Tag Archives: Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo, Religious Rules, and Racism

I will assume you are paying some attention to the discussion of racism vis-a-vis Charlie Hebdo, Muslim bashing, obnoxious religious (in this case Islamic) rules of behavior, freedom of speech and expression, etc. If you were thinking that this situation is simple you better check your thought process, or your privilege, or something. Get an oil change. Take a class on race and racism. Something. Because it is not simple.

The following thought experiment is still an oversimplification but perhaps worthy of consideration, as a means of parsing out the very first level of complexity and nuance. I’d love comments on it.

A religion includes a prohibition against drawing its prophet. Otherwise, nothing interesting happens. Practitioners of that religion are barely noticed by the rest of society. They are easily confused with Unitarians, perhaps, except this one rule they have. However, a very large percentage of people in this religion are not of the dominant ethnicity/race. Indeed, when a run of the mill working or middle class white person is found to be of that religion, almost invariably, people are at least a little surprised. So they are like brownish Unitarians. Indeed, for this thought experiment we shall call them the Brown Unitarians.

Somebody draws their prophet simply because there is a rule against it. Since these people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in. This was a racist act. It might have been an intentionally racist act, or it might have been a blunder, but that would have the same effect, and failing to recognize the similarity is itself a racist act (intentional or otherwise). At the very least, the act is not polite, is harassment, and mild racism, but it could be worse depending on the nature of the drawing, the context in which it is distributed, and other factors. (It was possible that someone drew the Brown Unitarian Prophet entirely by accident, unknowingly, and the test of that is that if they are informed of the wishes of the Brown Unitarians, they make some effort to undraw the prophet and apologize, because, after all, offending people’s religion is a dick move, and why do that without a reason?)

Now imagine the same scenario as above, but previous instances in which the Brown Unitarian Prophet has been displayed have resulted in peaceful but strong protests.

In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act but it might also simply be a counter protest by someone concerned about free expression.

Now imagine the same scenario, but advanced one level. Some of the protests over drawing the Brown Unitarian Prophet are violent, and there is an attempt to codify the prohibition over creating this image into law.

In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act, or it might be a simple counter protest about free expression, but it could also be an important, not really optional, statement against the spread of bone-headed rules (like “you can’t draw a picture of my imaginary friend”) in otherwise secular society.

Now imagine the same scenario, but amid the various sorts of protests, we now have acts of deadly and bloody terrorism involving guns, bombs, etc. People linked with the drawing of the Brown Unitarian Prophet are now being gunned down now and then, occasionally in large numbers.

In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act … nothing that has happened has obviates that possibility. It might be a routine protest in favor of freedom of expression. But it might also be a brave and necessary, forceful and meaningful, slap in the face against those who want to repress others with their unreasonable, extremist, and very annoying rules based on dumb-ass rules about their imaginary friends.

Did you notice that this starts with the people drawing the prophet being dicks? Did you notice that the racism (actual or potential) never goes away? Did you notice all along there may be a large grey area in which racist acts can be achieved, but disguised as noble acts?

I think this is a partial analogy to the circumstances surrounding the Charlie Hebdo situation, except the beginning, the first scenario.