Monday, January 19, 2015

Je Suis Martin

For nearly two weeks – which in today’s 24-hour-news-cycle essentially makes the horrific events in Paris old news – I’ve been trying to write my “Je Suis Charlie” post, but it just wasn’t coming out right. I knew Je Suis Not Charlie, but I couldn’t properly explain why.

Of course I’m an ardent supporter of free speech even (sometimes especially) when it offends some people, and, I’m as sickened as anyone else by violent, self-righteous, self-serving Islamist Extremist terrorism. I also completely understand why millions of people in France and millions around the world wanted to express their outrage with a spirit of “Je Suis Charlie” support.

Still, however symbolic rather than sincerely specific that battle cry may be, I just couldn’t and still can’t get with it. But when I awoke today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (for some a Day of Service, for others a Day of Shopping; yes, there are now King Day sales), I knew I had the right words within me.

I am infuriated that The Whackjob Brothers believed they had the right to murder the staff (and others) of a satirical newspaper for the “crime” of disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed and equally infuriated that their brother-in-arms felt entitled to invade a kosher supermarket and kill people for the “crime” of being Jewish. I’m glad they themselves were killed by police and I hope when they reach whatever afterlife they were so looking forward to that the Prophet Mohammed screams “Not In My Name!” and banishes them somewhere for eternity before they get to defile their quota of 72 virgins.

What Je Suis is opposed to hateful, violent intolerance. Je Suis also against religious and atheistic orthodoxy, and not knowing the difference between sophomoric, vulgar insult and sophisticated religious/political satire. Have you seen any quantity of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo? Take a look. For the most part, they’re disgusting and say nothing. The French have long been regarded as the global arbiters of style but nobody’s perfect. Let’s not forget that several generations of them adored Jerry Lewis and we have them to thank for the endurance of post-WWI mime.

People have the right to be disgusting and say nothing, and nobody has the right to kill them for it. Still, it’s worth noting that before the terrorist attack, Charlie Hebdo (which has been disgusting and saying nothing about all religions and politics since the 1970s) had a niche readership for its weekly print run of 60,000 copies. The issue published after the attack sold six million, obviously out of free speech solidarity. You gotta love the irony of that.

Quotations by smart people are one of my favorite things. Two at the top of my list are: “Who would you be and how would you behave if there were no praise and no blame?” (Quentin Crisp, about how he shaped his identity), and, “You can’t fight fire with fire, you have to fight fire with water,” (Martin Luther King Jr., on why he believed non-violence could triumph over violence).

Terrorism shows us the darkest side of who people are willing to be and behave if they don’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of them (especially when they're certain they're right). Terrorism also makes us wonder if the calming water of non-violence really has the power to defeat the scourge of terrorism. I think it may if an assortment of non-violent actions are employed.

For starters, the U.S. should get out and stay out of Muslim countries and let the chips fall where they may; our military presence helps nothing. Second, France and other countries with marginalized Muslim communities must bring them into the national fold through vastly improved education, economic opportunities, and the removal of discriminatory laws. If Muslim women want to wear their headscarves, let them. That's hardly the same thing as trying to impose Sharia law.

Most important, the vast majority of moderate Muslims who are also the vast majority of Jihadist victims must find the courage to stand up and speak out and, as they did in Paris, tell their crazies “Not In My Name!” until it finally sinks in. The world community must identify and remove Extremist sources of funds, weapons and day-to-day survival. Public relations (propaganda) on a massive, cooperative scale must counter recruiting and radicalizing efforts. Last but not least, the world community must use its best information technology to cut off the information technology of terrorists. And when/where necessary, spies and intelligence services everywhere should covertly kill terrorists. A little violence will, unfortunately, be necessary. It's like with Nazis. The water of non-violence will get you just so far.

Before ignorance, hatred, fear and violence took Martin Luther King Jr. from us all, he was beginning to talk about the undeniably connected dots of racial oppression, exclusion, poverty, ignorance, addiction, nutrition, anger, despair, injustice, and a huge rift in communication between disparate communities. On this day of celebrating his work, hope, dreams, and faith, it would be very helpful if we could enlarge our own capacities for those same strengths. That is what might ultimately defeat American racism. And maybe it can play a major role in defeating international Islamic terrorism, too.

In my best moments, Je Suis Martin. May we all be Martin together.

1 comment:

Greta Berman said...

This is absolutely fabulous - and right on, Jeanne!