot better than ‘eye for an eye’. Keep an open mind and heart. As I write this …all kinds of ideas flow into my mind. Ubuntu means: ‘Oneness’ ! One cannot exist without the other. Like Yin and Yang. Opposites attract and sometimes they clash. Let this be a wake up call for all of us.
    Draw or write down how you feel about all this. Reverse all of your thoughts. Write or draw again.
    Then compare notes with someone of the opposite party. (Extreme) Prejudice or misunderstanding can be reshaped by making an effort not to change the other person but change and listen to your voice within. Create a path to understand each other. It all comes down to Human Nature.
    A New Beginning.
    Let’s take this chance and
    Reshape our Present through learning from the Past.
    Understand where we are coming from and upgrade our ways.

    Nurture our Evolution by
    Exploring and Sharing Experience!

    We Shape our Future!

    ™4© #NousSommesUbuntu @Ubuntu404

  3. gerard oosterman januari 12, 2015 bij 5:26 am #

    The freedom to express ‘hate’ in public, freedom to insult, belittle, denigrate on race, ethnicity, religion, gender. Not for me. Je ne suis pas Charlie.

  4. V.M. januari 13, 2015 bij 7:58 pm #

    “Humour without self-deprecation isn’t humour. We mock ourselves, politicians, religions, it’s a state of mind you need to have.”
    “The Charlie state of mind is the RIGHT TO BLASPHEMY” he went on.

    What he is saying is that this magazine represents the right to “Blasphemy”, does any one hear what the lawyer of this magazine is preaching?

    Definition of blasphemy: The act of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.
    Google the word blasephemy in Wikipedia and this is what you find:

    The most common way to punish the ones who committed blasphemy was through hanging or stoning, due to what is said in Leviticus 24:13-16. Then the LORD said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. the entire assembly must stone him.

    Free speech nor free expression had anything to do with the events that took place last week in France. It was pure filth of the mind. When the mind becomes this sick, it creates these kinds of horrors. The Charlie state of mind is the moral decay.

    • RChesal februari 9, 2015 bij 12:16 pm #

      Given the choice between what is morally more acceptable, either
      1. blaspheming OR
      2. the response recommended by the LORD in Leviticus
      I would say blaspheming is far more acceptable. Call it filth of mind if you wish. At least it is not murder.

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