[Want another view? Check out what an actual Muslim thinks about Islam. Radical.]
We have an offensive problem. It’s called supersessionism. Supersessionism is the antique idea that God$ is a piece of property that can be owned.
Offense 1: Seventeen innocent people were murdered in Paris because someone supposedly offended a prophet who died 14 centuries ago.
Offense 2: That man happens to be the Muhammad, who, most Muslims believe, should never be shown as a human, let alone be insulted or mocked. Many of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are offended that their Prophet can be offended without apology.
Offense 3: Most Muslims do not understand their religion offends Christians. The entire basis of Islam is that Jesus did not die on the cross and anyone who says he did is a liar. If you’re a Christian, this offends you.
Offense 4: Christians believe their religion fulfills Judaism. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, so Jews should admit that and convert. If you’re a Jew, this offends you.
Offense 5: Jews believe their religion is the only one God$ gave to man. They don’t understand why other people don’t accept this and convert. If you’re a people, this offends you.
Technically, supersessionism means my religion fulfills, or supersedes, yours. Your religion, therefore, must be a lie and a fake. Islam supersedes Christianity. Christianity supersedes Judaism. Judaism supersedes Baalism or whatever.
Like Russian dolls, where a big one hides a littler one, each successive “Abrahamic religion” swallows up the one before. Given that the three claim to represent a total of almost four of the world’s seven billion people, this can pose problems for everybody getting along, whether they’re in the mix or not.
This brings us to Offense Number 6: Nobody owns God$. Whatever God$ is, She can’t be owned by any people, any nation, any ideology, any prophet, any man, any woman. Like modesty, when you brag that you’ve got it, it’s gone.
I’ve spent my life as a student of philosophy and religion. I have learned there is no way I can prove religion is wrong, any religion.
Maybe Muhammad really is the messenger of God$, who really is an Arab. Maybe Jesus was the Christ. Maybe Moses had the only rules we need to live by. Then again, maybe not.
But I am a man of great faith. I have faith that the world will rotate on its axis to reveal a new dawn every 24 hours. I can’t prove it to you. But like philosopher David Hume, I wager it is going to happen again tomorrow, and only chumps would bet elsewise.
That’s all faith is, is a bet on stuff. So long as you are free to bet on your stuff and I’m free to bet on my stuff, we’re okay. The problem comes when someone decides something is “offensive” and therefore off-limits. Freedom of speech is the same way.
I’m not a good artist so no one has to worry about me drawing pictures of their prophet or god. Instead I write. So can I say Mohammad is not the prophet? Or that Jesus isn’t the Son of God$?
Freedom means the freedom to say No. No, I don’t have to do this, but I could.
That’s why it’s so depressing to see and hear people running away from Charlie Hebdo, like the editor of my local newspaper did, with his “I’m not Charlie” headline. He misses the point.
Freedom is measured not by the one walk I do take, but in how many walks I could choose.
Here is the 7th Offense: Nobody should have to die for being offensive.
Below are the Charlie Hebdo cartoon covers that got the heroic editors targeted for murder last January.
However, an updated and related cartoon first. First is the cartoon the US Pentagon recently dropped over the Daish capital of Raqqa, Syria recently, Daish being a derogatory term for the so-called Islamic State. [Pronounced kind of like dogshit, and kind of means that too.] The pen truly is more powerful than the sword.
A cartoon from a leaflet dropped by the US Pentagon over Syria. The sign with the arrow says ‘Daish Recruiting Office’ ‘Daish’ being a derogatory word for the so-called Islamic State. The same word is on the meat grinder.
The black sign reads ‘now serving 6001’, and the new ISIS recruit at the front of the line drops that ticket number when he sees his unheavenly fate.
And now, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons
The Prophet Muhammad says: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing!” [This was the special issue edited by Muhammad himself.]
A triple offense: “It’s time to veil Charlie Hebdo.”
“Love is stronger than hate.” Yup, once again that is supposed to be Muhammad.
“Don’t make fun of us” (I think.)
Okay, the following translation is accurate and NSFW.
Muhammad is overwhelmed with Fundamentalists. “It’s hard to be loved by cunts.”
Think about this, all you guys who want all these cartoons to run “in every newspaper.” They wouldn’t; they were meant to be offensive. The c-word here is much loved by Europeans, who apply it non-genderwise. Bitchin’ huh?
Finally, my favorite:
If the Prophet returned. “But I’m the prophet, Abruti [the so-called Caliph leader of ISIS.]” “Shut yer yap, infidel!”
I was trained as a journalist. I am also a wiseass.
Usually there is no price to pay for this in our country. The price for free speech in America was paid, and is paid, by the sacrifice of many many people much braver than me, most of them in uniform.
But sometimes they are not in uniform. Like journalists. Like James Foley or Steven Sotloff. And today, by twelve journalists in France. They made their living writing and drawing for Charlie Hebdo, a sort of French Mad Magazine, with more politics. (Closer to the now-defunct and great Spy magazine.)
Today a couple of jackals wearing hoods broke into their office and murdered them. They were shouting about God. These cowards actually thought that murdering unarmed people was “avenging” their prophet.
Charlie Hebdo had made fun of these guys. And the Prophet Muhammad.
A lot of people want to blame Islam for these killings and all the others. That’s like blaming Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan.
Years ago, I lived and worked in Atlanta. I worked for and with many Muslim people. They were among the sweetest people I ever met. One of them, a programmer who barely knew me, even helped me move.
They were always happy to talk about their religion. They always wanted you to share their beliefs.
So did most of the Evangelical Christians I met. And down South, I met a lot more of them, believe me.
Both groups wanted to save my soul.
I don’t begrudge either of them wanting to “save” my soul. I just disagree about it needing saving. But I was happy to talk to them. So long as I could still end with a No.
Maybe more than any other freedom, freedom of religion means I have the freedom to say No. No, I will not worship your God. But you don’t have to worship mine either. In a free country, your God has to compete with everybody else’s idea of God.
That offends intolerant people, whatever their picture of God is. But intolerance is an emotion, not a creed.
Today, intolerance scored some blood. But if the history of the last five hundred years holds true, they will lose.
As President Obama pointed out, France is America’s oldest ally. We need to say I Am Charlie Hebdo. Je Suis Charlie!
Does this make you laugh?
A boss escorts his secretary into the office. He smiles as he asks her to sit; she is nervous, apprehensive. For good reason as it turns out, as he immediately tells her she’s fired. She begins to cry, defending her work ethic and attention to detail. His response is to giggle uncontrollably.
“Relax. It’s just a joke,” he says between giggles.
“You bastard!” she yells, “That’s not funny.”
I didn’t think it was either. Did you?
What I’ve just described is the opening bit in the original British version of The Office. The giggling boss was Ricky Gervais, the series creator. The humor in the rest of the program runs down pretty much the same path. Boss Gervais finds ways to be petty, vindictive and mean to his workers. The UK Office boss in is not at all the amiable dimwit Steve Carell played in the US version. Boss Carell is over-the-top absurd. Boss Gervais is cruel.
Forty years ago, Britain sent us the maniacally absurd Monty Python. Their humor wasn’t always easy to follow, but it was always self-sufficient. A situation was set up, an expectation was delivered. And then the rug was pulled out. What happened was a surprise, completely different than expected — absurd. Hence their catchphrase, “And now for something completely different.”
Men ride to the sound of coconuts clapping, instead of on a horse. A knight shrugs off the loss of his arms and legs as “a mere flesh wound.” Possibly cruel, but mostly irrational and unexpected, and therefore funny. It is the comedy of the Pythons and their forebears, the Marx Brothers.
That, to me, is humor, the best kind, anyway. It is hard work. Neither the Pythons nor the Marxes could keep it going forever.
But now we are in an Age of the Cruel.
Ricky Gervais’ humor is mostly about someone in power being aggressively cruel to someone weaker. In his new HBO series, he plays a retarded man. It doesn’t look funny to me. I did laugh when he hosted the Golden Globes. Because then he was tripping the stronger, not the weaker.
An old theory about humor is that we all enjoy seeing someone else in pain. The strong exploit the weak, aggression, revenge. I don’t buy it. I don’t laugh when I see someone get hit and neither do you. We call the cops.
Charlie Chaplin was historically a comic genius. Alistair Cooke said the biggest crowds he ever saw weren’t for FDR, the Pope, Elvis, or the Beatles but Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin movies are about a poor little tramp getting ousted by his betters. A bouncer throws him out of a restaurant. A rich guy throws him out of the parlor for wooing his daughter. And so on. Eventually Charlie gets his revenge by kicking his tormentors in the ass.
That’s pretty much The Joke in most Chaplin movies. He gracefully winds his stumpy little leg and delivers a roundhouse kick to his enemy’s butt. It was why W.C. Fields dismissed Chaplin as “a goddamn ballet dancer.”
Now, if you ever seen a Chaplin movie, did you laugh? No, you did not. If you did, we’d have a platoon of Little Tramps pushing Louie C.K. to the back of the bricks at The Comedy Cellar.
Aggression is an easy form of comedy. But as more and more venues for humor open up, online and televised, a void forms. Nature and Hoover abhor a vacuum, so it must be filled. It’s mostly filled by an aggression that borders on nihilism.
Nihilism is now the dominant form of American comedy. It’s impossible to estimate, but I estimate that 95 percent of everything you see on television is nihilistic. From South Park to Family Guy to even The Daily Show.
By nihilism I do not mean the 19th century Turgenevian radicalism that dismissed post-Tsarist political stratagems as insufficient in their ambition to redesign bourgeois-proletarian society. And I don’t mean the moral ambiguity that results in the embrace of relativism, as supposedly preached by Nietzsche.
I mean the philosophy of 14-year-old punks.
The cry of the Nihilist is “All things are equal, nothing is of value.” It’s the sneer of the adolescent who looks at an achievement and says “So what?”
You’ve eliminated all childhood diseases that have plagued mankind for thousands of years? So what? Put an end to wars? So what? You’ve designed a city with buildings so environmentally sound they may transfigure human culture? So what? You’ve painted an exquisitely beautiful rendering of Madonna and Child? So what? You’ve founded a charity to end human misery and suffering? So what?
Like its twin Family Guy, South Park routinely degrades any and all beliefs as essentially equal and essentially meaningless. Not because the writers want to advance a Nietzschean “All truth is relative” agenda. They just think attacking is funny. Nothing is worth believing in. Nothing is funny.
Don’t mistake satire for nihilism — satire believes.
Satire has a long and distinguished history. I use it myself. In a free society it’s basically harmless. In an unfree society, like Egypt, Iran or Utah, it is subversive.
I have a theory of what real humor is. There is a scientific test to perform. It is scientific because it produces predictive and replicable results.
You will need a small child between three and four years old at a large social gathering, a birthday or a holiday feast.
The scientist approaches the wee child from behind while they are distracted by cake, taps them on the shoulder, then quickly turns away. The child turns to see who is trying to get its attention but––there’s no one there! Repeat this procedure once more. Pause so the child can see you. Then look away, thereby effecting the laboratory attitude termed “nonchalance.” Now make eye contact with the child. Smile. If performed correctly, the subject will likewise smile because she knows that you know that she knows that you are pretending to not know.
(CAUTION: This science only works once per child. Do not use a test subject over four as they wise up pretty fast.)
In that single instance of eye contact, across the void of existential consciousness and the chasm of age, two human beings have shared a complex social interaction without expressing a sound. A joke free of aggression, a small “pop” of irrationality. The genesis of funny.
An expectation is set up but not delivered. The fancy term for this is paraprosdokian, “in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase [or action] is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener [or participant] to reframe or reinterpret the first part.” (Wikipedia).
Irrationality is not the only source of humor, but I think it’s the best. And I don’t think I’m alone. But it’s hard work to write unexpected things. It’s easier just to attack.
by Lance Grider