I believe it was Ray Bradbury who once said that God has to have a sense of humor. After all, God invented the ostrich, the platypus, and humankind. If that’s not a sense of humor, then I don’t know what humor is.
Judaism has a long tradition of humor that includes, to some extent, humor about God. Leo Rosten, Hershey and Linda Friedman, the inimitable Mel Brooks, and many others have documented and created Jewish humor that includes laughing at and/or with God.
Unfortunately, there are those who believe that any humor about God (or religion) is the same thing as blasphemy.
Today, three armed terrorists entered the Paris, France office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, shouted “Allahu akbar!” (God is great!) and murdered twelve people, injuring eleven more. Among the dead were four cartoonists for the magazine, a guest, and at least one law enforcement officer. Statements made by surviving witnesses say that the attackers said the attack was in retribution for cartoons the magazine had published that depicted Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam.
Let’s go over that again. Twelve people were murdered today, over a few cartoons.
Cartoons. You know, drawings? On paper?
And these cartoons were enough of a threat to these murderers that they felt they had no choice but to murder people over them.
Those of us who live in the West have immense trouble wrapping our minds around this. Freedom of speech is such a central and paramount value in our culture that the idea that there are some things that must not be said is a foreign idea to us.
But let’s also make this quite clear. This wasn’t about religion. This was about control. This wasn’t about cartoons. It was about tyranny.
This was about people who are so uptight that if you shoved coal up their rear ends, you’d have a diamond in a matter of minutes. This was about people who are using a religious system as an excuse for their anger, hate, and fear. This was about people who cannot handle difference. This was about people who are ideological to the point that they cannot see outside of their ideology. They live in an echo chamber, not the real world. So when that echo chamber interfaces with the real world – as it must – their inability to deal with the collision results in violence against the real world.
The terrorists who murdered 12 people at Charlie Hebdo today in Paris, France, are not Muslims. They are just extremists, and all extremists fit into the same box regardless of their ideology. They can claim to be Muslims, but they are no more Muslim than the Westboro Baptist Church is Christian. They’re just extremists using a religion as an excuse for their extremism.
It is the flaw of the overly-serious and overly-ideological – the extremists – that they cannot bear being made fun of or laughed at. And sadly, their reaction is too often an overreaction, like this one was – out of proportion to what happened and, sadly, often fatal.
I grieve for the twelve people who were murdered by these extremists. I hope the Paris police catch them and bring them to justice. I pray for their families. Baruch dayan emet, and may all their memories be for a blessing.
But let’s not forget that their murderers are extremists – and because they are, they are just like the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboros or any other group that attacks instead of talking, that refuses to see any way but their own.
The only way to fight extremism is to refuse to become like the extremists – to value difference and diversity and ideas that we don’t like as much as those we do.