Sunday, 25 January 2015

Nous sommes strange bedfellows

These pictures were taken in Paris at the Place de la Republique and at Hyper Cacher over the past week.  They illustrate, along with the massive crowds that lined Paris' streets last weekend, the depth of feeling that followed the murderous assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and on the supermarket, Hyper Cacher.

There is no rational argument that justifies the murder of a group of cartoonists, because they offended you, no matter how badly they offended you.  There is no argument that justifies the murder of a group of Jewish shoppers, just because they were shoppers who were Jewish.  You can argue that the state of Israel is persecuting the people of Palestine, but you can not argue that Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Francois-Michel Saada and Philippe Braham were responsible for the policies of the state.  They were in Paris, shopping.

These lines by Voltaire have been written on the statue in the Place de la Republique:
 "Mais de toutes les superstitions, la plus dangereuse, n'est-ce pas celle de haïr son prochain pour ses opinions?"   Of all the superstitions the most dangerous is to hate your neighbour because of his opinions.

  Voltaire, Traité sur la Tolérance (1763)

The list of names above includes people of no faith, Jews, Christians and Muslim.  What did they have in common? And in common with the shooters?  Mostly they were Parisian. Neighbours.

It continues: Si vous voulez qu'on tolerici votre doctrine, commencez par n'etre ni intolerant ni intolerables.   If you want your views to be tolerated, be neither intolerant or intolerable.  If you want your views to be respected, you have to respect the views of others.

Voltaire has been quoted a lot over the past few weeks, even in Britain.  One of the most repeated has been "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."   The fact that Voltaire didn't say this (it was Evelyn Beatrice Hall who came up with the line in her biography The Friends of Voltaire) illustrates part of the problem.  There are leaps of faith, leaps of understanding, beliefs that are contradictory, beliefs that are outdated, knee jerk reactions, downright deliberate misrepresentation.

Offence has been taken at the actions of Charlie Hebdo by people who have never seen a copy of the magazine, never seen the offensive cartoons.  People have chosen to be offended by the idea that someone is trying to offend them.   Equally, people are standing up for the principle of free speech, thinking in absolute terms.  Absolute free speech.  Is that correct?  Every crackpot racist has the right to be as crackpot and racist as he wants?  Every libertarian has the right to as much liberty as he wants?  There are limits.  There have to be limits.

There was a big clamour for newspapers all over the world to show solidarity by printing the offensive cartoons.  UK newspapers didn't.  Not on the left or the right.  Was this weakness?  Or was this being respectful to the views of 2.7 million Muslims in the UK?  I could find those images right now and include them here.  But I'm not going to.  I  have no desire to offend Muslims - or Christians, Jews or Satanists for that matter.  No matter how little faith I put in any religion.  Because if I want my views to be respected I must respect others.

Strange bedfellows here.  On the cardboard, a French Muslim referencing his pain at the senseless murder of French Jews here, the pain he feel at the loss of life of his fellow Frenchmen.  Another card with the symbols of the Crescent moon, the star of David and the cross of Christ, acknowledging that we are all in this together.  Another quote from Voltaire about roses and thorns.  And incongrously, a cross of St George with the words No Surrender emblazoned: the flag of the anti-Islam EDL.  Some tragedies are not yours to own.

excellent pictures by Mme Akriche.  Thanks.
Frederic Boisseau, Ahmed Merabet, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Francois-Michel Saada, Philipe Braham, Elsa Cayat, Michel Renaud, Mustapha Ourrad, Bernard Maris, Franck Brinsolaro

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