It’s something of a relief that most of the Western and even official Arab world reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack has been outright and strong condemnation, rather than bleating or scolding about the consequences of offending religions and their followers. (Many major Muslim organizations have expressed outrage, too.)
Not that there haven’t been prominent exceptions. Here’s one, from USAToday. I’ve encountered another type on Twitter this morning, in the form of Economist correspondent David Rennie, who protested my claim that “Islam is a big part of the problem” responsible for much and even most contemporary terrorism.
It’s also been encouraging – and courageous and important – to see cartoonists publishing works in protest, and for media and other organizations, and individuals, to post the Charlie Hebdo drawings in question. Ensuring that they go viral is an excellent way to let the terrorists know that intimidation won’t work. Other global expressions of solidarity are grartifying, too. But much more needs to be done on this score, for much longer.
As I see it, it’s time to ramp up satirical treatment of Islam in all media. The aim would not be to offend Muslims for the sake of offending. Rather, it would be to show the extremists that the non-Muslim world’s determination to practice and support free speech is not simply rhetorical, and that it extends far beyond relatively small circles of cartoonists and other satirists of questionable taste.
So I suggest that the media and entertainment worlds declare a “Year of Spoofing Islam.” Cartoons, opinion columns, videos, television shows (calling Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, etc.!), full-length feature films (calling Seth Rogen!), and all other vehicles of expression poking fun at the religion, and at its leading historic and current figures, should be prominently and continually created and published. And of course they should be endlessly disseminated through every possible channel. If the attacks don’t stop, the campaign should extend into a second year. And if necessary, a “Decade of Spoofing Islam” could go into effect.
Of course, national governments need to keep trying to neutralize terrorism. But I can’t imagine a better way to teach current and potential attackers a crucial lesson – and spur stronger efforts to stop them by their moderate co-religionists – than to make sure that whenever Muslims anywhere access any media, they’ll see and hear torrents of material lampooning their faith and all of its cultural and social manifestations.
Ridicule is one of the most powerful forces not only in politics but in life itself. It should be especially effective versus a culture (and one of its perverse sub-cultures) that attaches such importance to maintaining face and avoiding shame. Let’s weaponize ridicule and start firing it big-time. On top of striking symbolic blows for free expression, we’ll begin ensuring Islam’s collective understanding that, whether Muslims like the modern, secular world or not, they’d better make their peace with it.
In this spirit, here’s a link to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.