I’ve long noticed that everything in this world exists in concert with – and inextricable from – its exact opposite. The Yin and Yang thing. No light without darkness. The fact that life without end would have no meaning, so death makes life possible. Or that you can only reach the extremes of hate for something that you could also potentially love. Nothing less could ever raise your emotions to that ultimate level whether on the positive or the negative side of the scale. This homegrown pseudo-philosophical nugget puts me in a conundrum about how to feel, how to react, to the events in Paris this week.
Ten years ago, when the original cartoons were published and months later spontaneous organized outrage erupted in protests around the globe against them, my students decided they wanted to discuss Religious Fundamentalism as one of the five Social and Economic Issues of the semester. I read up on the subject and current events and created materials for students to read and prepare for discussion. I included the cartoons that were at the source of the controversy. I also included a quiz on Islam so that we all could see how much we knew (or – more accurately – didn’t know) about this religion. I had them read Bill Moyer’s ”There is no Tomorrow” so that Christian Fundamentalism would also be represented. I uploaded it all onto my homepage for the students to download and print out. The resulting discussions were sometimes dumb, sometimes fascinating, sometimes prejudiced, sometimes enlightened. We did some English grammar practice in complex comparison and contrast: the Muslim heaven has 10,000 more virgins than the Christian Rapture or this cartoon is even less funny than the last one.
At one point, a student asked me “Are these the actual cartoons?” and you could tell he felt uncomfortable about holding them in his hands. Was he a target now? Was I? If I were teaching the same course today, would I upload (= republish, albeit in a very limited way) those cartoons? Or have I been terrorized into changing my own behavior?
I dont know. Maybe I am not Charlie. I understand the ironic satisfaction of republishing the original offensive material and knowing that millions more than ever before will now see it. But it is not my nature to react with an ”In your face, Kouachi brothers!” I’m more of a Kill-It-With-Kindness type.
Years ago, we got a letter from our newspaper deliverer complaining about a flower box in front of our house that is partly in the street. The letter was full of indignation, unnecessary rudeness and really basic spelling mistakes. My husband’s first reaction was to write back and ask him where he got off. I said “what’s the point? This is an old guy who has to get up at four in the morning to deliver papers he can’t be in very good shape financially or have a particularly nice life.” And he clearly didn’t understand that he was in a position of absolute zero authority. We ended up writing a really nice letter apologizing for the inconvenience and explaining that the box was there to slow cars down and to stop our young kids from running out of the house straight into the road. We attached it to a bottle of wine and left it out for him. We became his favorite people. From then on, the newspaper was carefully placed right on the welcome mat instead of flung into some far corner of the front porch.
Clearly, it is much more of a challenge to kill-with-kindness in a situation where innocent people were massacred but I will give it a try anyway. So . . . I am sorry that your experiences as orphans and your foster care and your prison stints combined with your weak characters to make you easy to manipulate and susceptible to delusions of grandeur. I’m sorry that people with an agenda recognized and exploited your excellent potential as cannon fodder. I’m sorry that the big scary-looking guns in your hands made you feel powerful. I’m sorry that you saw meaning only in death and not in the path towards it. I’m sorry you decided to skip to the end of the line and to take a dozen others with you. I’m sorry that your mugshots will live on forever in the internet and that, in the end, you have immortalized yourselves as empty, one-dimensional dead people.