Monday, April 4, 2016

Charlie Hebdo Misunderstood Again. Surprised?

When I saw Charlie Hebdo trending on twitter again, my eyes perked up. What's this? Now what happened? They must have said something that people don't like...again. Since they were shot up it seems that Charlie Hebdo is becoming more and more hated with every article they right or cartoon they draw.

This time around, they wrote what I thought was actually a darn good think piece. But, apparently, I'm one of the few who likes it. It's called "How Did We End Up Here?" and was written as a response to the recent attacks in Brussels.

Everyone who reads it seems to walk away with a different take. Most seem to be walking away with the idea that Charlie Hebdo is a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic rag that is filled with hate. I walked away feeling like "These guys get it." Funny how that is. And, as a result, I am most likely seen as a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobe as well. I'm not. Well, I hate the word Islamophobe to begin with because it's just plain wrong. It implies that disliking a religion is somehow bad. It isn't. Hating innocent people just because they follow a religion is. And that is what some are arguing that Charlie Hebdo did in this article. I disagree. Completely.

To me, the message is crystal clear. When outside criticism of Islam is seen as Islamophobic and racist and therefore is often shut down, and inside the religion you have people doing what they feel god wants them to do without ever actually questioning why god wants them to do it, then you have a double whammy. When it is taboo to question you have a problem.

In the article, the writer brings up three cases: A baker who buys a local bakery and decides that he won't serve bacon, a woman who wears a veil, and Tariq Ramadan, a "scholar" of Islam.

The argument is that all three play a role in a large mindset that does, in fact, lead to bad things. A baker who believes god doesn't want him to serve bacon and therefore will not sell it to others but doesn't necessarily know why or even question why this is so is just following orders this case from an entity that probably doesn't exist...and is playing into a cultural norm of not questioning. That's not a universal cultural norm among all Muslims, but a cultural norm within a certain subset.

Then you have the veiled woman who puts on the garment merely because she is told that this is what she must do to please her god. She doesn't question why she walks around with it. She just does it. And even saying that "Hey, women wearing these things seems kind of, you know, mysoginistic?" tends to be deeply frowned upon and met with accusations of racism and Islamophobia. How dare question this garment! Obviously, there ARE Muslims that do question it, and who have decided not to wear the veil. The issue is with those that prescribe to the idea that questioning is bad.

Then you have the scholar who says that the religion is perfect, the Quran is perfect, and tries in every way to crush criticism of the religion from both the outside and the inside. He pushes an idea that Islam is above criticism while pretending to be all about openly discussing the religion. But the message is clear...don't worry, Islam is perfect and simple, submit to a perfect god, read this perfect book and you are on the right path.

Then you have the bombers in Brussels. They believed that by blowing shit up, they were doing the right thing...for god...for the religion...which is perfect and unquestionable. The mindset established by calling anyone who criticizes Islam an Islamophobe and thus shutting down debate, the "scholars" within the religion promoting the idea that the religion is perfect and discouraging criticism, and some of the followers who just don't question what their god is asking all create a dangerous mindset where among the good, the bad is allowed to flourish unquestioned and unstopped.

This is what Charlie Hebdo is arguing, and I think they argue it quite well indeed. And, given what has happened to them, the fact that even daring to draw cartoons of the prophet of the religion ended up in several of their staff members dead is the perfect example of what can go wrong when criticism of a religion is stifled or shut down, and when those within the religion refuse to ask questions or criticize as well.

I don't see anything wrong with what they wrote in the slightest. I don't see it as a broad sweeping attack on Muslims. I see it as challenging a certain mindset that does, unfortunately, exist within certain communities within the religion. But, UNFORTUNATELY, it seems to exist within quite a large portion of the religions followers, though not all.

The funny thing always, when it comes to Charlie Hebdo is the fact that when they criticize Islam, the world seems to go nuts. I keep having people say that ya, they are cool with Islam being criticized, but not like THIS! What does that even mean? Is there a guidebook on how to criticize the religion that we can all reference so we know the proper way to talk about the subject. And why aren't all of these same people freaking out when the magazine is critical of other religions? It's just writing about Islam that seems to bring the wrath of so many. It further shows that, for some reason, Islam is set in a different category, by both followers of the religion and well meaning left wing folks. This rush to absolutely protect Islam and Muslims from criticism is almost obsessive and an instantaneous response to any negative statements. And it's been like that for years now. But why?

One person on twitter told me that part of the reason it was so bad was the fact it ONLY talked about Islam. Apparently you can't write an article ONLY about Islam, you have to criticize all of the religions in an article on Islam. Who knew? Does that mean if someone writes and article criticizing capitalism, they also have to make sure they criticize communism in the same article or it's just bad and is attacking one idea/group? Does it make on a capitalistphobe?

As far as I am concerned, Charlie Hebdo made the right criticisms, asked the right questions and posed the right concerns at an important time. To deny that Islam is going through a terrible crisis right now is absurd. The way the religion is manifesting itself in many places in the world, as well as in the West, should be seen as concerning. Does this mean ALL Muslims are bad, scary, violent people. Hell no. Of course not. We can clearly see that isn't the case. No one can honestly argue that all Muslims are a problem. And Charlie Hebdo most certainly did not do that as well.

But, if we are ever going to figure out the crisis facing Islam, and the rough relationship it is having with the West at the moment, without a doubt we MUST look at the religion itself to see what it says, what people believe, how it exists, what path it is on, etc. Trying to find answers in all other places BUT looking critically at the religion is completely missing a major component of the trouble. Are there other factors? Of course. All need criticism. But to shield the religion itself from criticism when clearly it is an important part of this is ridiculous.

None of this is to say that Charlie Hebdo itself is above criticism. Of course it is open for scrutiny. But I do think that much of the criticism it is facing over this article is over the top and not well thought out. It's knee-jerk reactionary and seems to be based on a few elements seen in the article, ignoring the bigger picture, and writing it off as Islamophobic, racist and xenophobic and an attack on innocent Muslims. And that, right there, is also a huge part of the problem. In other words, the critics are proving the article absolutely right.

UPDATE: So, I've been thinking. This is Charlie Hebdo. Above, I took the article at face value and analysed it as such. At face value, I feel confident in my assessment. But what if the article isn't meant to be taken at face value? Maybe it's all sarcasm. Do they mean the opposite of what they say? Is this a possibility? Are we ALL missing the point collectively, both critics and supporters? After all, they are a satirical magazine that often uses biting sarcasm to get a point across. Hmmmm.

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