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A Personal Choice

Sorry I don’t have a spiffy title for today’s post. I wasn’t – probably still am not – really prepared to write it. But I want to at least try to clarify some things about yesterday’s post.

When I first read Scott Greenfield’s post this morning, I felt like I’d been punched, hard, right in the gut.

This post, as you might guess from what I already said, is somewhat different from the posts I think I normally write. Normally, I’m writing about legal issues, cops, judges. Posts like this one usually end up in my private journal, which is probably where it really belongs.

So if you don’t want to read the kind of post that would normally end up in my private journal, then you should stop reading now. But I feel a need to explain a couple things, and, being as this is my blog, that’s what I’m going to do. Having felt like I was punched in the gut, I’m going to pick at some belly-button lint. If you don’t like that, well….

It was the last three paragraphs of Scott’s post that really did it. After quoting the part of my post where I said “Fighting our common enemies doesn’t require Being Charlie Hebdo,” he wrote:

No, standing up for free speech does not demand that one publish things that they find offensive just because. But that’s a strawman argument, as that was not why people are republishing the cartoons deemed so offensive as to be worthy of murder. This was not a cheer for free speech, but a condemnation of murder or the exercise of it.

But the self-proclaimed grown-ups muster rationalizations that allow them to remain in their comfort zone, where they can support what grown-ups support, take no risk of being called puerile and maintain their respectability. They are unwilling to take the chance of looking foolish or offensive by putting their respectability on the line and standing for something.

There are times when a discussion of rights such as free speech demands great nuance. There are times when it demands the guts to tell murderers that we will not be intimidated into silence. Grown ups should be capable of distinguishing between the two. Cowards make excuses. There is always an excuse for not taking a risk.

And aside from the fact that I have such respect for Scott that a couple of my other friends have accused me of hero-worship, the only thought that came to my mind was, “Wow. I’ve been called a lot of things before, but never a coward.” His comments were aimed at Brooks. I thought he was saying I was making excuses for my decision not to republish the images on my blog.

I mentioned this to him this morning, and learned that I had misunderstood what Scott said. As I clearly learned, I was being overly sensitive.

Part of the problem for me was that, while I’m comfortable enough with the decision I made, and which I blogged about yesterday, I’m just that: “comfortable enough.”

You see, as I said yesterday, about one Twitterer who challenged my choice to change my avatar to a Charlie Hebdo cartoon:

Now, I still don’t fucking know exactly how to respond to that. Obviously, I can support free speech without passing along offensive cartoons. But that was not the initial point, as you will recall from what I said above. (Hint: It was about not allowing oneself to be intimidated by murderous asshats who are willing to kill when they are offended by people “speaking” – especially through cartoons – things of which they, the murderous asshats, do not approve.)

And I still completely concur – never stopped concurring – with the idea that we must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by murderous asshats who are willing to kill when they are offended by our speech acts. That’s why my immediate response was “Fuck you, terrorists!” followed by something I’ve never done before: changing my Twitter avatar to make a statement.

The proper response to being offended by speech acts is to ignore them, and move on. If you know that some people – like Charlie Hebdo – are going to print cartoons that you are going to find offensive, then you don’t fucking read them! If, despite your best efforts, you’re exposed to something you don’t want to see, or hear, or experience, you find a way to remove yourselffrom the situation: you don’t remove the speakers, or writers, or cartoonists, as the case may be, from their lives, and the lives of others who do care for them, and what they have to say.

The proper response to people who try to silence speakers, instead of following the advice of the last paragraph, is to just keep right on talking. In this case, where terrorists killed the speakers, I have no problem with making sure their speech isn’t silenced, just because they were.

The failure to combat terrorism, giving into terrorism, this is why…well…

But…

There are a few things here I might say. Yesterday, I thought about all of them. And a lot more. Not that it matters a lot, because I’m, as I said, comfortable enough with my decision. But I sorta feel like I owe something of an explanation, particularly because I think what I said was misinterpreted by a few, just as I misinterpreted Scott’s post when I first read it.

Maybe I should explain how it appears my comments were misinterpreted – I’ve already alluded to it – before explaining the other few things.

From some of the comments, and tweets, that I saw, I think that maybe people believed, when I said “Fighting our common enemies doesn’t require Being Charlie Hebdo,” I meant, “Everyone should stop trying to ‘be Charlie Hebdo‘.” That is, “Everyone should stop reposting their shit.”

That would be an understandable interpretation of my statement, except if you take into account all the other things I’d already said. (Remember the part about responding to murderous asshats?) I mean, I did quote tweets that complained about republishing other people’s racist bullshit just because they died. But that was to show what provoked me to thinking. And I ended my post by saying,

I do not need to offend my friends, to fight our enemies.

Fighting our common enemies doesn’t require Being Charlie Hebdo.

Emphasis added on the “I” there.

Ultimately, that’s because this was a personal choice I was making. When I started writing the post, I didn’t know I wasn’t going to be including the images that everyone else was republishing. I already thought I wasn’t, but I was going back-and-forth over it in my head, arguing the pros and cons to myself. That’s why, at one point, I ended up just staring at my screen distractedly for a couple hours, writing stuff, deleting it, writing more stuff, deleting it, writing more stuff….

A couple of things that went through my mind ended up being the deciding factor that caused me to call the first of my two Muslim friends.[1]

One of those was this: when I was a kid, more than once, I was introduced to the Joy of Eating Ivory Soap Cookbook. It only has one recipe. And, come to think of it, only one ingredient.

As far as I can remember, my parents never cursed. They certainly never allowed their children to curse. When I was younger, I sampled – or maybe I should just admit that I fucking gorged myself on – Ivory Soap in response to the wrong choice of words.

And to this day, out of respect, when I visit my parents house, I try very hard (and, almost always, I think, successfully) not to use language that would bother them. My blog is another story; my Facebook page is another story; no one forces my parents (or anyone else, really) to read it. But I know a lot of my friends read it, and I want them to keep doing so. The occasional foul words, I don’t think, will drive them away, but I felt it was probably too much to do something that some of them might consider sacrilege.

I may no longer be religious. But that’s no reason to unnecessarily be disrespectful of other people’s religious beliefs.[2]

There’s another memory I thought about yesterday. My best friend from about the 8th grade until he became a weenie and joined the Air Force when I joined the Navy was Ron Little.[3] One day, we were walking down the street to a football game. I was looking at him, talking. And the next thing I knew, I was on the ground, and he was asking me if I was alright. Upon ascertaining that I was, he took off like a bolt of lightning, leaving me wondering what had happened.

When Ron returned a short time later, sweaty, and a little roughed-up-looking, he told me what had happened. Two guys were walking towards us, while I was looking at Ron, when suddenly one of them hauled off and punched me as hard as he could right between the eyes, and then they took off running.

When Ron caught up with them, and before he pounded them both to pulps,[4] they told him they’d done it because I was “a dirty Jew.”

When I was growing up, my family was nominally “Jewish.” My father was raised Orthodox; my mom was raised – if I’m recalling correctly – in the Greek Orthodox (Catholic) tradition. We were raised as mutts of some kind. But with a healthy dose of understanding what it was like to be mistreated because of your alleged, inherited, religious DNA. That incident sealed that lesson for me.

Because of that, I actually know a lot about a lot of different religions. I’ve probably read the writings from almost all of them, including even the Pearl of Great Price, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster hilarity.[5] Hell, I spent two years at a Missionary Baptist college studying Koine Greek, and Hebrew, which required me to be – on paper – a ministerial student.[6]

So it was that I thought hard about my Muslim friends reading my post about Charlie Hebdo, and seeing caricatures of their Prophet. Muslims around the world (albeit particularly in France) are getting enough shit right now. I do not want to add to it. I know that the dudes who shot up Charlie Hebdo have more in common with the guy that shot Rafael Ramos, and Wenjian Liu, than they do with most Muslims. I know that, like Christianity’s revered writings, like that of Judaism, and like some other religions, contain an admixture of statements that can be interpreted one way, or another, and that – again like other religions – there are subsets of their religion that interpret those statements as requiring that they kill people who make fun of them. I know that about 23.4% of the world’s population is Muslim. And most of them do not believe in killing all the infidels in accordance with Muslim extremist interpretations of the Quran, anymore than Christians believe that they should kill all the infidels in accordance with Deuteronomy 17.

Finally, I am aware of these 46 examples of Muslim outrage about the Paris shooting that those who would vilify Muslims cannot seem to find.

Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to voice my outrage, and my point of view, regarding the murderous rampage of asshats against Charlie Hebdo without inflicting further pain on my Muslim friends who, themselves, are reeling – in ways you and I cannot imagine – over this horrific histrionic overreaction (forgive the redundancy) to a few cartoons which not only poke fun at extremists, but also appear as sacrilege to the peaceful faithful Muslim majority.

That’s a personal choice with which I’m completely comfortable.



Footnotes
  1. I’m avoiding mentioning his name on purpose, so no one gives him any crap. [↩]
  2. One day, someone is going to say something about me saying something about something they believe. I’m going to tell you right here and now that that’s why “unnecessarily” is in that last sentence. [↩]
  3. Kidding, folks. He’d still be my best friend today, if he could stomach my politics. He’s a great guy. And his son is one helluva terrific dude, too. [↩]
  4. Ron was athletic, and a wrestler, and was always fighting – and, trust me, you did not want to mess with Ron because when he fought, he could ignore anything you threw at him. Once, some guy hit him, and broke his glasses which made a large cut by his eye – I think Ron still has the scar today – but it was the other guy that left the scene in an ambulance. Ron later said he didn’t know he was cut. He just thought the guy broke his glasses. He was pissed thinking his mom was going to have to pay for new glasses. And I’m not making that up. [↩]
  5. Yes, I know it’s not a real religion. Yet. [↩]
  6. Another lesson: Without going into details about Missionary Baptists, they’re conservative. One day, after I’d spent the afternoon-before answering questions about “being a Jew” from one of the young women at the school, the Dean took me aside for a talk. I still remember this exact quote from our conversation: “We trust you will not fraternize with the female students.” He didn’t have to add, “Jewboy”; it was implied. [↩]
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