Before saying another word, the beheading of the teacher in a quiet suburban French town northwest of Paris — like the massacre of the reporters and staff of Charlie Hebdo in 2015 — is an inexcusable crime for which the murderer must face the full weight of French justice. That being said, we in the free-speech-loving Western world need to step back for a moment and realize the part our multinational society has played in these atrocities. It all boils down to respect for the beliefs of others, and the social price we must be willing to pay should we do what we know will deeply offend them.
For instance, in America it is our First Amendment right to use the “n-word” in almost any context, but it’s also well understood that with few exceptions, the one using the word will not just pay a social price by being ostracized by one’s non-racist peers, but will likely be fired from their jobs and left to whine on social media, “I’m not racist! I’ve got a Black friend!” Except from their fellow racists, such people receive precisely zero pity from their fellow Americans, and often become the online object of humorous derision du jour.
The same principle goes for religions. What will happen if one publicly accuses Jews of “blood libel”? The miscreant speaker will face the same social and financial repercussions as those who use racial epithets. Mainstream Protestants and Catholics also voice outrage at what they feel are words or deeds offensive to their religions. I’m old enough to remember when the Beatles’ John Lennon said they were “more popular than Jesus.” The reaction across much of America was angry and swift:
And most Americans are aware of the “Christian” outrage every single year at the pulpit, on the air, and online with endlessly-repeated hyperbolic rants about the “War on Christmas” and “bans on school prayer”.
The Sunni Muslim ban on images of their prophet Mohammed is not new, but has been in place for centuries. In fact, according to some Islamic scholars, the ban is extended to Jesus and Moses, both of whom are considered prophets in Islam. Full disclosure: I am a Christian, and in the Church of which I am a member, we believe that images of God or Jesus are against commands found in the Bible. Of course we don’t feel great outrage or resort to violence at such images, but we can understand at least to some extent the offense felt by the Muslim community.
The argument for broad social and political — though not legal — rejection of cartoons of Mohammed is obvious: what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If we are deeply offended at slights against our own race or religion, then we should understand, appreciate, and support the outrage others feel (not including any violence taken, of course) if one of our own does something deeply offensive to their religion.
Lastly, social and political rejection of images offensive to Islam does not require changing our nation’s laws or traditions, but only that we should all learn to abide by the Golden Rule.
In Christianity, it’s found in Jesus’ Own words in Matthew 7:12 (NLT): “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”
In Islam, it’s found in the Hadith recorded by Abu Dawud: “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves.”