This Catholic is Charlie too

January 11, 2015
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By Lea Z. Singh |


It is an embarrassment to Catholicism and badly misguided PR when the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the United States reacts to the Paris terrorist attack with a press release that focuses on why Charlie Hebdo deserved it. Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, responded to the mass murder with a press release entitled "Muslims are right to be angry."

Donohue says in part: "what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction." He continued:
Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.
Sadly, Donohue's own anger against Charlie Hebdo only comes across as giving legitimacy to the terrorist act.
Here is how The Independent presented Donohue's reaction:
An American group that claims to represent the interests of US Catholics has criticised the French magazine where 12 people were killed yesterday, arguing that the victims “provoked” their own slaughter.
Thanks Mr. Donohue, for creating the public perception that Catholics are taking sides with the terrorists. And Donohue is not the only one. Respected Australian Catholic writer Bernard Toutounji also focuses on why  "those workers at Charlie Hebdo were not innocent heroes." He blames them for provoking the terrorists:
...if a school child repeatedly taunts another child with insult after insult, eventually it can be expected that the child bearing those insults will snap and retaliate; it doesn’t make the retaliation right, but who is truly to blame? For many people, an insult to faith is far greater than an insulting remark about their own mother. 
Shamefully, Toutounji ends up coming across as excusing the violence. Consider that he concludes by laying the ultimate responsibility for the carnage squarely on the shoulders of Charlie Hebdo: "Yes, it was the gunmen who fired the physical weapons, and there is no excuse for murder; but in the strangest and saddest twist of fate, it was the pens of the journalists that really took the lives of the twelve people in Paris."

Rabbi Bulka nails it

Charlie Hebdo was no friend of Christians. Their cartoons have shown masturbating nuns and popes wearing condoms, among other things. Easy to see why Catholics have their own axe to grind with Charlie Hebdo. 

But in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack, the only response that makes sense is one of solidarity with the victims and a clear show of resistance to the terrorist bully. When we skew the discussion to criticizing Charlie Hebdo and advocating for the self-censorship of journalists and cartoonists, we are letting the terrorists win.

Those guys with machine guns were hoping for exactly the kind of public reaction shown by Donohue and Toutounji. They wanted us to condemn Charlie Hebdo, they wanted us to pressure journalists to lay off Islam. Ottawa's Rabbi Reuven Bulka said it well in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen:
“'there’s nothing more wrong' than the murders that took place in response to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which is why any discussion about censorship should not take place in the wake of the attack.
“I’m really not comfortable at all with the suggestion,” he said. “What becomes dangerous here is that by doing so — and by doing so immediately — it’s almost as if we’re acknowledging there was some legitimacy to their action.
Bulka is right, and most people got that point. That's why many newspapers around the world reprinted the cartoons, and the universal call has become "I am Charlie."

In the face of bullies like the Muslim terrorists, we need to lay aside our ideological differences and stand united to take away the power of the bully.

Freedom of speech is for our enemies too

And another thing. It's easy to have tunnel vision regarding freedom of speech, and to end up supporting freedom only for the speech of those with whom we agree. In this connection I am reminded again of Martin Niemöller's famous poem:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Here's the problem. If we cheer for censorship of our enemies, our own speech lies on the chopping block next. When it comes to liberty, we must all stand together regardless of viewpoints and beliefs, because divided we will all fall. The only winner will be the party in power, because only their speech will remain in the end.

In Western Countries today, conservative Christian views are far less popular than the leftist slant of Charlie Hebdo. The ruling class of liberal atheist intellectuals will chuckle at Charlie, but they won't find much to smile about regarding the Catholic stance against condoms in Africa or the Church's views of homosexual activity as 'gravely disordered'. So if state censorship starts aiming its restrictions at anyone at all, in the end it won't be Charlie Hebdo. It will be us.

Think about that, Mr. Donohue and Mr. Toutounji.

Photo: the_apex_archive via photopin cc

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