Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Matters of Taste 5 / Satire, the Pope, Mohammed

Very recently, the killings of several cartoonists were perpetrated in Paris.  After that thousand and millions stood in solidarity and were themselves "Charlie".  The leaders of nations found their way to walk arm in arm through the streets of Paris.

I myself would have to declare myself "Charlie", as well, because I passionately would resist all destruction of printing presses and suppression of freedoms.   Among some Lutherans there was a discussion as of whether we would support the production of very nasty anti-religious propaganda, as expressed in this very left-leaning magazine.

The most powerful argument there was, for me, that during the Reformation some pretty strong cartoons were produced, as well.  The printing press had just invented by Gutenberg in Mainz (I went to see the museum there);  on it was first printed the Bible in vernacular languages, and then also the political and religious discussions and pamphlets.  Erasmus wrote some satirical work of the Roman Catholic church, that is still banned I believe.  The printing press changed the world, and we would not want to go back.

Where ever dictators and scurrilous figures have wanted to establish their rule, preferences, and hide hedonistic or other escapades, they have wanted to intimidate the press, burn down the print shops, put dissident writers in prison, suppress the truth, etc.  So, we do have the overriding principle of the freedom of the press.

Yet, so much can go wrong.  Hitler's propaganda, for example was not subtle, at all, but striking and avant-garde.  The posters were stunning and installed fear of the enemy, in the population.  An elite took charge of the universities, the intelligentsia, and the propaganda.  We should talk more about how this happened, as not to repeat this sort of thing.  In the same light, it is worrisome that "Charlie" is a propaganda machine of sorts.  We don't have to dig very deep, here.  Peter Hitchens wrote about it.

It is also somewhat surprising how the support lined up behind this particular victim, as there have been plenty of victims recently, for whom nobody seemed to speak up. Where is the support behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali?  Where is the outcry for the multitude of Christians persecuted in many lands?  Why the solidarity with Charlie, in particular?

Because it makes fun of all religions?

Satire hurts.  Cartoons hurt.  As an average housewife, I have more occasions to laugh at cartoons than to be hurt by them.  Perhaps, if I were a consumer of Charlie, I would be deeply offended, too.  The news I subject myself to is relatively tastefully presented, as much as the subject matter generally allows.

But it has happened to me, on-line, that I was involved in a conversation with someone who considers himself a philosopher, who sent me some cartoons ridiculing Christianity, the cross, and the meaning of the cross.   Undoubtedly, this was meant to spark the discussion further, but the insult to me was profound.  It could have been as if we had gone to a coffee-shop to have a relaxed or animated discussion, and my partner had just pulled out a knife and stuck it in my ribs. The wound and the scar are still there.  This event has impacted my profoundly and permanently.

So part of me understands the Muslim sensitivity.  As ridiculous as we find it, for example, that the impulse to go to heaven is to be rewarded with 70 perpetual virgins, and other many objectionable doctrines (very, very many), and as easy as it is to make fun of all this (very easy), I feel for the average faithful.  The Pope was trying to feel for the average faithful when he made the now famous, or infamous, remark that, analogously speaking, the natural reaction to having your mother insulted would be the throwing of a fist.

Myself, I am not a thrower of fists, and I am not given to fits of rage.  Anger is not me.  More so sorrow, pain--anger turned inward, as they say.  A female response, perhaps, to indulge in stereotyping.

Jesus said to turn the other cheek.  This, I imagine, is supposed to involve neither anger, nor anger turned inward, not to mention not retribution by killings and executions.  Maybe one can get so tough that these kinds of images and cartoons would not call forth a strong response.  But what are we, if they don't call forth a strong response?  Jesus had strong responses, too.  Most similarily, perhaps, we can consider the desecration of the temple by the presence of all the mercantile enterprise.  The house of prayer had been turned into a bazaar.  Here he went in with the whip.  So, actually, no turning of the cheek here, now that we think it over.  A heart-felt response is appropriate, but also one that is measured.  Lynching would never be ok.

So, therefore, I cannot really be "friend" to one who chooses to bring out my deep pain for his amusement.  I cannot really be "friend" to one who insults my God, and that gratuitously. We are not made of the same stuff.  We are not brothers and sisters. We don't have the same blood.  At the same time, I find that those who like to do this sort of provoking, do not actually allow for a reasoned discussion of the matter at hand.  It would not suit them at all.  In contrast, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is into reasoned discussion.  I can be her friend, though she is not a Christian.  She speaks calmly, decently and rationally.  I can respect her tremendously.  The art and provocation she produced together with Theo Van Gogh, who also was killed in cold blood, were perhaps of similar kind as Charlie's.  The subjugation of women in Islam was highlighted.  Delving  into this subject matter cost them dearly.

And here, things really go beyond religion and faith in God.  The treatment of women concerns us all.   We are talking about human rights issues, now.  What is done to women in the name of Allah is highly objectionable and deserves strong treatment. On the other hand, Muslims are offended by what the "West" does to women.  They have a point, too.  What the "West" does to women is also highly objectionable.

We have to be able to talk about these matters.  And we have to be able to make cartoons and art about problems.  The less gratuitous, random or tasteless they appear, however, the better.   They need not be weak, but they need not be uglier than necessary.

Also see "Fighting Satire with Satire".


Insightful analysis from Muslim about Muslims:


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