So, today my dad came into my room at about 9 AM telling me that there’d been a shooting in Paris today, and not of the fashion kind. It wasn’t until I got out of bed and went online that I read about the casualties; seasoned journalists, talented cartoonists, and policemen who had nothing at all to do with the magazine. They showed the videos on the news, but I could barely watch them. It looked like something out of Grand Theft Auto. And why?
Because of a cartoon.
Just a drawing, an image, a figment of someone’s imagination inked with pigment. Before I get into my political/non-political harangue here, let me check myself by saying, yes, Islam does not approve of depictions of Mohammed in any way, shape, or form, and that in a way, depicting him in a political cartoon is a little disrespectful of a tradition and culture of millions. But there are options. First, they don’t have to even look at it; most media in Islamic countries is heavily monitored anyway, so it’s not like people in rural Saudi Arabia or Indonesia are going to even see it. Second, there’s the option of writing a strongly-worded letter to the magazine in question, in this case Charlie Hebdo, a French humor/satire periodical. Oh yeah, and third, don’t kill people, because as we learned in kindergarten and the musical Urinetown, killing people is wrong.
What surprises me is how many people didn’t see it coming. This is the worst terrorist attack in France since 1961, which is horrible, but more people are killed in terrorist attacks every day for less, like villagers in Nigeria and Cameroon who just wanted to live their lives and educate their children, or commuters in Australia who just wanted some morning pastries. According to the news, Charlie Hebdo had previously been the victims of hacking and firebombing, for the exact same reason. Who would’ve thought that something like this would ever happen in contemporary, hip Paris?
I could name one.
In 2010, Norris, a Seattle-based cartoonist drew a picture of a box of pasta, a coffee cup, and other random items shouting “I’m Mohammed” in a Ryan Stiles-does-Carol Channing kinda way, with the headline, “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”
It was kind of cute and a little funny, but free speech didn’t fly with Islamic fundamentalists who drew the cartoonist in their cross-hairs. The comic also drew attention from Internet users all over America who drew their own Mohammeds, and soon it spiraled out of control, with her name all over it. She tried to distance herself from it, to no avail, even proposing “Everybody Draw Al Gore Day,” but it was too late. The newspaper terminated her column after receiving threats, and when she took her case to the FBI, they shrugged. Her life unraveled; she changed her name, left Seattle, and stopped drawing cartoons. A woman’s career, home, and identity ruined because of just one drawing (Cashill, Goldstein).
And that wasn’t even the first time it happened.
In 2005, the Danish newpaper Jyllands-Posten ran a comic depicting Mohammed, and got worldwide backlash. In fact, according to this article translated by Jacob Wheeler, the newspaper’s editor Flemming Rose made a statement.
“It sends a shiver down my spine. Thinking about the people in Paris, what they’re experiencing now. In addition to shock, I’m not surprised. If you look at what’s happened in Europe over the past 10 years, since Jyllands-Postens Muhammad cartoons were published, time after time there have been threats and even violence…Here at Jyllands-Posten we live in fear.” (Rose)
As we can see, a pattern has developed. Oddly, a five-year pattern, but that’s besides the point. I could write a pretty long list of cartoons and comic strips that offend a particular religion. Christians are the butts of jokes all the time, and how many people have reacted inappropriately angrily to those depictions? (And no, the Westboro Baptist Church does not count.) How many Jews stormed and pillaged Seth MacFarlane’s home after the controversial lyric in Family Guy’s “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein?” Answer: None. There was a backlash against it initially by some Jewish groups, but MacFarlane changed the lyric and everybody just went back to the couch. But with Islam, it’s a whole different set of characters; if a cartoon is enough to rile people up so much that they feel the need to reach for the guns and the car keys, whether figuratively or literally, on repeated occasions, what does this say about the Islamic agenda? You can talk all day long about how they are extremists, and how they’re not representative of the true Islam, but the facts remain the same: it keeps happening. And it’s the same people. And they have access to more and more ammunition, resources, money, and power.
And who is taking action to stop it from happening?
In the 24-ish hours since the event, world leaders have spoken out about today, in defense of freedom and in denunciation of acts of terror. The list is long and growing: USA, UK, the EU, Russia, Australia, Israel, the Vatican. And the words come from their leaders: Barack Obama, Tony Abbott, Benjamin Netanyahu.
But one part of the world has been conspicuously silent.
Where is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Or King Abdullah of Jordan? What about Sheikh Tamim of Qatar – what does he think?
The question is this: with the world knowing what it knows now, as a result of today’s shootings, what’s going to change? How can we prevent this from ever happening again?
What have we learned?
Ok, ok, forget free speech for a moment; in what kind of world is it okay to go to someone’s workplace and gun them down, under any circumstance? That is the question.
I don’t think there is an answer, but if anyone reading this knows, please tell me.
For the latest info:
NPR: At Least 12 Die In Shooting at Magazine’s Paris Office, Suspects Named
Cashill, Jack. “First They Came for Molly Norris.” WND. 7 January 2015. http://www.wnd.com/2015/01/first-they-came-for-molly-norris/.
Goldstein, Aaron. “A Further Thought on the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks & where is Molly Norris now?” The American Spectator. 7 January 2015. http://spectator.org/blog/61410/further-thought-charlie-hebdo-terrorist-attacks-where-molly-norris-now.
Rose, Flemming. “Jyllands-Posten Editor on Charlie Hebdo.” Trans. Jacob Wheeler. The Daily Beast. 7 January 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2015/01/07/jyllands-posten-editor-on-charlie-hebdo.html.
Taylor, Adam. “Why Would Terrorists Kill Cartoonists?” WorldViews. The Washington Post. 7 January 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/01/07/why-would-terrorists-kill-cartoonists/.