I had this idea that I would be going into this year with a more definite focus on peace and healing, and while that does hold, I found the first week unexpectedly challenging.
I write for the Rainbow Pagans UK blog every so often, and last month I wrote a short piece on the question of what Pagans might learn from The Satanic Temple, who have had a very successful year in terms of their public campaigns. This week I got a very nice reply on the post from a Satanic blogger who would like to see bridges built between Paganism and Satanism. I thought that was very cool, and I took the idea to the message board of the Rainbow Pagans UK Group, just wanting to see what people would think. Most people voted against it in a poorly attended poll (which didn’t surprise me), and the message responses ranged from positive and interested, to suspicious and questioning, to expressions of outright prejudice and bigotry. The latter disappointed me with their determined stupidity, and very few of us challenged them on this. If they had been talking about the adherents of any religion (not the analysed characteristics of a religion) other than Satanism, there would have been no question that this was prejudice, but here we were, a Pagan group, happily treating another religious group as a pariah. Questioning just brought evasive jokes. I thought it was frankly pathetic. Not entirely surprising for Pagans, but disappointing. There were however probably more positive responses than you would get from most religious communities, so that does show something.
On a much more serious note, on 7th January 2015 the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked by “Islamic” gunmen in Paris, murdering 10 journalists and two policemen. I think four of the magazine’s cartoonists were killed. Again, it was cartoons targeted by the psychopathically religious. Like many people, we were stunned by this, and it is one of those times when you can feel something sink into the collective psyche with the grief and shock that came with it. We have had years of artists and cartoonists (especially) being threatened, fire bombed and occasionally killed by Islamic “militants” for their “blasphemy” in doing things like lampooning or even just depicting a historical personage they claim should be off limits for everyone, of any religion or none, but this felt like it finally crossed the invisible line of bullshit that has been piled on the question of religious and community “sensitivities” versus human rights. “Sensitivities”, spelt out in bodies.
In what I think was a shared sense of grief, I posted a number of things about the attack on my facebook page, not even imagining that there could be anything to argue about here. A friend of mine expressed her own fears and concerns with the power of violent religion, and we were both clear that we knew the majority of muslims we had ever met would be horrified by this act. But there are questions here, about any religion that seriously countenances violent retribution for “blasphemy”.
Then on come the comments, and oh my, the grand project is upon us! The protest about what a right wing press is going to do with these sentiments, all to make “whitey” feel better (ah yes, religion would really be about race, and human rights about privilege). How dare we be especially concerned about Islam?!
Actually, we aren’t. Put another religious maniac there, I’ll be concerned about that. But it’s just that no one has been threatened that I am aware of, for drawing cartoons of Jesus, or Buddha, or Moses. So when Islam steps off the stage of violence and threat and bullying entitlement, believe me, no one is going to take any notice. But at the moment it is like a drunk with a megaphone shouting “why are you looking at me!!”. And I love Sufism, and appreciate the subtlety and brilliance of parts of the muslim culture of the past, and I’ve known many muslims and loved a few as friends and lovers, and I long for the day when Islam has its political teeth pulled to at least the same extent as Christianity, and muslims can actually benefit from that freedom. But it most certainly is not there yet, and it needs to get there, and while it is in the process of getting there, it should not be allowed to act “as if” in countries where we have already been through that god awful battle with political religion, and at least got the incomplete freedoms we have.
More disturbing though, I saw on a news report last night a commentary that puts a predictable, hypocritical spin on this tragedy. They talked about the massacre of course, and the violence of the religious extremists, but they also talked about attempts to respect religions and not offend. The report ended with the statement that people are now concerned with the question of “how freedom of expression can be balanced with respect”.
What the actual fuck? No. Enough of this concern with “offense”. 12 people were just murdered in the name of religion in order to prevent satirical “offense”. You do not need to show “respect” to someone that cannot control their desire to interfere with your life, because a book, or the voices, or their culture, or their family, told them to do so. They need to deal with their problem, quite obviously.
It’s completely irrelevant what religion someone is, or if someone has no religion. We are meant to be over this shit. And it may be terribly hip and post modern to think of “the Enlightenment” as some imperialist scam to make “whitey” feel better about screwing the world, but credit where credit is due. If it did anything to help punch out the political lights of religion, then there is something to be thankful for.
And of course anyone who turns on muslims in general for this happening is a complete jerk. These are fellow human beings, and they need to be helped to get out from under malignant religion, just like anyone does. Secular minded muslims should be really supported and listened to. And I look forward to the days of trendy, guitar strumming mullahs.
But liberal guilt – I’m afraid I just don’t have it.