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Je ne suis pas Charlie

A young comedian on the Brendan O’Connor show on RTE recently told the story of going to Mass, standing up to go to Communion, realising that he was on his own because he had stood up at the wrong time, and then going to the lectern to read Paul’s letter to the `Kardassians’. Not finding the bit where it says `This is the word of the Lord’ to finish the reading, he started singing the prayer at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer:

`Through him, with him, in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever’.

On the face of it, not a remarkable story.

Yet I was offended, even though I suspect this was not the comedian’s intention.

That’s not like me. I’m not too precious about many faith things. But to me the story came over not as a comedy, but as mockery. Maybe this was because I didn’t find the guy funny. He seemed too forced, but this is obviously a personal response.

So the question arises: when does humour become mockery?

I suspect the answer has to do with the humour: if we find something funny we will laugh and not be offended.

Just as I took exception to this comedian, I also choose to dissent from the global adoption of the cry: `Je suis Charlie’. I understand why so many took it up: the murders in Paris were terrible, not only because of the suffering they brought to the 20 people who died – including the three killers, but also because they were an attack on Jews and on press freedom.

`Je suis Charlie’ is a passionate cry to defend our right to dissent, to disagree, and to challenge.

But the Charlie Hebdo edition immediately following the murders carried an image of the Prophet. This was deeply insulting and blasphemous to my Muslim brothers and sisters. Why? It seems they fear using such images could lead people to worship the Prophet, who was a human, instead of God who is utterly transcendent.

I don’t share this Muslim fear. But I do not want to insult Muslims. So I disagree with the editors of Charlie Hebdo. I understand why they published the cartoon: it was because the murderers of their colleagues wanted to deny them this right. Not to publish it might be seen as giving into their demands.

But, ironically, acting on this basis allows the killers set the agenda.

I dissent. The comedian on RTE and the editors of Charlie Hebdo had the political right to do what they did. And I will defend them in so far as I can against all attackers. But they did not have a moral right to insult.

I wish the comedian understood why the Mass is so sacred to Catholics, and that Charlie Hebdo supporters understood why Muslims find their image so blasphemous.

The French will lock you up if you insult Jews. Why are Muslims not treated the same?

Let them then disagree all they want. But let them not mock.

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Guest blogger – Brian Lennon SJ