Charlie Hebdo: All is forgiven by Jon Danzig

Charlie Hebdo: All is forgiven by Jon Danzig
2015-01-15 16:00:00
Can the surviving journalists of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, really forgive the terrorists who last week brutally murdered ten of their colleagues and others at their Paris office?

Al Queda claimed that the attack was "revenge" for Charlie Hebdo's depiction of the prophet, Mohammed.  But following the gruesome killings, millions in France and across the world marched in protest and proclaimed "Je suis Charlie" in support of freedom of expression.  And today, millions are buying the latest edition of the magazine rapidly put-together by the few surviving staff.  
Today's front cover of Charlie Hebdo, however, defiantly shows yet another comic caricature of Mohammed, outraging many to declare, "Je ne suis pas Charlie". They  consider such so-called humour to be offensive, gratuitous and completely unacceptable.  And even though I don't follow any religion myself, and broadly support free speech, I felt uncomfortable to see the front-cover cartoon in the knowledge that this would -  avoidably -  antagonise and inflame so many, and possibly incite more violence.

And yet - the most important message of today's cover of Charlie Hebdo is the one that stands above the comic caricature.  The magazine boldly and some might say surprisingly stated, "Tout est pardonné" (All is forgiven). 
Explained Charlie Hebdo columnist, Zineb El Rhazoui, who survived because she was on holiday last week: "We feel, as Charlie Hebdo’s team, that we need to forgive the two terrorists who have killed our colleagues.”

She added, "The two terrorists who killed our colleagues, we cannot feel any hate. The mobilisation that happened in France after this horrible crime must open the door to forgiveness. Everyone must think about this forgiveness."

To me, this was the most powerful, poignant and, yes, even pious message to come out of this awful, shocking event.  The surviving staff of an irreverent, mocking and iconoclastic journal - within just days of their editorial colleagues being savagely slayed - are prepared to forgive those who so mercilessly trespassed against them.
Isn't forgiveness a key teaching of all the religions that emanate from Abraham, including Islam?  There are many verses in the Qur'an that demonstrate Islam as a religion of peace and forgiveness, and indeed most Muslims across the world are peaceful and forgiving.    

In Qur'an 24:22 Allah commands, "… They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful."

The Qur'an teaches that forgiveness is a superior moral trait.  In Qur'an 42:43 it is stated, "But if someone is steadfast and forgives, that is the most resolute course to follow". 
Indeed, forgiveness, tolerance and compassion, those are the attributes I relate to the teachings of Islam and to all the Muslims who I personally know and count as my friends. After all, in Qur'an 3:134 it is revealed that followers,"control their rage and pardon other people".

Isn't it ironic that the surviving editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo can practice and show forgiveness as taught in the Qur'an, whilst the so-called Islamic perpetrators taking such drastic revenge against them could not?

Of course, we know that all religious teachings are open to interpretation, and texts from all the religions have been used by some to justify terrible atrocities against fellow humans.  Fortunately, most followers of religion choose not to interpret their religious texts in this way, but there are some - more than enough - who choose a different interpretation that is causing - and has historically caused - great bloodshed across the world.

This has prompted some to claim that Islam is a fascist, violent and intolerant religion, and such commentary is helping to fuel a dangerous rise of Islamophobia  and xenophobia generally.
Yesterday, on the New Europeans Facebook page, a commentator who chose to post under a made-up name (how brave is that?) described Islam as, "fascist and intolerant", "backward and violent" and "incompatible with Western values".  He added that in Islam, "There is a stated requirement to kill apostates and well-supported hadith that encourages the killing of anyone who insults A prophet, not just THE prophet."

This was my response: 
"As a Humanist I try to make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values. I prefer to appeal to universal human qualities, particularly rationality, without resorting to the supernatural or alleged divine authority from religious texts.
However, I am also careful not to insult religions or those who follow them. All the Abrahamic religions promote peace and compassion - that cannot be denied. But the Old Testament is one of the most violent books I have ever read. I have not read the Qur'an as widely, but it also promotes peace, as well as having violent passages just as in the Bible.
Most Muslims in the world are peaceful and compassionate. Most of them choose to interpret their Qur'an as a book that promotes, endorses and compels good will to people.
Unfortunately, a minority have chosen to interpret the religious texts in ways that cause great harm and suffering. That minority does not represent the views of most Muslims - just as the Catholics and Protestants who killed people with bombs in and out of Northern Ireland did not represent most Catholics and Protestants.  
You are choosing to highlight texts that can be interpreted in a most dangerous way. I don't think that is helpful. We have to guard against any forms of Islamophobia. This is not a war against Islam; and my advice is that we shouldn't make it one, either."
 During these dangerous times, all of us can help to promote the values of goodness and forgiveness.  That, in my view, is the best defence and antidote against those who preach and practice revenge and retribution.  In my view, you don't need to believe in God to be good; and we don't need ancient religious texts to demonstrate that forgiveness is the healthiest and happiest way for individuals and societies to live together.

Fortunately, most of the ancient religious texts do teach goodness and forgiveness, and we can all look to them for guidance if we so choose.

All of us have been hurt or offended by at least someone at stages in our lives. Revenge is not sweet; it's sour and poisoning.  Only forgiveness can heal, and although it's difficult, and maybe sometimes seemingly impossible, only forgiveness can, eventually, release us from the pain and prison of hurt.

I'd like to finish this blog with some of the wise quotes I've collected over the years about the power of forgiveness. There are many more: please feel free to add some of your own in the comments section..
 Other stories by Jon Danzig: 


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