Mosques burned in Sweden, churches burned in Niger, many other instances of arson, riots and deaths around the world in the wake of the shootings in Paris, many future incidents waiting in the wings as tempers rise, and people dig in on whatever side they’re on. Where do we go from here?
One road is to rally behind free speech as the holiest of holies. There has been some criticism of newspapers that did not reprint the images of the latest Charlie Hebdo that came out defiantly in the face of the massacre in its offices. Those papers are called cowards, and “how are we ever going to defeat the terrorists?” is thrown at them. That’s an absurd stance. Have you all seen some of the stuff Charlie Hebdo was printing about Mohammed and Islam? It’s disgusting, beyond puerile, seemingly geared toward making as many people mad as possible. They are agents-provocateurs, who seem to want nothing better than a firefight.
On the other hand, there are those who say we must pass blasphemy laws that make it illegal to give offence to anyone’s religion. The holiest of holies for them is our belief in deities, in our faiths, our religious leaders, and sacred books. This is fraught with problems. We’d have to define what a religion is for one thing—is every New Age cult covered? And how do we define “give offence to”? If I say the Catholic Church should allow women to be priests, is that offensive? Parodying religion would be out, but so would reasoned discussion on topics like polygamy or praying before a football game.
Some in Europe apparently think that we need to ship out all the Muslim families, sending them back to the countries of origin, regardless of whether they were born in Europe. This is reminiscent of the Americans who believed the answer to the slavery problem was to create Liberia on the West African coast and send as many blacks there as possible. This solution would be chaotic to say the least, and would result in the deaths of many returnees, because the countries they’re going back to are often unsettled, dangerous, and certainly would have trouble accommodating a large influx of people.
Failing that we could work toward making the entire world adhere to one single religion. That’s not going to happen any time soon, although I think the atheists have a good shot at winning the race, given the wars and unrest that seem to follow religion wherever it goes.
If we want peace in the world, we have to come to an accommodation. For those whose faith is important to them, they have to recognize that the Western world allows free speech. Not all speech, but almost anything. Criticizing religion is part of that. For those for whom religion has ceased to be important, or who find themselves compelled to comment on others’ religions, they should not forget that religion is sacred to those who embrace it. Any conversation around it should be respectful, not provocative for the sake of provoking. This is not “letting the terrorists win”, it’s called civilization.