Checkpoint Charlie, That Indefinable Jewel We Call Freedom
This thing called freedom lives in its most extreme form in satire, which by definition can never be blasphemy.
TURIN — To those who take on pencils with machine guns, to anyone who submits to something other than their own conscience, we wish we could explain that exhausting and most excellent adventure that is freedom.
But the thing is, freedom is not something that can be explained. It just is, and we mourn it when it's gone. Unlike dogmas, freedom neither claims nor offers any certainties. It is made up of doubts and errors, impulses and abuses. And its weakness is a lack of boundaries, which takes away the subtle pleasure of breaking the rules.
The extreme form of freedom is satire, and for many people this is incomprehensible. It is offensive, provocative and disrespectful by definition, pushing its points of view so firmly in the limelight. And thus, it is detested by holders of absolute truth and proponents of religious ideology, which also now includes the "politically correct" truth held dear to many Americans.
Satire can never be blasphemous because it does not trade in the absolute but in the relative. It deals not with spirituality but with humanity. Satire isn't disrespectful to God — if anything, just to the men who use God to dominate other men.
Charlie Hebdo"s cartoon that may have cost the authors their lives depicted a Prophet desperate for a tax on the stupidity of Islamic fundamentalists. It wasn't an attack on Muhammad, but on a group of superstitious and ignorant fanatics who kill in the Prophet's name the women who want to attend school and men who drink or smoke.
Since the attack, some, including the Financial Times, have criticized the cartoonists for "baiting" Muslims as thought this were some kind of justification for the crime. There was a time not long ago when infidelity was considered an extenuating circumstance for killing your wife, and miniskirts the same for rapists. The day will come when the use — and abuse — of satire will become something that goes without saying. But, meanwhile, the war continues, and we're fighting it within ourselves.