Friday, 9 January 2015
The paradox at the heart of the Paris murders.
I think have an eye for puzzles. I 'see' them before I understand them.
So it was with the murder of the journalists, cartoonists and police officers in Paris on the 7th January. It was not the obvious shock and the futility of death but it was something to do with the narrative, the supposed causes and effects. There was something self-defeating and contradictory. It seemed so convoluted that, at first, I couldn't even explain it to myself. But it was there. A puzzle.
Let us, first of all separate out the idea
There are, it seems, some Muslims who would argue that they are at war with, presumably, anti-Muslims. I don't know this for myself, since the only source of this idea is the media I consume.
It's this same media that sometimes makes me think that some Muslims are getting a poor deal - along with many other people; Christians, Buddhists, atheists, women, men. Indeed, it is the media that tells me that some Muslims are being persecuted and I conclude that this is wrong. Whatever their beliefs, they should be able to live in peace.
And it would seem (from what I've read) that many people of all religions (and none) agree with me. It is probably one of the few things that an overwhelming majority of the world's population agree. Not, as it happens, freedom of speech, but freedom of thought as well as freedom to live.
So what effect could anyone (of any religion and none) think killing people who expressed a thought could or should have?
If Charlie Hebdo had NOT published satirical takes on the prophet Mohammed, then the gunmen would not have known that people held (apparently) anti-Islamic beliefs. In fact it gets more twisted because, of course, simply because such articles and images were published does not demonstrate that anyone holds a particular belief... These are expressions of thoughts, parts of a conversation that takes place between the creators of the images and stories and their readers and thence between other readers and, indeed, prior to their creation between other people and the creators.
If I say to you I think God is stupid for creating different religions what can it possibly say about my beliefs? That God exists? That he is a he? That he can't possibly exist because he makes stupid things happen? That he actually does exist and is stupid? That I can't fathom his divine plan? However you interpret it, I can't believe all those things at the same time and (depending on your point of view) so which one would you elect to judge me on?
In truth the printing - ink on paper and, what, 60,000 copies? - of any article in Charlie Hebdo is a matter of little consequence. Like the tip of an iceberg it represents only the visible manifestation of a thought, a passing thought at that, that contributed to a flow of conversation. It echoes (and is contested) in hundreds if not thousands of other conversations taking place in streets, bars, homes, on Twitter...sometimes in print...and yes, in churches and mosques all over the world.
And what these gunmen did was choose, quite arbitrarily to impose a judgement on a group of people who they presumably held responsible for part of this conversation.
But what they did was not only random it was also illogical.
For the self-same freedom of thought is so basic, so universal, that the gunmen themselves depend upon it.
Even as the gunmen drove away from the site of their atrocity in Paris they relied on the common decency of ordinary French people to allow them to do so. To drive on the right side of the road to give way to them where instructed. They themselves depended on the common humanity of people to allow them to take on the sole responsibility for their actions, trusting the masses who assembled subsequently in city squares NOT to turn into a mob and begin judging anyone who expressed a contrary thought.
Should they be caught (and not die in a shoot-out, which at the time of writing seems likely) what will they expect to happen? They may anticipate being brought to trial when they may be defiant and uncooperative, but they will be afforded respect by the very people who condemn their acts. They may confess and shout threats from the dock, but they will know that they will not be summarily executed for doing so.
They will rest easy in the fact that the vast majority of people in the world respect their right to think things that are abhorrent to most of us. And they will rest easy in the knowledge that that same majority will not hold their families responsible for their crimes nor condemn the doctors, police or prison officers who will care for them in the way that police officers attempted to care for the staff of Charlie Hebdo.
Their actions - the random and ill-conceived murder of genuinely innocent people who job was to print thoughts for other people to consider, and indeed reject - achieve nothing. It is, by definition, self defeating.
Rather like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, if you kill everyone who disagrees with you, you are not 'right' (since there is no-one to observe you being right)...you are just alone.
And then... vraiment, vous etes un charlie.