Around the world but especially in France, people have been holding up signs, Je suis Charlie Hedbo (I am Charlie Hedbo), in a show of solidarity with the cartoonists who were assassinated. Of course, this costs nothing. No one is likely to assassinate them for holding the signs. So here’s my own little anti-terrorist rant…
At the same time of the emergence of these Je suis Charlie Hedbo signs, anti-semitism has been sweeping through Europe (and most especially France) in an alarming way, often under the guise of pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel sentiment. This creates a fertile ground for terrorism. Here’s a quote from the NY Times: “From the immigrant enclaves of the Parisian suburbs to the drizzly bureaucratic city of Brussels to the industrial heartland of Germany, Europe’s old demon returned this summer. “Death to the Jews!” shouted protesters at pro-Palestinian rallies in Belgium and France. “Gas the Jews!” yelled marchers at a similar protest in Germany.”
And here’s one from the Wall St. Journal: “In France, worshipers in a synagogue were surrounded by a howling mob claiming to protest Israeli policy. In Brussels, four people were murdered in the Jewish museum, and a synagogue was firebombed. In London, a major supermarket said that it felt forced to remove kosher food from its shelves for fear that it would incite a riot. A London theater refused to stage a Jewish film festival because the event had received a small grant from the Israeli embassy.”
In the US, a cartoon like the one Charlie Hebdo published would never have appeared. We’re too sensitive to potentially racist material. When my daughter went to college there was a flier on the dorm doors saying that no jokes about race or gender would be tolerated–guess that does it for any old Lenny Bruce recordings or Chris Rock specials. Last year, Brandeis University cancelled a speech by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the amazing Muslim-born author who speaks out against female circumcision and arranged marriage, because of protests from a Muslim group, and in several instances government and university officials have had to resign for using the word “niggardly” which means stingy and has nothing to do with race.
The cure for racist hatred isn’t the banning of jokes or open discussion. We need to talk a lot–the more humor the better–and at the same time foster interaction between people of all races from an early age. In her wonderful book Infidel, Ali mentions that she was astonished to find that Jews did not have actual horns rising out of their heads, as that is what she had been taught, along with her clan blaming the Jews every time the electricity went out.
When Muslim, Jewish, Christian, (insert faith here) children grow up together, these strange beliefs can’t persist. When adults can discuss all points of view in a rational way, can laugh at themselves and each other, when we support government attempts to quash terrorist acts by any group, we’ll be making progress.