In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a multi-event incident which left 11 of Charlie Hebdo's staff dead and 17 people dead overall, there has been much commentary about the ramifications and implications of the tragedy. A few days after the occurrence, France held a massive "Unity" rally, with millions filling the streets of Paris to share in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, and more broadly with the basic idea of freedom of speech.
Back in the states though, something peculiar started to happen. While no one in the media condoned killing people because one felt their preferred deity was 'mocked', a few days after the smoke cleared from the shootings various media outlets began running articles pointing the finger at Charlie Hebdo (and at times France in general) for "double standards", hypocrisy, and "crossing the line" between "free speech" and hate speech.
Some of this criticism would appear to be entirely fair - Charlie Hebdo did indeed fire an employee in 2009 for using language deemed anti-semitic. And, France has indeed arrested dozens of people for voicing support for the shooters that killed 17 people.
Those matters would seem to be a different issue though than the charge that Charlie Hebdo "crossed the line" with their cartoons; that they were trying to "provoke" and that they engaged in 'hate speech'. As USA Today's DeWayne Wickham recently wrote:
If Charlie Hebdo's irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn't thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper's continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo's free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.
With similar sentiment, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League stated:
What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.
"One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith," he said. "There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity ... in freedom of expression there are limits."
According to these individuals, and undoubtedly many others, it is wrong to ridicule one's 'faith' in the way Charlie Hebdo did. It is tantamount to "fighting words". It "incites violence". There's no room for such "intentional insult".
With that concept in mind, what should we consider language like this?:
among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors
In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves).
We have sent down to thee Manifest Signs (ayat); and none reject them but those who are perverse.
Surely the vilest of animals in Allah's sight are those who disbelieve, then they would not believe
"Perverted transgressors"? "Diseased"? "Vilest animals"? These statements are descriptions of nonbelievers taken directly from the Quran and the Hadith. Is this not language which should be considered "fighting words"? Is this not language which constitutes the label of "intentionally insulting"? Is this not 'ridiculing' anyone who doesn't share the same faith as those doing the ridiculing?
Obviously, those are just a few of the rather hateful things the Quran and Hadith say about nonbelievers - unfortunately, article after article could be filled with similar statements about nonbelievers from the Quran, statements which culminate in repeated commands to kill nonbelievers.
And, since Pope Francis weighed in, what is his faith's approach to nonbelievers? This, from the Bible:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
but that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.
God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
"Wicked"? "Lawless"? "Evil"? Worthy of being put to death? As with the Quran, the few Bible passages listed here are just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the vitriol directed toward nonbelievers contained within the Bible.
So, a simple question - Why are these kinds of religious statements granted arbitrary credence? Why is it when these kinds of statements are embedded in an alleged "holy text", the clear and obvious hate speech they represent gets a pass as "religion". Why is it that people like Pope Francis and Bill Donohue will defend "faith" from ridicule, but make no apologies for the ridicule embedded in their own faith?
This kind of ideological blindness illustrates just how coddled religion has been and continues to be in the United States (and in other parts of the world). There is perhaps no more entitled group in the country than the religious. How else could one explain such juxtaposed positioning? On the one hand, believers of monotheistic faith embrace an ideology which arbitrarily assumes the vast majority of the world's populace is morally inferior and thus doomed to an eternity of suffering. Yet, many of those same individuals get 'offended' when the deity who allegedly set forth this path for all nonbelievers is 'mocked'.
Perhaps some dispassionate, intellectual honesty is needed here. Here's a simple thought experiment - which of the following actions is more offensive?:
(a) Telling people they are vile, evil, wicked, lawless, worthy of being killed, and destined for an eternity of torture, OR
(b) drawing cartoons 'mocking' an unfalsifiable deity
It's hard to imagine any rational person logically saying (b), but obviously many among us would say exactly that. Never mind that (a) was happening long, long before (b) was happening as well.
If rationality and objectivity is our goal, clearly, we have a lot of work left to do. Because by the definition of the term hate speech, the statements about nonbelievers in religious texts and echoed by religious people all over the world are overt examples of hate speech - regardless of whether or not they are masqueraded as "religion". It's well past time we acknowledge this seemingly undeniable fact. Perhaps if various religious texts weren't filled with derogatory statements toward nonbelievers and religious people weren't constantly telling the world anyone who doesn't believe as they believe must be inferior and thus doomed for eternity, nonbelievers wouldn't have much of a reason to 'provoke' the religious.