Like the overwhelming majority of people following the news on Wednesday I was horrified by the events unfolding in Paris as two armed men burst into the offices of the French satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’, shooting and killing the editor, his police guard and nine other members of staff and later a police officer. There can be no justification for such an act in the name of religion or politics regardless of the nature of their cartoons and their targets. There has been an instinctive response to stand with and support the writers and producers of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, seen most visibly in the work of cartoonists around the world over the following day and also on Twitter and related social media where the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (a reference to the famous ‘I am Spartacus’) spread like wildfire.
I have not seen the cartoons myself so I can’t comment on them, however, through my faith I believe that people should be free to hold and express whatever beliefs they have, even if I disagree with their conclusions – after all, as Christians don’t we belief that God has given humanity the freedom to believe or reject him? Naturally the freedom of belief and expression comes with the corollary that if we are free to express ourselves then we must be prepared to have others express contrary views and disagree with us. They too are free to do so. The important thing is how we respond when this happens.
The freedom and allowance of disagreement has its limits; as the leader in the Economist puts it:
‘In any case, there is a world of difference, and several centuries of liberal political thought, between giving and taking offence and killing people over it. Nothing can be done with a pencil or a keyboard that warrants a reprisal with a Kalashnikov.’
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 come to mind where he is speaking about how as Christians we are no longer bound by the Law (Torah). He says,
‘23 ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’– but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.’
This strikes me as advice that is clearly relevant and apt today in how we express our beliefs and respond to what has happened this week and to others with whom we disagree in general. It is wise advice to stop and think what the impact of our words and actions might be such as on the wider Muslim community who like us are appalled by what has taken place or how we might inadvertently further incite extremist responses.