The Killing Joke: Thoughts on Satire, Religion, and the French Terror Attacks

“I don’t know if I’m afraid anymore, because I’ve seen fear,” said Patrick Pelloux, a columnist for the magazine Charlie Hebdo during a live CNN broadcast last night. “I was scared for my friends, and they are dead,” he told Anderson Cooper. “I know that they didn’t want us to be quiet. They wanted us to continue to fight for these values, cultural pluralism, democracy and secularism, the respect of others. They would be assassinated twice, if we remained silent.”

There have been a number of interesting responses to these awful terror attacks in France, including statements from satirists like Conan O’Brien and John Stewart, which have lent far more interesting commentary than ordinary circumstances might entail. Then again, what is “ordinary” about people being slaughtered for making jokes? Again, I find myself asking, “why so serious?”, just as I had with the North Korean reaction to Franco and Rogan’s “The Interview.”

I have a certain agreement with what Richard Dawkins had to say on Twitter about the French terror incidents (which, interestingly, conservative radio host Glenn Beck similarly endorsed). Dawkin’s Tweet read as follows: “No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.” It’s a good point; but even still, we have to be careful in noting *which factions* among those worshipers of said “violent religion” are actually promoting and enacting violence.

Fundamentalism and extremism exists in many areas of thought, and often with bad results. There are people who teach their children that cavemen were riding around on the backs of dinosaurs, and that the world is only 4,000 years old. While obviously unscientific, these kinds of beliefs aren’t violent or deadly, and of course, neither are all members of any one religion.

Elsewhere, there was a cult which recently made headlines when its leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, ordered the castration of 400 or so of his followers, so that they could be “closer to God” (and if you don’t consider that to be a “violent” belief system, consider that Rahim is already facing trial for the murder of a journalist). Apart from sickening, belief-driven nonsense the likes of this, I cannot think of a single widely-recognized religion in our world which is founded on what it’s adherents view as time-tested principles of death, destruction, and killing. Sadly, there are, however, extremists in our world who choose to do these things in the name of their deity, which gives others a bad name.

As much as there is an issue with freedom of speech and expression raised with the attacks of Charlie Hebdo and the similar terrorist activities ongoing in France, there is an issue of tolerance that arises as well. There is a necessity for us to employ greater reason in our estimation of world happenings, and their participants. There is a challenge for us to be better individuals, and not to allow the actions of a few to instill greater hatred and fear in our hearts.

We must be strong. We must be wise. And most of all, we must show love and tolerance… unlike those who would seek to claim the lives of others over a joke.

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