The shootings at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper, have shocked us all. But let us be united by it, writes Paul Dellit.
Charlie Hebdo stands for the essence of democratic society based upon pluralism.
Salman Rushdie has issued the following statement:
“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect”.
Of course, this attack by fundamentalists has a strategic purpose. Their objective is to provoke us into abandoning our values in favour of adopting theirs: the absolutism of believing that I am the bearer of immutable truth and anyone who does not share my belief is my enemy. And as one of the enrolled, I am entitled, if not obliged, to remove any obstacle to my belief becoming predominant in the world. I am entitled to kill anyone and destroy anything if it assists my mission. There are no grey areas for discussion. There is no point in debate when you possess the absolute truth. The world is divided into two camps: those who believe as I do and those who do not; those whom I would uplift and those whom I would remove from the face of the earth. The distinctions I make are as clear as the ultimate extremes of black and white.
Christianity has abandoned the overt pursuit of its violently barbaric Inquisition, long since Christianity was uniquely the Roman Catholic Church, heir to the Holy Roman Empire. But it is only in relatively recent times that the traditional Christian Churches have backed off their dogmatic tone in Sunday sermons and in public statements. Vatican II did not presage this change in public attitude. Vatican II failed, ultimately because men of the stripe of George Pell saw it as the creeping democratisation of the power structure which gave them their own autocratic power and status. And they could tell themselves that their mission was virtuous for, was it not true that they held office within the organisation chosen by the one true God to be the standard-bearer of His absolute truth.
Closer to home, it is unsurprising that the mediocre intellects which dominate the Front Bench of our current Government are committed to Hayekian dogma. The majority of them are still devotees of the particular flavour of Christian dogma in which they were schooled. They like dogma. It gives them that warm fuzzy feeling of being tucked up inside their middle class residences and looking out at those who aren’t. In essence, it satisfies two basic human cravings: certainty about the world they live in which, incidentally, places them in the box seat; and relief from those unpleasant intimations of mortality. Their pursuit of personal wealth at the expense of others is sanctioned by their secular dogma and their Christian dogma promises them life eternal.
The delusions of these men and one woman would be laughable in any other circumstances than that it is their hands gripping the levers of power for one whole term of government. Like all good Hayekians, their limited view of life and total lack of any broader philosophy leaves them with the view that economic utility equals happiness, that the accretion of money is the single purpose of life, that we are nothing more than utilitarian foragers pitted against our fellows for whom the notion of compassion is anathema. They are men and one woman who lack the broad range of sensibilities and sensitivities which mark out all that is fine and estimable in our humanity. How else could they have Abbott as the Minister for Women, Morrison as the Minister for Social Services, and Brandis as Minister for the Arts.
It may be that Charlie Hebdo provides a particularly French character to the art of satire. It pushes the three founding principles of the French Revolution to the limits of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. It is an equal-opportunity satirist with caricatures of every religion, commercial institution, government party and organisation – a true iconoclast with its origins in the 1960s which, unlike Honi Soit (extant) and Oz (deceased), has been able to maintain the rage long after the flowers wilted and the Beatles left the rooftop.
This is a truly sad day, but with the saving grace that it provides the opportunity for all countries and people of good will to unite in their steadfast maintenance of their belief and practice of pluralism.