It’s all fun and games until someone starts shooting back. Literally.
I rushed down into the basement to search for my Criminology notes when I was studying Law in France. My queries were clear: What is considered a crime, who is considered a criminal and what is the role of the society that gives birth to the crime?
Different schools and clusters of thoughts exist for the criminal man and the theory of the social environment, but it’s clear, those two, are linked. For Lacassagne, the social environment is the broth of criminal culture. The microbe is the criminal, who is not important until he finds the broth to brew him. Tarde says that in order for a crime and culpability to exist, it is necessary that the author of the reproached act, belongs in the same society as his judges. For Quetelet, the acts of a man reflect his morality. For Durkheim, the notion of crime is relative. The penalty code corresponds at that which is in the heart and the common conscience of a certain society. Interestingly, Sellin, illustrates a conflict by taking as an example the spreading of the French law in Algeria during the colonization: “by introducing the penalty code in Algeria, we transformed in infringements, ancient uses and customs of the habitants which were permitted or even imposed. The abolition of customary law wasn’t imposed without problems: that which was considered as a duty, become a crime.” Different cultures meet. For sure, French and Muslims have met into modern history, but the French were the ones to set the rules.
Don’t misunderstand me, I do not justify the shootings: Bullets can NEVER be an answer. Or this is what we think in “Western” Europe. From the other side of the Adriatic sea, few kilometers away from my home in Athens, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, some years ago, the wrong answer to a question about nationality, could mean a bullet in the head.
The Clash of Civilizations? Maybe R. R. Palmer, got it right: “The wars of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun.” So did Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor who wrote in his famous Foreign Affairs article that “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world. The people of different civilizations have different views on relationships between God and man, the individual and the group, husband and wife, liberty and authority… These differences are the product of centuries.”
I am a European, I have studied in France and while living in France in my early twenties, I never understood why the French have completely excluded religion from the public sphere. I can understand the French bloody heritage of Saint Bartholomew’s massacre night (while in my country in Greece, priests and monks into monasteries occasionally organized revolts against the Turkish occupant) that has shaped the French state and consequently led to the rejection of religion and radical secularization. On the other hand, when a modern society, among others, imposes a complete ban on signs of religion in public spaces, all by knowing that hosts in its territory people of different cultures for whom religion is primordial, is this what we call freedom? Freedom for whom? On top of this, it’s ok and by the rules, to ridicule publicly what others believe as sacred. I do not understand what is so funny about making fun of other peoples sacred notions and figures, or playing with their taboos. Let’s not go far. Few years ago, within cafebabel.com, one Greek blogger, posted a picture with Angela Merkel, with the famous toothbrush moustache.
Immediately, the Germans screamed foul! As Greeks make occasionally fun of their political leaders, old and new, dictators or beloved ones, scratched their head over why the photo was insulting. But this was no fun for the Germans, obviously, hit a sensitive vain of their society.
Are the weights and measures of freedom of press and speech linked with our own western history; metrics like xenophobia and racism? If this is the case, maybe, those criteria, do not apply to other civilizations, simply because they have a different history which carries different concerns. For example, in the past decades, to its credit, for the Muslim world it was natural something that our western civilization achieved after quite a lot of bloodshed: the relatively peaceful coexistence between different races. To quote Malcolm X, the assassinated African-American Muslim minister of USA and a human rights activist during his trip to Mecca in sixties: “The color-blindness of the Muslim world’s religious society and the color-blindness of the Muslim world’s human society; these two influences had each day been making a greater impact and an increasing persuasion against my previous way of thinking…There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue- eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual. Displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.”
The Charlie Hebdo shooters, were extremists, but what if more people share the same opinion that cartoons were blasphemous and insulting since for the average Muslim, any depictions of the prophet is an affront.
Let’s see what happened in Denmark on 2005, after the first publication of the Muhammad cartoons:
According to the Danish writer Rune Engelbreth Larsen, the first crucial event after the publication of the cartoons was a letter to the then Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, by ambassadors from eleven (!) Muslim countries requesting a meeting concerning Muhammad cartoons.
The ambassadors’ letter contained four main points: 1) A criticism of the “very discriminatory tendency towards Muslims in Denmark” and “the defamation of Islam as a religion” 2) a warning of the danger of the possible escalation of the crisis 3) an appeal to the Prime Minister to “censure those responsible” to the extent the law permits (blasphemy is illegal in Denmark), 4) a request for a meeting with the Prime Minister.
The Danish Prime Minister said of the ambassadors’ criticism that “a Prime Minister cannot intervene and control the press and that the principles upon which Danish democracy is built are so self-evident, there can be no basis for convening a meeting to discuss them.”
According to the Danish writer, despite the fact, the ambassadors had never requested a meeting to discuss the principles of Danish democracy, Anders Fogh Rasmussen nevertheless claimed that the ambassadors’ intentions in this matter were in conflict with Danish democracy itself. Fügen Ok, Turkey’s ambassador to Denmark pointed out: “We’re not stupid; we know the Prime Minister has no authority to intervene. Our intention was to encourage him to improve the situation in the country; what happened is very serious and very provocative. This is not about closing newspapers. It’s about presenting your views on the issue and trying to promote dialogue.” Larsen suggests that the Danish Prime Minister chose to pontificate to eleven ambassadors as if they were schoolchildren who simply did not understand the definition of democracy, instead of discussing the issues raised by them, and commenting on the fact that their single request was for him to take a moral position on the issue of the cartoons. What followed is interesting to search about in order to understand the escalation of the problem in the year 2015.
Does freedom and tolerance mean accepting otherness and the boundaries of others? The freedom of press card in this game is only half exact. Are the media that didn’t publish the cartoons, under censorship?
Do the “criminals” and the “judges” belong in the same society? And who is who in the cartoon stories? In the cosmology of the West / East divide, Europe can play a crucial role. By refusing sovereignly dialogue, both sides, are contributing in the future wars.