Monday, January 19, 2015

Thinking of Charlie

Yesterday in church, the sermon, as expected, touched on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But the vicar while condemning the massacre as totally repugnant to all that is holy exhorted the faithful to turn the other cheek and to bridle the tongue as the epistle of St James tells us to do. The Christian duty not to cause offence must override our desire for free speech.

I thought I should refer to the sermon in my blog and so I took a
stealthy pic. I hope the parishioner seated next to me will forgive
me for the impertinence but he's obviously the prayerful kind
who would be happy to dish out forgiveness quite liberally.

As a Christian, I am unable to fault the sermon in any way. Christianity always places the Christian at the losing end in any situation. He's to turn the other cheek, if any asks for his coat, he should give his shirt as well, if asked to walk a mile, a good Christian should do two. If there is a religion of peace on this planet, Christianity certainly is the best candidate for such an honour.

But the Charlie Hebdo editors are not Christians. I should have said "were" since most of them were brutally gunned down. Even if they were Christians, so what? It may be right that the Christian should go out of his way not to cause offence to others but what has that got to do with the massacre? It may be right for those of us who were properly brought up in polite society to greet one another when we meet but any one of us can flout the rules of courtesy any time we wish. The correct response to a rude person is a frown and nothing more.

That's precisely my point about the Charlie Hebdo episode. The editors were just guilty of rudeness. But it's their job as the editors of a satirical newspaper to be rude. They were just doing their job. Charlie Hebdo has satirised just about every religion on this planet and nobody has even bothered with them or given them any notice until the two Muslim brothers slaughtered them.

What I find truly outrageous is there is nothing offensive about the cartoons of Muhammad that the newspaper published. Pope Francis recently remarked that if someone swore at another person's mother, he would probably receive a punch in the face. But that's a silly remark because a person's mother is not a historical figure. Muhammad is and like all historical figures, he is naturally subject to the same treatment as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, St Paul, Buddha and many other religious figures from Zeus to Joseph Smith.

Making religious jokes is common anywhere in the world. When I was an altar boy, I made a lot of jokes about almost every sacred object in church. The chief brunt of my jokes was the holy oil which came in vials from the Bishop and which my vicar used to treat with an inordinate amount of respect. Years later, when I taught Sunday School in church, the other Sunday School teachers and I (and sometimes the students as well) would come up with the best religious jokes, some of which were uproariously funny.

When I was very young, I even engaged in inter-denominational banter with a classmate who was an altar boy in a different church. Those from my church would make jokes about his church and we'd tease him about being "touched" by his priest (the notoriety of his church was well known even in the days when I was a young lad). One day, he told me a joke which was quite good. A nun went for confession and she whispered to the priest that she was once a prostitute. The priest turned ashen and hit his fist against the wall of the confessional. "What did you say?" he roared. The nun was trembling in fear and she repeated her words, "I'm sorry but I was once a prostitute".  The priest took out his handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his brow. "Phew! That's quite all right, child," he said. "I thought you said you were once a Protestant".

I couldn't help laughing at the joke but I immediately cooked up another joke and this time it was a boy who went to his Protestant vicar for auricular confession and he said he was once a catamite. You probably know the rest of the story. Don't ask me how I knew the word "catamite" as a young boy but I assure you the priests of my church were all happily married men.

But it's not just Christians who have a sense of humour. The followers of many of the world's major religions do not treat the divine with murderous seriousness. There is even a dish in the Far East blasphemously called "Buddha Jumps over the Wall". That's the dish that is reputed to be so tasty that Buddha himself had to jump over a garden wall to taste it. If you're thinking of ordering it the next time you go to a Chinese restaurant, perish the thought. It's a most disgusting broth that smells like a Chinese medicinal shop. Buddha may have jumped over the wall to eat it but I would jump over a wall and several rivers to be away from it.

After what has happened in Paris, you would think that Muslims are the only ones who have no sense of humour. I don't know what the percentage is of Muslims who have a sense of humour but let me tell a story from my own experience. There was a time in my life when I was terribly insensitive and would say the wrong things without realising it. I was chatting with a Muslim friend who was extremely pious. He's an educated and respectable man who later became a member of Parliament but his daughters were all educated in a Muslim religious school. I noticed that his wedding band was worn on the finger of his right hand which is of course unusual. In reply to my query, he explained that the prophet was known to have worn his wedding ring on a finger of his right hand. At that moment, a very witty thought came to my head and I said something really brilliant but it would not just be lost on someone who had no sense of humour; it would probably offend him. There was another friend of ours who heard our conversation and he jokingly said that my Muslim friend might just pull out a dagger and stab me with it. Now, that is the kind of unfair opinion many people had of Muslims even then. But my Muslim friend laughed good-naturedly at my little joke and he said that I was factually correct since Muhammad really had twelve wives and would presumably have twelve rings.

A lot of people treat Muslims as if they were all terrorists waiting with scimitars to hack you to pieces which is really quite unfortunate. Many people are unable to separate Muslims from Muslim terrorists and these are the people who are doing Muslims a huge disservice. I have been rebuked in the past for slamming Muslim terrorists by non-Muslims who mistakenly thought that insulting terrorists was synonymous with insulting Muslims.

But some Muslims who try to play up the "offensiveness" of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons by comparing them with jokes about the Holocaust are in fact doing their religion a disservice. There is obviously a huge difference between a joke about 6 million Jews who were slaughtered and a cartoon of Muhammad. Holocaust jokes cannot be likened to a mere cartoon of Muhammad. A better analogy of a Holocaust joke would be a joke about the cruel ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in which many Muslims were killed. That would be an example of a truly inappropriate joke and no newspaper however satirical would publish such a joke. Not even Charlie Hebdo. But when educated Muslims bring up Holocaust jokes and pit them against Muhammad cartoons, one cannot help but wonder if their inability to see the huge disparity between the two might have arisen from the same innate anti-Semitism that drove the Charlie Hebdo murderers to attack a Jewish supermarket.

The world should never treat all Muslims as terrorists. There are many Muslims who are wonderful people. We must always distinguish a Muslim terrorist from a Muslim. We must not treat Muslims as if an insensitive word would mean a dagger to our throats. We must treat Muslims like we do people of other religions or no religion. The Charlie Hebdo editors did precisely that. They wanted to treat Muslims no differently from people of other faiths. They have satirised the church, the Pope and Jesus himself. If they could draw cartoons of Jesus who is God himself in Christianity, why shouldn't they satirise Muhammad who was only human and not deified in Islam? Unfortunately, the carnage would only blur further the line between Muslims and Muslim terrorists in the minds of many people. There may be no logic in that but that's how people will think.

No comments:

Post a Comment