The images or statements promote ideas I find abhorrent. The images, or the statements, or the ideas, make my heart race. I can feel myself starting to shake when I see them or hear them. I feel as though I have been punched in the stomach, or slapped hard on the face. I’m outraged. I’m angry. I’m insulted. I’m demeaned.
Sometimes, I sit and seethe quietly. Sometimes, I have to walk away and try to calm myself down. Sometimes, I have tears in my eyes. Sometimes, I shake with anger so much I cannot hold anything in my hand. Sometimes, I can’t sleep that night. The images insult. They attack my dignity. They humiliate. They hurt.
My outrage is valid. My pain is real. And sometimes it’s not enough to just change the channel or turn off the TV, to close the magazine, to close the browser window, to unlike the Facebook page, to unfollow that Twitter feed, to walk out of the store, to walk out of the gathering. Sometimes, I respond. I write the person, or call the company, or sign a petition, and rally my friends to do the same, explaining why the image is insulting or painful or both. I work to make my point of view heard and understood, often joining a chorus of equally-outraged others.
Sometimes, the company or comedian or performer or politician or pundit apologizes. Sometimes, they don’t, but there is a noticeable decline in offensive images or statements. Sometimes, they are defiant, they double down, they present those offensive images or statements again and again, and so I boycott the company or person. I refuse to be a part of what they produce. Maybe others do too. And that means I can no longer watch or read something I used to enjoy.
Sometimes, I lose friends because of their disagreement with my outrage. Sometimes, I have to walk out of a home or church or business, never to return, and my life is altered, maybe forever.
What has me so outraged? I’m not going to say. It would be a LONG list. But what has me outraged is not the point of this blog.
The point of this blog is to say that no group has a monopoly on outrage or pain from outrageous images or statements. And no insult justifies violence.
Religions get insulted. Ethnic groups get insulted. Communities get insulted. Women get insulted. Individuals get insulted. Bigotry can hurt. Sexism can hurt. Blasphemy can hurt. The pain is real. I get that. I've lived it. But that pain does NOT give you a right to harm someone physically. It does NOT give you a right to violence. It does NOT give you a right to kill.
I’m an atheist. I don’t live my life by religions texts, but by humanist beliefs that emphasize common human needs and rational, fair ways of solving our problems. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter what the Qur’an says about violence - whether it supports violence in return for insults or not - because I don't follow religious texts to live my life, and I refuse any efforts to force me to.
But it’s worth noting that freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Qur’an both through direct instruction as well as per how Muhammad is said to have responded to insults. The Qur’an says the Prophet was called insane, a liar, a fraud. Through all this, according to the Qur’an, the Prophet never retaliated or called for these people to be attacked or executed. The Qur’an says to “overlook their annoying talk” and to “bear patiently what they say.” It instructs Muslims to avoid the company of those who continue their derogatory attacks against Islam. The Qur’an tells believers not to be provoked by those who seem to attack Islam, stating very clearly “let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice.”
“When you see them engaged in vain discourse about Our Signs, turn away from them unless they engage in a different subject. If Satan ever makes you forget (i.e. your mind gets engrossed in their discourse,) then as soon as you recollect, no longer sit in the company of the people who confound the truth with falsehood.” – Qur’an 6:68
Also see Qur’an 2:256, 10:99, 18:29, 109:6, as summarized in this blog.
There’s another story about Muhammad, from Hadith rather than the Qur’an - some Muslims believe it, others don’t. But since belief in the story is widespread among Muslims, I’ll repeat it here: every day that Muhammad went to his mosque, a woman would come out of her home and throw her garbage on him. She didn't like his ideas, and this is how she expressed it. Muhammad didn’t respond. He just kept going to the mosque every day. But one day, the woman wasn’t there to throw things at him. So he entered her house to find out why, and he discovered that she was very ill. He cared for her and helped her recover. And he and the woman became friends.
Here's another blog about this legend.
My blog that you are reading is inspired not by the attacks in Paris, but the defense of the attacks. I’m reading comments that imply or outright say the murderers were “provoked.” As we say in my culture: BULLSHIT.
Like it or not, blasphemy is a human right. Insulting speech is a human right. Don't like it? Then you have two licit choices: get away from it so you do not have to hear or see it, or try to engage with those who are saying such to see why they think that way and if there is a way you can change their minds, through rational, peaceful means, to not say such things.
And before you say, "That's just not enough!", remember this: there is probably something you say or do or think that I find disgusting and/or insulting, every bit as hurtful as something you find disgusting and/or insulting. How would you feel about me trying to force you, through legal means or violent means, to not express that idea? You'd balk, of course.
Well, this is me. Balking.
One last thing: what I also find insulting is people who say, in trying to excuse the murderers and their supporters, "We can't expect everyone to embrace Western values" and "They were provoked because of how sacred they hold their religion." It's insulting to imply that respect for all human life and a belief in freedom of speech, even speech you don't like, is something unique to only European cultures and countries founded by such, that it's something not also cherished by people outside the West. It's insulting to imply that people outside of North America and Europe, or that Muslims, cannot grasp those values (if they don't already). And it's insulting because it implies that Islam is more precious than any other religion, deserving greater protection than any other religio - your silence over these anti-Semitic cartoons in newspapers in Muslim countries is deafening (meanwhile, if someone attacked any of these media outlets in the name of defending Judaism, I'd be saying all the same things now).
Also see: Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?